The Season of Cats, Embroidery, and Blackberry Jam

Kay Harper 


© Copyright 2015 by Kay Harper  

It was supposed to be a day trip. We wanted to experience the legendary Napa Valley to sample some of the native grape. Sample we did! After several winery stops, we ended up at the Rutherford. “Let’s find a place here,” I whispered. Will smiled and squeezed my hand.

Suddenly, a tall, elegant woman waltzed up. “Hello,” her voice was breathy and low. “I couldn’t help but overhear. If you take Lakoya Road straight up the mountain, you’ll come to some rustic cabins. Ask for Moo and Del. Tell them Samantha sent you.” Then, she was swept away by the well-heeled crowd.
Moo and Del? Sounds like cows, I thought. We’re supposed to ask for a couple of cows? We looked at each other with what-have-we-got-to-lose grins, gulped the last of our wine and headed for the car.
The road was steep as it climbed through the gnarled woods. I sat shotgun in Will’s Malibu, knees tucked under my chin—rocking with excitement.

True to the mystery woman’s word, we found the rural village perched near the mountain top. About twenty tiny cabins peaked out from under an umbrella of trees, but we saw no people. Silence wrapped itself around us as we got out of the car. Spotting slight movement I whispered, “Look! It’s cats and kittens. Just look at them.”

Dozens of felines of every shape, color and size were giving us the once-over—as if to say, “This is our territory. We have to see if you fit in.”
It didn’t take long to locate the office. A crooked Manager sign hung on its fading yellow door of a tiny cabin. As we approached, the door flew open to reveal a husky man with greased back gray hair and tattoos running up and down his sun-burned arms. His smile was warm and welcoming.

Hey! Name’s Del!” He reached for Will’s hand. “An’ this here’s Moo,” he said, referring to the weathered redhead who had stumbled out behind him.

We run the place,” Moo added with a toothy grin and a puff on her cigarette. “You wanna look around?”

We nodded.

We met a woman named Samantha at the Rutherford. She said you might have a cabin available.” Will spoke hesitantly—his eyes focused on the ground.

Samantha? Real tall?” Moo leaned in and yelled at Will like she thought he might be deaf.

Yes,” I said quickly, hoping to get her attention off of shy Will. Moo stood back with her hands on her hips, looked over at me and let out a big, “Woo-Hoo! She’s a real sweetie. Nita, Sam’s sister, lived up here last year while her big ol’ house was getting’ remodeled. Sam come to visit a good bit. You know, she’s one of them oddball types—a rich‘n, that’s real friendly. Don’t see that much these days. Yep, sweet girl,”

Del steered us toward a quaint little cabin. “And speakin’ of sweet, this here number 17 is a honey.” As he opened the door, we could see the pot-belly stove sitting in a miniature living room-kitchen. Beyond it was a bedroom and bath. The place was adorable.
Ain’t all them windas great?” asked Moo.

With the forest surrounding us, we’d be living in a tree house! Will and I looked at each other and grinned. So, we pooled our resources and rented the place for the summer.

Will found an old telephone pole out in the woods and was soon busy tap, tap, tapping at the side of the cabin—chiseling away at a totem pole he was determined to finish by summer’s end.

Meanwhile, I played a Mother Earthy part. With blackberries I found on my daily walks I produced jars of jam that we slathered on loaves of my fresh-baked bread.

On one of these berry-gathering hikes, I found what appeared to have been an abandoned open-air church. It had split log pews that surrounded a cross and campfire. Who had worshipped here? I would never know, but I assumed it was sacred ground. It was the inspiration for one of my favorite pastimes—the measured stitches of colorful embroidery pieces. I painstakingly sewed a circle in yellow, then a rainbow colored lightning bolt split the sunny ring in two.

I wasn’t the only one drawn to this sanctuary. When they weren’t keeping a discriminating eye on village visitors, the cats and kittens followed me to the church camp and congregated—draped on the log-pews. They were a snobby bunch. Only occasionally they came my way to bat at the balls of thread I threw out to them.
Each day I walked deep into the woods to this place—toting my canvas and thread. The activity kept me company, but I could feel my emotions sinking a little more each day. Soon I felt dangerously outside of myself. My mood was disconnected from my activity. The self I had always been was fading, and I didn’t know how to stop it. Then one day I took out my embroidery to examine it, and I saw the picture had changed. Instead of lightning running through the sun, I now saw two profiles.

I knew I was splintering away from being a happy-go-lucky artist, and it scared me. My mood would tumble down, and then scramble back up from one day to the next. No telling where my emotions would take me from morning to night.
Resentment snapped at my heels as I fought off believing in the persona Will had blanketed over me. In response to my ups and downs, he began to call me Sybil—after the title character of a movie about a schizophrenic. Sybil’s behavior could only be described as ka-ray-zee! Now I was frantic. Have I unwittingly stitched a symbol of my emotional duality?

Then a call from my mime teacher, Noel, saved the day. “You know the documentary?” He talked so fast I struggled to keep up. Will was a beginning filmmaker, and had produced a short film about Noel’s unique teaching techniques. “I want you to do some narration for it. Can you come to The City next week?”

I’d be delighted!” I gushed—so grateful to have something of artistic substance in my life again.

I listened to my voice play back in the studio. I was proud of the work I’d done. Noel, the teacher, was pleased, too. The film rolled in front of us, and everything seemed to fit.

But Will did not agree. “The integrity of the film has been compromised,” he snapped. “This film is supposed to be silent except for brief musical interludes. I mean, it’s a film about a MIME, for God’s sake.” He looked at me accusingly, and stomped out of the room.

I didn’t say anything in my defense right then, but Will’s purist attitude hurt me deeply. The next day I walked in the woods and stopped at the church. This time I had no embroidery to distract me.

In the quiet, I was able to admit that things between Will and me had not been going well, and that, secretly, I’d been looking for a way out.

The next evening Will and I stood on the edge of the mountain at sunset, surveying the multi-colored splendor of the valley below. I knew what I had to say, but feared my words would cut through the night, slicing the serenity in two. I waited for the shiver of hesitation to pass, but suddenly my reluctance was overtaken by an instinct to survive.

I’m leaving.” My words rang out as the moon began to rise. “I’ve had enough vacation. It’s time to get back to work. I’m going back to school.” At the time, I had no idea what college I would attend, but it seemed like a reasonable thing to say.

I think Will agreed. He was gracious and good-natured about it. A few days later, we made our way down Lakoya Mountain for the last time, drove back to civilization and went our separate ways.
Daddy used to say, “Some things you do for a season. Don’t wanna miss any of those seasons, ‘cause they might not ever come back.”

I never quite understood what he meant back then. But now I do. Because when I think back on the time I spent with Will in that tiny mountain village, sometime between then and now, I’ve become allergic to cats. I don’t embroider anymore, and I haven’t made a single, solitary jar of blackberry jam since that amazing summer high up over Napa Valley with its sweeping mosaic design. Now that was a season!

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