Cat Tales - stories from my 8 lives

I feel I'm on life number 8 out my 9 cat lives. My eight lives started with my humble beginnings in Minnesota and continue to my current retirement. Here they are:

Number One -Life on the Farm

Number Two - College Days

Number Three - Working in Africa

Number Four-Failing in Business

Number Five - Grant maker

Number Six - Teacher

Number Seven - Teacher Mentor

Number Eight – Retired to the Thai jungle and bought an elephant

Number Nine – The Best Is Yet To Come!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Pail - Life Number One

The Pail

The foul smelling pail dominated the claustrophobic little closet. Rusty and slightly beat up, the pathetic container looked disgusting. Out of all the tired, lack luster pails that laid haphazardly strewn around the farm, this pail had been chosen to carry out a rather ignoble task. Indirectly appreciated and outwardly disliked, the pail had a history.

The pail was not alone in its duty, but it alone carried a kind of untouchable stigma. A tired, antique wooden chair was the pail's closest ally in the closet. The old chair was always placed directly over the pail, somehow turning the closet into a private throne room. The decrepit chair provided only minimum comfort to those who went there and sat on it. The torn woven cane had been removed, leaving a gaping square hole in the middle of the old chair's seat.

A square hole, through which the pail in all its glory, could be seen. The worn out chair and the dented pail, together formed a humble throne in the closet.

The throne room, located on the second floor of the old farm house, always felt cramped. Too many boxes and other junk had been stuffed into this small space. Even the door to the closet was narrow, making in necessary to slide sideways into the confining space. A wooden shelf, directly above the chair, was piled high to the ceiling with boxes of Christmas ornaments, old photo albums, used clothing, hand made blankets, and so forth. So much stuff cluttered this tiny space, and in the midst of it all, stood the chair and the pail.

A small 25 watt light bulb illuminated this camped space. The low wattage bulb was all that was needed. A long dirty white cord hung limply from the bulb. Entering the closet at night and swinging one's hand around in the darkness, was the only way to find the white cord. Then with a tug, the light would come on and the interior of the throne would glow with a faint yellow hue. The light was not bright, but then it did not have to be. One did not go into the closet to read a book.

Even before the first flakes of snow fell, the contents of the closet were rearranged to make room for the pail. The chair never left the closet. Nothing, except for the pail, was ever taken out of the closet. Things were only added. A series of sharp frosts were usually enough to have someone note, “Time to put the pail in the closet.” The pail itself was not hard to find. Each spring when it was no longer needed, the pail was promptly carried out and placed behind the house. During the summer, the pail rested tipped over next to the white washed two seat outhouse. All summer long, grass grew green and tall all around the pail. Toads sometimes made their home under it.

With the pail in the closet, came the rules. Only use at night and only for number one. No one ever actually voiced these rules. Everyone just knew them.

It did not matter how deep the snow, how fierce the blizzard, or how freezing the temperature , the pail in the closet was not to be used during the daylight hours and when used at night, only for number one. Rules are made to be broken however, and these two were no exception. It always seemed that the bitter cold of winter had barely just begun, when the smell emanating from the throne room carried the distinctive stench of more than just number one.

The pail was not emptied every day. Sometimes it sat under the chair for a week, collecting more and more and more. The stench within the closet grew stronger and stronger with each passing day. Entering the closet, no matter how great or pressing the need, was not for the faint of heart.

Slowly opening the closet door, a sour, acid smell brutally attacked the senses. The smell struck like a powerful punch delivered by a heavy weight boxing champion. The nose would wrinkle in disgust as the eyes watered and the lungs burned.

If confronting the smell head on was too much, another option was available. Before opening the door, one could inhale a huge gulp of air and then hold one's breath. Of course this assumed one could ideally get in and out before the lungs demanded more oxygen.

One would open the small door and squeeze into the darkness. Darn! No light cord. If the last person to use the pail, had pulled the cord too hard while turning off the light, the chain could jerk the cord upwards, and deposit it somewhere on top of the card board boxes. Out of sight and out of reach.

How to locate the light cord? One would hold the closet door open with one hand, allowing a little more light into the throne room so as to see where the cord lay. As usual, it was tangled in the boxes near the ceiling. Even standing on one's tip toes the cord was usually far out of reach. By placing one's foot on the throne, being ever so careful not to tip over both the throne and the pail, it was possible to reach up and grab the cord. A yank on the cord and there was light. No more fresh air in the lungs however, so the remaining stay in the closet was spent inhaling the nasty foul air.

When the pail got full, someone had to empty it. This meant taking it out of the closet, carrying it down the stairs, and emptying it outside. No one wanted this job. It seemed that the pail was always full to overflowing before it began its journey from the little closet, down the narrow stairs, through the kitchen, out the porch and eventually to the snow covered outdoors. No one cared where it got emptied outdoors, just that it did get emptied. Well, that's not entirely true. No one wanted to see the brown stain against the white snow. The contents of the pail therefore needed to be poured out of sight. That meant, amongst the trees out behind the house. More work, hence no one willingly took on the chore of emptying the pail until it was full to running over.

This was a hazardous journey, from the closet to the outdoors, for the contents of the pail. To say nothing of the individual carrying the pail. The smelly contents were not always just number one and it appeared the entire contents were always within a hair's breath of spilling out over the pail's edge. The pail weighed a ton, with its contents splashing back and forth as it slowly made its journey.

The journey down the stairs always seemed the most treacherous. With the thin wire handle biting deeply into the fingers, slowly step-by-step, the pail made its way down the long narrow steps. At any point in this journey, disaster loomed. All it would have taken was one false step, a slip of the foot, or losing one's grip on the handle and the entire smelly contents of the pail would have spilled out. How many times, in the mind's eye, had this flood of brown sludge, slopped out of the pail, down the stairs, and into the kitchen?

The pail eventually went into retirement when indoor plumbing arrived. There should have been a big ceremony that fall, when the pail was no longer needed. But that never happened. As the first official flush swirled in the bowl, accompanied by hoots, hollers and applause, no one appeared to be thinking about the old, rusty pail. It had been replaced. It was history.

Time rolled on. Everyone moved on with their lives, whether to college and their own homes, or for the most elder, the retirement home. Through it all, the pail stood tipped over, next to the wooden outhouse. Decades went by and the pail remained undisturbed. This forced retirement was not to last forever however. The farm, and everything on it, was to be sold.

Hundreds of people mulled around as the fast talking auctioneer encouraged the crowd to increase their bids. Piece by piece, antiques found new homes. Everything was being sold it would seem, except for the pail. Long since overgrown with weeds, the pail had gone undetected by the sale organizers.

The day was over and everyone headed home. More by accident than chance, an elderly man stumbled over the pail as he was leaving the auction. Seeing the pail, the man remembered his wife's earlier request. “See if you find something unusual at the auction that I can practice my Norwegian rosemaling on.” Grabbing the pail, the man hurried home to present his find to his wife.

A few weeks later, the now brightly painted pail, filled with flowers, sat on the elderly couple's porch next to the front door. Everyone smiled and commented about the pail as they walked into the house. “What a clever idea!” “The pail is beautiful!” “Who would have thought one could turn an old pail into such a work of art!”

No one knew the pail's past. No one knew the pail's history.

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