From the Mental Album – Sunshine

In this three-part series, I’m going to look at two of the pets I had growing up.  I think these were the two longest-lived pets of any that we had, and certainly the most memorable.  We’ll start with that lovable ball of fur, Sunshine!

Sunshine on Floor

So sweet.  So innocent.

Sunshine on Shoulder

We first got her when I was probably 7 or 8.  As best as I recall, Sunshine was born in someone’s garage, and the owner wasn’t too keen on a litter of kitties living next to his lawnmower.  A group of the kids from the neighborhood took it upon themselves to find homes for the kittens, and we ended up getting one.

Naturally my brother and I thought she was the cutest thing in the world.  And, also naturally, she reacted to this sudden and rather clumsily-executed affection by hiding in the inch between my Dad’s leg and the arm of the couch.

It was decided that Sunshine would be an indoor-only cat.  Perhaps things in later years may have gone better for us had we discussed the matter with Sunshine and let HER decide where she wanted to roam, but that’s all hindsight.  My parents decided to let her keep her claws – “four on the floor”, as it were – on the chance so that if Sunshine were to ever get out of the house she would have a way to defend herself from the numerous dogs in the neighborhood.  Many a bare foot and arm would regret that decision as the years went by.

An so began many years of feline adventures.

***

When we got Sunshine, we were living in a house that did not have air conditioning, so in the heat of the summer we would frequently leave the main doors open and windows open, but lock the screen doors.  That would allow the occasional night breeze to move the hot air out of the house (although some days it just felt like the hot air was simply moving AROUND the house instead of moving OUT).

The screen on the screen doors ran nearly the full height of the door, which meant that Sunshine could see out easily.  It also meant that the neighborhood cat that came by one night could see in easily.

I actually managed to sleep through what happened next.  As I heard it told the next morning, Sunshine was going berserk by the back door, trying to get at the other cat through the screen.  My Dad heard the commotion, got up, and tried to get Sunshine out of the foyer and close the main door.  Sunshine did not react well to this new development.  “By golly,” thought Sunshine, “If I can’t take out that cat, I’m going to take out the human who DARES prevent me from taking out that cat!”  Sunshine turned on my Dad, grabbed his nearest bare foot, sunk all four sets of claws into it and proceeded to gnaw on his toes.  Dad yelled in anger and pain, which convinced my Mom that backup was needed on the scene.

I’m not clear who got Sunshine off my Dad, or how, but she eventually ended up locked in the basement (with food, water, toys, and her litter box, of course).  My Dad spent the next several minutes bandaging his foot while my Mom did her best to calm him down, not wanting to explain to her two boys how their father had murdered the family cat in the middle of the night.

***

Like all cats Sunshine was particularly adept at finding warm spots to sleep in.  We would frequently come into a bedroom to find a lump under the covers.  If you poked the lump, it would start to move.  If you dared poke it a second time, a growl would emerge. 

I’m sure if I ever got the courage to poke her three times in a row, I’d hear a *chink* as the claws burst through the blankets like a miniature Wolverine.

***

Then there was the first time that Sunshine escaped overnight.

She was quite fond of greeting us at the door when we got home, and we would frequently hear her meowing through the door while we tried to unlock it.  Once we open it, we’d have to block the entire door way with our legs and bodies to prevent her from getting out.  On more than one occasion she did manage to get out of the house, and we’d hurriedly drop off our stuff and rush out of the house to retrieve her.  Usually it took us just a few minutes to get her back into the house.

On this particular occasion, though, she got out and spent the night on the town.

We looked for her the next morning around the house, but couldn’t find her.  Since we all had school and work to get to, the search was postponed until the evening.  When my Dad pulled into the driveway that evening, he got out of the car and immediately heard a fairly pathetic “Meow!  Meow!” from above him.  Sunshine managed to climb the neighbor’s tree, and then apparently got stuck there.  Cliché, I know.

Dad came in to the house to drop off his stuff, told us he’d found Sunshine in the neighbor’s tree, and then proceeded to go back out to get her.  We were very excited to hear that she’d been found, and wouldn’t miss her rescue for anything.

We surrounded the tree and sure enough saw Sunshine out on one of the larger branches looking down at us.  This particular tree had no limbs closer than 7 feet off the ground, so Sunshine must have come at the tree full tilt with all four sets of claws out and scampered up (our guess was that she was outrunning a dog at the time).  Dad had to jump to get to the lowest branch and pulled himself up from there.

My memory is very hazy about this point in the story, but once he was in the tree, he somehow managed to get her to walk down the branch to him.  He picked her up and started to make his way back down the tree.  Once he was at the lowest branch again, she leaped out of his arms and made a bee-line for our back door.  Clearly she had had enough adventure for one day.  We let her in while Dad tried to figure out the best way to get out of the tree without hurting himself.  He thought about it long enough that Mom began to lament the call she was going to have to make to the Fire Department – “My husband got our cat down from the tree, but now HE’S stuck.”

Thankfully he did get down on his own, and the pre-dinner show for the rest of the street concluded.  (No encores were granted.)

***

Some years later, my brother and I were home after school, and James was working on homework on the coffee table in the living room.  He was working on something that required a ruler, and had a large piece of paper spread out on the table.  He was changing the orientation of the ruler frequently to draw new lines across the page.

*Swish* went the ruler.

*Swish* again.

*Swish*

*Swish*

*Swish**Swish*

That’s when Sunshine attacked.  The orange blur leaped the loveseat, connected with James’ arm, and proceeded to buzz around it like a live-action Tasmanian devil.  James, for his part, let out a very manly “AHHHHHHHHHH!” and swung his arm up and around, trying to dislodge his attacker.  Sunshine held on for another second and then let go, satisfied that the tormenting ruler had been silenced.

“Tease me like that, will he?  I’ll show him.”

***

To be perfectly honest, despite these stories, which are really funny 20-odd years later, she really was a good cat.  That is, as long long as the only people in the house were her immediate attendants – er, family.  Sunshine, in addition to all of her aforementioned charms, also didn’t really tolerate anyone else in the house besides the four of us.  There were many times when friends and family came over that we would lock her in the basement to ensure all of the guests’ blood remained INSIDE.

If she did happen to see someone new, claws came out, hair stood on end, and the hissing and growling started.  That was before the person even stepped into the house.  Once the person set foot in her domain, she made sure the visitor only remained alive and intact by her grace alone, and then left for another room.

This became particularly troublesome whenever we went on vacation for more than a couple of days and needed someone to feed the animals for us.  To this day I’m surprised that my maternal Grandfather to whom this role usually fell didn’t ask for combat pay.

***

Don’t get me wrong – neither my Mom nor I were spared Sunshine’s wrath.  Even given the frequency with which I donated blood, I loved that cat.

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