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May 11, 2014

MIKE LUNSFORD: A face only a mother could love

It is fitting that Mother’s Day comes when it does, for spring is a maternal season, one for new beginnings, for birth and rebirth, for flowering and nurturing and caring.

Each year, it seems, I have a story to write for the Monday after Mother’s Day, and each year, I write about my own mother, who, perhaps more than anyone else, I wish I could speak to again. I’d hope we all think of our mothers that way.

But this story will be about mothers other than my own.

Of her, I will simply say that she was a pie-baker, a clothes-mender, a scolder and hugger, a Bible-reader and good friend. She was as tough as nails but as delicate as a lace doily, a wonderful person who was often too critical of her own faults. She was my first and best teacher, and she’s never allowed death itself to stop her from dispensing lessons to this day.

I have been taking stock of other mothers in my life right now, two of which have come to live in my barn a while.

Of course, I’m not speaking of my wife. If a major argument were to ever separate our sleeping arrangements, I think I would be the one making a bed in the straw we keep there, not Joanie. Luckily, that has never come to pass.

I am speaking of two temporary inhabitants at my place: one an unnamed and uninvited little cat who, by the looks of her, is going to give birth any day; the other a young mother possum who already has seven mouths to feed, and is managing to do that with the help of our table scraps and leftover cat food.

This has been a year for stray cats at our place. Old age and attrition had reduced our population to just two felines as the fall crept into winter.

Our indoor cat, Edgar, spends his days at our window sills sunning his black fur and capturing imaginary prey; he’s a manic bundle of nerves, but we’ve made him our own.

The other, of course, is the ever-present Max, who has survived a litany of scrapes with mean strays and car bumpers and quiet garage doors for 15 years now. His only concession to old age has become the heat lamp he expects over his bed when the temperature dips into the low teens, and despite a rather low IQ, even by tomcat standards, he manages to hang on year after year.

By January, however, we had picked up a rather brutish and sore-footed vagrant we began to call Leo, since he resembled a lion. He has never moved past the curmudgeonly stage and, on occasion, plays the role of schoolyard bully to our other cats.

Next, we picked up a bleary-eyed orphan that I named Earl, somewhat, I suppose, after the dim-witted former felon of television reruns. He has already made two trips under protest to the veterinarian, and I often look out the window just in time to see Joanie traipsing after him, eye-dropper in hand, hoping to get a bit of medicine into him.

Then, of course, came Miss No Name, who Joanie agrees will have to stick around long enough now to deliver and then wean her litter. She’ll then face a quick spaying before we shuffle her off to a new home; after all, we can’t keep them all.

I was, however, more than a little surprised a few nights ago when, as I headed toward a shower with the dust of an evening yard mowing in my hair, Joanie told me she intends to keep one of the cat’s kittens. I can recite chapter-and-verse my reasons why we don’t need another cat to care for, but I don’t believe I have much say in the matter.

The possum has been a most unusual guest. Living where we do, we often get the occasional raccoon or skunk or snake or possum, hanging around our barn like hotel lobby guests. She has taken quite a liking to that aforementioned bed of Max’s.

Just the other day, I slipped onto a mower and fired it up for an hour or so of grass cutting, and as I pulled back, I saw a long pink snout pop over the top of the bed, a bungee cord-like tail soon following it. I turned off the mower and peered into the bed to see her, yawning and sleepy-eyed, seven white and black babies, so ugly they are cute, curled up around her for a warm afternoon nap, apparently not concerned I was watching. I found it odd to see the inner toes of her hind feet work in chimpanzee-like nimbleness, and soon had my wife and visiting daughter in the barn to see the show.

I have written about possums before, and I know of the hazards of allowing her to stay around. Her razor sharp teeth keep me aware that she’ll never be a pet, nor would I want her to be. But, other than losing a bit of lost cat food to her, she seems to be doing us no harm, and when she and her babies move on — and they will — I’ll get Max a new bed.

Besides, her off-spring may have faces that only a mother could love, but love them she must for they will be her traveling companions for three months or more, hitching rides on her back or on her tail until they are big enough to take care of themselves.

I am not particularly happy that I am operating an animals’ home for single mothers in my barn, that a no-name cat, thoughtlessly dropped out of someone’s car like garbage, has brought her problems to my doorstep. And, that a possum, one of the most homely and nearly prehistoric of creatures on the planet, has made herself at home, too.

But the good mother I live with now will not turn them away, and the mother I had as a boy wouldn’t have either. So they can stay on a while.

There is an essay, called “Our Mothers,” by the long-gone Christopher Morley that I read last week for no particular reason. In it, he wrote that mothers “created our world, and taught us to dwell within.”

I think he was right about that.

Mike Lunsford can be reached by email at, or c/o the Tribune-Star at P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN 47808. Go to his website at to learn more about his books.

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    March 12, 2010