Cakes and I went to the Anderson’s annual Christmas Party on Saturday. A group on us were sitting on the patio (yes, it is California!) and someone said, “What is the first Christmas you remember?” I began getting those ‘snapshots in my head” as soon as the question was posed.
The summer I was 4, we moved into Mom and Dad’s first house, a tiny GI Bill 2 bedroom on 1st Avenue North. It made a big impression on me, the street wasn’t paved, it was muddy, there were shallow ditches running in front of the houses that filled with water making them ideal wading pools after every rainstorm. Of course, the switch yard and round house of the Great Northern Railroad were about 100 yards away from the little street of brand new homes. Our neighbors, the Fetigs, lived in a basement house, a basement roofed over waiting for a house to be built on it. Housing was tight everywhere after WW ll, Grand Forks was no exception. We moved there from a basement apartment on Chestnut Street which I kind of, sort of remember. My parents were happy to get their own house; their delight was tempered immediately by the 24 hour noise of the rail yard.
On one of our weekly visits to my grandparent’s farm, my grandmother gave me a young cat she liberated from a litter of barn cats, she trained him. I named him Whitey Whiskers. My mother (not a cat hater, just a cat skeptic) wasn’t happy. Whitey came home with us.
I loved Whitey and he loved me, he slept with me, he let the Karen Fetig put doll clothes on him and push him in a baby carriage. All in all Whitey was a very cool cat.
Christmas was coming and my mother was in full holiday decorator mode, we had a huge tree in our tiny living room, lights inside the house and out. My parents had a couple of parties and Pancho Martinez showed up in a Santa suit and played Christmas carols on his trumpet. Christmas Eve came and we headed for the farm for the big night. Whitey stayed home.
When we got home around 10, Mom switched on the lights and screamed. The living room was a shambles. Whitey had apparently lost his mind while we were gone!
Whitey climbed the Christmas tree and tipped it over, the ornaments were scattered all over the room, the water from the stand soaked the carpet, he pulled the light strings off the tree and they were draped over the furniture. Tinsel was everywhere. Not satisfied, Whitey ripped opened all the presents and dragged the paper and ribbons from room to room. One of Mom’s presents from Dad, a red night gown was in the hall, the marbles from a Chinese Checkers game had rolled all over the house, they were in the kitchen, the bedrooms and under the sink in the bathroom. I found Whitey in my room sound asleep on the pillows. I knew his life was in danger so I hid him in my closet inside the toy box until things cooled down.
My Dad cut his foot on a Christmas ornament and was swearing. My mother was crying and muttering something about killing that damn cat. I was lying low, worried about Whitey. I put on my pajamas and helped Mom and Dad clean up. When order was restored, my Mom and Dad had a drink and I had hot chocolate. My Dad said, “Did you find your damn cat, Robert?” I said, I hadn’t and offered that he might be somewhere in the basement, since he liked the boxes and stuff down there. Dad, said, “We’ll find him in the morning.” We all went to bed. I got Whitey out of my toy box and we both settled down for a long winter’s nap. Whitey moved back to the farm the next week and became my Grandmother’s favorite cat, he never touched another Christmas Tree as far as I know.