(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on February 16, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
I have previously shared with you the sheer joy I felt when I bought my first house while living in England. I finally had a place where I could grow a proper garden, and I was in heaven. The work was long and at times tedious but the payoff was great. Underneath all that overgrowth was very fine quality soil. I could grow anything and did. The rose garden was glorious and each variety provided a wealth of fragrance and color to the garden landscape. The beech hedge was not immaculately trimmed but allowed to grow in a controlled, wild manner. When I move to a cooler climate I shall grow this hedge once again for it provides unbeatable year-round color. I have never seen a hue of gold like that of the dead leaves on a beech hedge. To say it was amazing would be an understatement. In the summer, the hedge was thick, full and lush and provided a wonderful habitat for an array of animals; my favorite of course were the hedgehogs.
On a warm summer evening, I was contemplating life and the mysteries of the universe while losing myself in the scent of the Nicotiana. I became excited when I heard a rustling beneath the hedge. I made a dash for the garden shed, grabbed a few handfuls of cat food, and put them in my pocket ready to feed my most beloved garden residents. Nothing came out but the rustling continued and I could make out a sound much like that of a baby kitten. Retrieving the flashlight from the shed, I got on my belly and shined a light in the direction of the rustling. I could not believe my eyes; the sound WAS coming from two small kittens. They were tiny and perhaps eight weeks old--if that. I have no idea how they got there or when but I was delighted to welcome them! I retrieved the scared little bundles of fur from the hedge and brought them inside. They were adorable! I gave them a bath, made a comfy bed for them and was thankful I kept cat food on hand to feed the hedgehogs.
During the following days, I saw no sign of the mama cat coming back to claim her babies and thought perhaps a stray dropped them off for me to look after. At least that is what I would like to believe. Regardless, Laverne and Shirley became part of the family. Laverne was precocious and was into everything. Her antics were enough to keep us in stitches most of the time. Shirley on the other hand was quiet, timid and my shadow. From the moment I got home, she was right there with me and when it came time to go to bed, she was right there beside me. I loved both cats of course but Shirley was a special kitty and we had a very special connection.
Laverne and Shirley were housecats and the only time they were allowed outside was when I was there with them. As I type these words, I can see both cats outside in my mind. Laverne was always trying to get to the birds in the hedge and I consequently had to scold her. Shirley was a bit more cautious. If the breeze kicked up and rustled the trees, she would run right back to me. Laverne on the other hand wanted to play with the leaves. I spent many hours with my girls in the garden in this way and I am thankful for every moment I had with them.
Sadly, I had come to the decision that I would leave England and return to the United States. During my final weeks, I had my neighbors who had become dear friends over for dinner. As we sat and chatted about the move, they asked what would happen to the cats. I had actually planned to ask them to adopt them and this was the perfect opportunity to do so. They accepted. Soon after I moved back to the U.S., they moved to a small cottage in a smaller village. The garden was flanked by high walls and Laverne and Shirley were allowed to go outside more often. The photo on the right is Shirley enjoying her new cottage home among the roses.
Through the years, I have been sent updates on how my babies were doing. I have learned of Laverne's mischievous exploits and Shirley's sweet-natured disposition. Recently, I received a phone call and it was my friend crying. Shirley had to be put down. She had some sort of cancer and in the end it was the kindest thing to do. There are no words to describe the emotions one experiences when losing a beloved pet. In the end, I was just grateful for the time I had with those small bundles of fur I rescued from the hedge. Laverne is as adventurous as ever but of course she misses her sister.
I wrote this article after playing with my newest cat outside. Clementine is a joy and reminds me a lot of my Shirley. As I recollect the moments I had with this amazing creature, I will forever appreciate the faith one mama cat had in my ability to raise and look after her two young babies.
All photos were taken by the author. Well, except for the one of Shirley among the roses. That was taken by my dear friend Emma.