Many years ago, when my siblings and I were all of primary-school age, we went for a family walk around a country village a few miles from home. As we walked from the car, my sisters and I spotted a sign outside a cottage:
You can imagine what effect that had on us children. My parents had to endure a 2-hour walk with constant bleats of “can we have a kitten?” … “we’ll look after it” … “it said they are free” … “can we have a kitten?” … “please, please please” and the like.
Eventually, as we got back to the car, my parents hit on a plan that would surely shut us up: “Yes,” Dad said, “if you go to the house and ask”. Fool proof. We would never be brave enough to do that.
Only one small flaw in that plan (as Edmund Blackadder might have said): it was rubbish. We were brave enough – or, at least, the prospect of a new kitten was enough to give us courage.. “Come on, Chippy,” said my elder sister, pushing me towards the front door.
I should interject at this point that “Come on, Chippy” was a common phrase used by my elder sister. Generally, it meant “you go first and, if you don’t get into trouble or injured, I’ll be right behind you”.
We got the kitten.
The kitten soon became part of the family, giving us endless entertainment. My father even forgot about the afternoon off work and the 30 mile round trip he’d had to drive to collect it. True to our word we did look after it. In general, it hated adults but loved children. It even tolerated being petted with sticky hands and force-fed crisps and peanuts at children’s birthday parties (different times: I now know that you’re not supposed to feed peanuts to cats).
After a couple of years we moved to another town and the cat was kept in for a few days. After two or three nights, my parents grew fed up with being dive-bombed from the wardrobe throughout the night and put the cat outside. We never saw him again.
My sisters and I, at the suggestion of my parents (remember this fact; it’s quite important), spent a few days wandering the streets and local woodland (different times: you don’t allow children out of the garden unaccompanied nowadays) shaking cat biscuits and calling his name.
We never saw hide or hair of him. This was hardly surprising because to the full knowledge of my parents (I told you that you might want to remember that fact) he was already dead. Seeking warmth and shelter from the cold night, the cat had crawled into the engine compartment of a neighbour’s car, with tragic results to both cat and engine.
My parents – probably rightly – decided that the truth was too gory for young ears, but told us (eventually) that someone had found the cat run over further up the street. Well, I suppose they were keeping to the spirit of the truth.
About twelve years later I was relating to my mother a conversation I had had with a car mechanic who had been telling me about damage caused by cats in engine compartments. “Yes,“ she replied. “That’s what happened to Tig …”
All this happened about 45 years ago. My younger sister is now over 50. She has recently posted this indignant message on the family Facebook page:
I don’t think it was any deliberate obfuscation on my parent’s part. It’s just that after a few years you tend to forget that you haven’t got around to telling the full story.
I wonder whether, as parents, there are any aspects of family histories that you’ve never quite got around to admitting to your children – despite the fact that they are now older than you were when the event happened.
I still find it quite amusing that my parents let my sisters and I search the local area for the cat. It’s the sort of trick I would play on younglings.