WHAT WE’VE BEEN UP TO:
We’ve been attending to Zoe, who is sick with a cold. Her mom told Zoe this story as she lay on the couch this morning, sipping tea with honey, lemon and ginger:
“When I was little I lived on a Greek island called Hydra. It was very beautiful and there were no cars. To your Auntie Hanne and me it was paradise. Well, you’ve been there and you love it too.
My family left in 1972 so I could go to a ‘proper’ school in America. I’d been going to a one-room Greek school in the village. I was about seven years old. We took our cat Johnny with us.
Johnny was a stray we had adopted. She – yes, Johnny was a she, not a he – was a very common type on Hydra. She was a tortoiseshell cat, like Sasha and Lola, but her fur was longer. She had loads of personality.
Before going to America, we went to Denmark, to visit my Aunt Helle, my namesake, and her husband, Uncle Torben. My mother hoped to deposit the cat with Aunt Helle, whom we called Big Helle since I was Little Helle.
We had Johnny in a cardboard box on the boat and the plane and in taxis. She was very well-behaved throughout the trip.
At Big Helle’s house, the box was put on the table and Big Helle opened it. The cat was revealed and came as a complete surprise.
Big Helle and Uncle Torben had hardly taken it in when I burst out, “And she’s pregnant!”
I was beaming with excitement, pride and generosity. I could not imagine a more wonderful surprise present to give (or receive!) than a pregnant cat!
Fortunately, Big Helle and Uncle Torben were willing to keep Johnny and she soon won their hearts – and very big hearts they had, too.
Johnny became a well-known character to all the neighbors on that gravel road in the woods by the fjord in Denmark. She was very much an outdoor cat and this was the perfect place for her.
When she came inside after one of her long outings, exhausted and ravenous, Big Helle and Torben would shower her with affection. Johnny would sleep and sleep and eat and sleep and eat and … Finally, having rested up and filled her stomach, she would be off again into the woods or down to the seashore and not come back for a few days.
Here is a picture of Johnny and Uncle Torben napping together:
Johnny had her kittens. (After that she was sterilized.) Big Helle and Torben kept a female kitten from the litter and found good homes for the rest. The cat they kept was Ingeborg, who was sleek and black and was also much loved, although not by Johnny!
Here is a picture of Ingeborg, in Big Helle’s knitting basket, on the dining room table:
Johnny could not stand her own daughter, Ingeborg, who was finicky and not very fond of the outdoors and who demanded human pampering 24/7. Johnny, who was very low maintenance herself, thought Ingeborg was ridiculous. Johnny seemed embarrassed to have brought such a creature into the world. Big Helle and Torben thought Ingeborg and her prissy habits were adorable.
Johnny decided she needed to put some space between herself and Ingeborg so she moved out. She took up residence at another house in the neighborhood. Big Helle and Torben were friends with the owners of that house and they knew that these neighbors were glad to look after Johnny. As I said, everybody on that road knew Johnny and was fond of her.
After she moved down the road, Johnny visited Big Helle and Uncle Torben from time to time for a dose of their very special affection, which, as Auntie Hanne and I have told you, was very wonderful indeed. After checking in on Big Helle and Torben, Johnny would take off again, to her second home or to the forest for more adventures.
When we visit Hydra now it’s funny to think that some of the cats we see there must be relatives of Johnny and Ingeborg. It’s also funny to think that there may be cats in Denmark today whose ancestor was the famous adventuress of Toppen Lane – Johnny. She had started out as a hungry, homeless scrap of a kitten on a little Greek island more than 40 years ago.”
Three-toed sloths can turn their heads almost 360 degrees.