Butterball’s mum was a tabby cat we called “Ugly” she was the offspring of one of the many feral cat families on the farm. We never saw these cats in daylight, but knew they were around because we could hear their noisy, furious fights at night. Ugly was also born in the winter. Her mother was not silly because she nested under the house just near the base of the kitchen stove, which, because it was alight 24 hours of the day, was lovely and warm.
I found the kittens when I was hiding from Mum under the house. You guessed it – once again I was in her bad books. I think it was the time that I decided that the wood I had chopped for the stove was dirty so I had hosed it down. Wrong move! Now it was too wet to be used! I heard the miaowing of the kittens and went to investigate. There were five little bundles of fluff; so tiny that their eyes were not even open. I spent a good part of the next week under the house with the kittens, plotting on how I could convince Mum and Dad that I had to have a kitten. I was so good all that week. Did all my chores without being asked and was ever so polite. They knew I was up to something because this “angel” in the house was not their daughter. Eventually one night, when Mum was reading to me, I got up enough nerve to tell her about the kittens and ask if I could have one. She did not give me an answer right away, just said “maybe”. That was enough for me because I knew her maybe meant yes!
Dad was a pushover; I had him wrapped around my little finger and he could never say no to me. However, he did insist that, if I was to have a kitten, it must be a boy because he did not want to have to deal with a litter of new kittens every 6 months. I said OK and we both crawled under the house to get the kittens so that we could choose a Tom. There was not all that much space under our house so can you imagine my Dad, who was 182cm crawling behind me. There was a whole lot of cursing as he kept on hitting his head on the floorboards above. I learnt some new words that day! When we got the kittens outside Dad chose Ugly for me and gave him to me to take inside.
You may be asking why I chose the name “Ugly”. It’s pretty simple he was Ugly! He had a very dark grey coat covered in orange splodges and his face was bright orange. He was so Ugly he was beautiful.
Ugly never really belonged to me though. He was too wild but he did come at meal times when I called him and occasionally he would sleep on my bed and allow me to pet him, but cuddle him – never! I had so many scratches on me at one stage I looked like I had been picking blackberries for a week.
As you will have already surmised about six months after he was born we realised that Dad was not very good at picking the sex of cats. Yes he was a she and a very pregnant she! I was wrapped! More kittens!
Ugly became gentler as motherhood got closer. I could now pick her up and my bed became her bed. She was still only a kitten herself and here she was about to give birth to more kittens.
At last the big night arrived. I thought it was strange that all afternoon and evening Ugly had been following me around. If I went to the wood heap to chop more wood then she was there, sitting on a log and occasionally miaowing at me. I went to bed at my normal time in winter (about 8.00 pm) and Ugly soon joined me. She went around and around in circles but just didn’t seem to be able to get comfortable. She had a really fat tummy by this time and I thought that was the reason. Eventually when I let her get under the blankets with me she settled and we both went to sleep.
Much, much later I was awoken by the sound of tiny little mews. The first kitten had arrived. We didn’t have electricity in those days but I had a torch, which I quickly turned on, and there lying beside me was a baby kitten. Ugly was licking it clean and purring like a steam engine.
I screamed out in delight, “Mummy I’ve got a kitten.” There was a lot of muttering from the room next door where Mum and Dad slept and then the reply, “That’s nice darling, now go back to sleep.” “But Mummy it’s got white paws.” Silence. “Mummy, Ugly is having another kitten!” At last I got a reaction. I could hear Mum go to the linen press and to the storage cupboard. She opened my door and bought in an old suitcase and some tatty towels that we were going to make into rags. I helped Mum line the suitcase and we lifted Ugly and her kitten into it. I begged Mum to leave the suitcase in my room and she agreed as long as I promised to go straight back to sleep!
Sleep, there is no way I could go back to sleep! As soon as Mum was out of the room, Ugly grabbed the kitten in her mouth and jumped back on the bed and straight under the blankets. Who was I to argue with a cat that had made up her mind that her kittens were going to be born in my bed!
The kittens arrived at regular intervals of about half an hour apart. I kept Mum and Dad fully abreast of what was happening much to their annoyance. “This one’s a tabby!” “We have another black and white kitten!” “Oh a pretty little ginger one with a white face!”
The fifth and last kitten to arrive was Butterball. I fell in love. She was the colour of butter and her fur was so much longer than that of her brothers and sisters. We were all so tired by this time that Ugly, her five kittens and I fell into exhausted sleep.
Naturally, I awoke with the birds the next morning and threw back my blankets. It was just so beautiful. There were Ugly and her five little babies. They were only the size of matchboxes, did not have real ears and their eyes were closed tight. I was so frightened that they might have suffocated having been under the blankets with me all night but they were all wiggling and madly suckling on Ugly’s breasts.
That morning at breakfast Dad sat me down with a very serious look on his face and said, “Jane you know we can’t keep all the kittens don’t you? I want you to choose just one and I will take the others away before you and Ugly get too attached to them.” My heart was breaking but I knew he was right. I held his hand and we both went back to my room. Ugly looked up and miaowed loudly. It was as though she knew what was about to happen. I petted her and told her to be brave but I had tears trickling down my face. Naturally, I chose Butterball and Dad took the other kittens away. To this day I have never asked where he took them. Mum insisted that Ugly and Butterball move to the suitcase straight away so that she could take my sheets away to be washed. I hadn’t even noticed that they were dirty! Ugly accepted this arrangement but wasn’t too keen when I locked them both in the case and tried to take them to school with me. I finally agreed not to take them when Mum promised me that she would watch over them for me. Every afternoon when I got home I eagerly ran to my bedroom and the suitcase to make sure that all was OK.
Over the next weeks I watched with delight as Butterball progressed from a skinny little sausage into a cute kitten. Pointy ears and the biggest yellow/brown eyes. Mum was also in love and she gave me treats for Ugly (like the cream and titbits of fresh meat) so that she would be able to give all the right nutrients to Butterball in her milk.
As soon as Butterball was weaned Mum and I drove, in the old Holden, to town and visited the Vet. Neither of us trusted Dad’s judgement with regard to if Butterball was a boy or a girl. Mum gave a huge sigh when the Vet told us that she was a girl because she knew that she would have to explain to me that Butterball had to stay overnight with the Vet and have a small operation so that she would not have kittens. Funnily enough this was OK by me just as long as Butterball wasn’t going to be too sore. The Vet, a kindly roly-poly man called Dr. Jones, assured me that she would be asleep when he operated and that within a few days would be back to her playful self.
The next day we picked up this very sleepy and sore little ball of yellow fluff. Dr. Jones was correct in his prediction as within two days she was again chasing her tail and playing hide and seek with me and then jumping out and pouncing on my foot as I walked past her hiding spot. She was very much a house cat and only went outside to go to the toilet and then rushed back to miaow at the door until we let her in.
Soon after this Ugly left and I never saw her again. She returned to the feral cat families but, occasionally, I was sure I heard her caterwauling at night. Because Butterball and I had each other for company we didn’t miss her all that much.
Besides that we were soon to be joined by another bundle of joy – Lochie, but that is another story for another day.