Friday's hero: The cat lady
By GaelMc on November 11, 2011
Our son was having a birthday. His 4th. He wanted a kitten. Pet-less we were ready for one. It had to be female and a calico (his stipulations) it had to be house trained (my stipulation).
We looked for a refuge situation. We found one where individuals took abandoned kittens into their own homes and kept them until they could find a loving home for them. The first kitten we found was female, calico and house trained!! (Applause)
My husband collected kitty and carried her home inside his leather jacket. She was zipped into place, with gorgeous head poking out to see her new world.
Our son was delighted, he squealed, he laughed, her ran around, in sheer ecstasy he did not know what to do with himself (more parental applause - I mean, this was one time the gift got more birthday boy attention than the packaging).
The real story is the woman who cared for her until she came “home”. Her caregiver had spent most of her adult life in the bottom of a booze bottle. Her greatest grief was that the good she could have done, she did not do, and the wretched behavior she now appalled, she did do.
She began with animals, their love was unconditional, they did not judge her. The fact she lived in a single wide trailer with surroundings that spoke of a life of poverty was incidental to them. Saving a precious life appealed to her.
She knew of women particularly who were trapped behind a language barrier. They could not find resources they needed, they could not make their needs known, they could not communicate with their world. They clustered together, passed around movies in their own language and hid behind their own front doors. Having hidden most of her life she decided she would do what she could to give them the skills they needed to leave their hiding places.
She approached the literacy project at her local library. She attended class and trained to teach non English speaking newcomers to communicate with their new land. She prepared charts. They were collages. When she taught words she also taught the American culture that went with them, via her hand made posters. “Flags”, “parks”, “hot dogs”, “parades” etc all came with their own pictures. Her thesis was that words without context have little meaning. Her theories on teaching were her own. They were, unbeknown to her, cutting edge and forerunners to the research that indicates ‘application first, then theory’ is the way most learn best. All she knew was that she wanted the students to know how the words were used by their neighbors.
She showcased the hand crafted baskets made from magazines that grateful Vietnamese women had woven for her. They were stunning works of art and prized as such.
She was a favorite with the Library. Newcomers signed up and waited to be included in her classes. When she attended the monthly pot luck dinners for the volunteers she was treated as the honored guest, a celebrity. Fame was new to her, she was accustomed to being one of life’s “invisibles”. The attention was difficult to accept.
Did I tell you that she was barely literate herself when she began her teaching journey? Did I mention that she was 70 before she finally kicked herself free of the bottle and began rescuing animals. Into her 80’s she was still going strong, giving back to her community by making a difference in the lives of animals and immigrants. She is my unsung Friday hero today.