Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Cat Lady

Like the Hamptons, the Adirondacks has its share of eccentric characters: famous hermits like Noah John Rondeau and the local nut case living in a house left to him by his mother, drinking beer and hoarding the cans across thirty years, stacking them methodically around the house until there is no room to move. The beer-can-stacking nut case is discovered dead in his beer-can-full house just as he has run out of space to stack cans.

Or the family that rents their sprawling, spooky Victorian mansion to summer tourists, giving the landlords a year-round living and leaving them time to - drink and stack beer cans. My favorite local celebrity is the Cat Lady.

The Cat Lady lived in a charming brick house in Old Forge. The Cat Lady had no friends, but she had many, many cats. Cats she bought, cats she inherited, cats left on her porch because the locals knew she would care for them. The Cat Lady's house was more a place of squalor and filth than Grey Gardens (above, behind Little Edie Bouvier Beale), with its fleas and raccoons and urinating cats.

The Cat Lady lived in her small house with her horde of cats. In the winter, the house was heated, in the bone-numbing cold of the Adirondacks, by a single wood burning stove in the kitchen. The stove emitted soot and smoke and ash into the house so the walls were covered with grit and the Cat Lady's hair was artificially colored black.

She must have had 30 cats at any one time and quite possibly more. Cats were left on her front porch day and night. And those cats mated and had more cats. The soot grew thicker, supplemented by cat hair and fur balls and the stench of uncleaned, makeshift litter boxes scattered everywhere in the tiny, soot and hair-filled cottage.

The Cat Lady slept in the dirty little kitchen with her cats climbing around, over and beneath her, just beside the black stove. The Cat Lady's hands were so ruined with arthritis that she could not open a can of cat food.

But, though she was not a good housekeeper, she was clever and displayed a most Adirondack brand of ingenuity. When it was time to feed the cats, she set the can of cat food on the hot black stove and scurried out of the room: "Shoo! Run!" she shouted.

Bang! went the can of cat food, exploding from the heat and spraying chunks of cat food on the walls, the stove and the floor. The cats emerged from their places of repose and pounced on the can, thrown to the floor by the force of the explosion. A feeding frenzy ensued while the Cat Lady watched with satisfaction.

The smell of the rotting cat food left in the crevices behind the stove added the perfect complement to the sweet smell of her big, hungry family.

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