Brrrrr… My, oh my it certainly has gotten chilly around here. Thankfully, with my warm coat of long and beautiful fur I am toasty warm, as long as I stay well within the bounds of the clinic. But outside, forget it! You couldn’t get me out there for all the catnip in Egypt. I do enjoy watching the rain fall outside my window. I have enjoyed watching the squirrels scurry about, caching their winter stores. It makes me so very thankful for my wonderful ladies here at Bear Creek, who make sure I have plenty to eat, good fresh water to drink, and warm laps and gentle hands for love and affection whenever I might be in the mood for it.
November has always been the month that causes me to reflect upon all the things for which I am thankful. I suppose that is appropriate, no? My dear mother started the tradition when I was just a kit. All my brothers and sisters, my father, my aunts and uncles, and even my grandparents would gather about our home and share what we were grateful for over the last year. Often it was simple things such as a fat, slow mouse that was easily caught. Sometimes it was more serious, such as the time my brother Michal nearly got caught by a fox. He managed to outmaneuver (outfox, if you will) the fox and also succeeded in keeping him away from our home.
After we have listed all the things for which we are thankful, my dear mother tells the story of her great, great, great grandmaw, who came over to the New World aboard a ship called the Mayflower. As you can see, both sides of my family come from a long line of seagoing cats. We are quite proud of our heritage. Mother loves to recount the story which has been passed down from generation to generation. She encourages my sisters and brothers and I to recount bits of the tale, as it is up to us to carry on the tradition. We each take turns, telling the story. Mother corrects us if we get too loose with the sequence of events, or the fierceness of the storms upon the sea as they crossed over. Even without our embellishments, it is quite a riveting tale. So much so, that I decided to share it with you.
Pull up a chair and a blanket, and a cup of tea. Curl up and get comfy. Here we go…
Great, great, great grandmaw Liesl was born in Holland. She lived in a windmill with her mother and father and seven brothers and sisters. Her early days were very similar to those of Tomescu. She chased the mice away from the grain stores, spent her days in the sun among the tulips and on warm summer nights she gazed up at the stars wondering how far they stretched. Grandmaw Liesl had a bit of vagabond in her. She would often wander far from her home, to return days or even weeks later. My sister Hava has some of that same wanderlust in her. She left home when she was just over a year old. She checks back in every eight months or so, but it has been years since I have seen her.
Grandmaw Liesl liked to wander down to the town of Leiden, which lies at the confluence of the Old and New Rhine Rivers. She loved to watch the large ocean-going ships, anchored in the river, awaiting their cargoes of spices and silks from the Orient. Sometimes she would wander into the shipyards and watch the shipbuilders construct the giant vessels, dreaming of where they might be headed.
Finally one day her heart could bear it no longer and she said good bye to her mother and father and all of her brothers and sisters. She left the windmill and the tulips and headed into Leiden. Once there she wandered among the people, looking for a ship upon which she could sail for ports and places unknown. She saw a great commotion on the docks, near a boat called the Speedwell. Liking the name, she clambered aboard and found her way into the hold, below decks.
She watched as large boxes of spices and silks, and barrels of wine as well as grains were loaded into the hold. She also saw a very large group of simply dressed people crossing onto the ship, making their way to small cabins. There were about 70 in all. These quiet folks had moved to Leiden from England about a decade before, looking for a new life for their children, one in which they could practice their beliefs. But is was difficult for them to make enough money to provide for their families. As a group, they had decided to head back to England, and from there set off for the New World, of which they had heard rumors. They thought this new land would give them the oportunities that had been denied them in Holland.
As the noise from above quieted, Liesl noticed a change coming over the ship. She heard snapping, and felt the ship lurch beneath her. She cautiously made her way back onto the deck above and saw that the ship was moving. The snapping sound she had heard was that of the three sails being raised and catching the wind, bearing the Speedwell west and south.
Over the next couple of weeks, Liesl met several of the simply dressed people. She discovered they were gentle, kind, and eager to begin a new life in a new place. She found one young boy in particular, John, that seemed to need a friend. Liesl was only too happy to befriend him. Soon she was sleeping next to him and when they changed ships from the Speedwell to a larger ship called the Mayflower, she was tucked safely away in her new friend’s knapsack.
Aboard the Mayflower, life was a little more challenging for her new friend. They were headed west across a vast ocean. The winds blowing across the ocean slowed the ship’s westerly progress. Storms rose up and tossed the ship about. At times it was frightening. Other times, they spent days below decks, in the dark and cold, huddling together for warmth and encouragement. As the voyage progressed, some of the passengers became ill, but of the 102 that had left England in September, all but two of them made it to the new land and new life they sought. There great celebration when a new baby was born during the journey.
Liesl and her new human family were finally able to walk on land again in December, after three months aboard the Mayflower. It was bitterly cold, and that first winter was very hard. Her friend John became ill, but his mother nursed him, and with Liesl watching over him, he soon recovered. Nearly 40 of the settlers did not fare so well and died through the course of that first winter.
Finally spring arrived and the people began planting and exploring. John loved to run throgh the woods around their new home, and found great places to hide. It was great fun for Liesl to hunt for him, sneak up behind, and pounce upon his back. One afternoon, while they were out romping and exploring, Liesl heard a noise in the bushes. She had not seen another cat since they disembarked from the Mayflower, but there before her stood a strong, tall feline with beautiful gray fur, striped in shades of lighter gray. When the sun caught his fur, he seemed to shimmer (some would say he sparkled or glittered, but that is another story entirely).
“Hello”, said the stranger. “Welcome. My name is William. What is your name?”
“Liesl. My name is Liesl”, replied my great, great, great grandmaw. “How do you do, William?”
“Please call me Will. All my friends do, and I hope that we will be great friends.”
The two talked for a bit longer before Liesl heard John calling for her. “I have to go. My boy is looking for me.”
“Perhaps we can meet again tomorrow? I should like very much to continue our conversation.” They agreed to meet in the same place the next morning, while John was busy helping his father with the planting. They continued to meet almost daily over the next several weeks. Finally Liesl asked William to come home with her. She introduced him to John, who convinced his parents that a second cat, especially one as strong and quick as William, was needed around the farm. He soon proved invaluable as the corn and wheat started to ripen and the field mice started foraging through their crops. By autumn, William and Liesl’s family had grown to six. When the settlers, including John’s family celebrated the end of a successful harvest, the end of their first year in the New World, and the new friends they had met, there was much to be thankful for all around.
And that, dear friends is the story of how my dear mother’s family came to be. Let me list the things that I am thankful for. I am thankful for my birth family, and the stories my mother and father passed on to all of us. I am thankful for my new family and all the friends I am making here at Bear Creek Animal Clinic. I am thankful for the good food and the warm bed I have to curl up in. I am thankful for my window ledge, upon which I can sit and watch the world go by. And I am thankful for you, my dear readers, my new friends near and far.
What are you thankful for?