I wake to the sound of the rooster crowing. The weight of many handmade quilts is cozy but I know that if there were any light in the room, I’d be able to see my breath in the cold morning air. Light shuffling of feet can be heard through the floor, down into the kitchen where Aunt Suzanne has already been up for a while. The smell of sausage wafts up through the cracks in the floor. There will be grits bubbling atop the wood-burning stove, handmade biscuits on the blackened baking sheet in the oven, and no doubt Uncle Bill’s coffee pot perking away. I hear footsteps start down the stairs and notice that the twins have already left their beds in pursuit of the fire downstairs. Oaky is likely up already as well. I am always the last to get up. I’m not worried though; there is always plenty to eat at Aunt Suzanne’s table.
I throw open the covers and fling myself quickly out of bed, already in motion, running for the stairs. The cool air is cruel but the cold of the wide pine planks against my small bare feet is even worse. I scamper out of the girls’ bedroom, to the stairs, and down into the living room. As I round the last corner, I forget all about my chilled feet or my quest for the warm hearth where we all stand in front of the open fire. Along an entire wall is what used to be one of the church pews from New Liberty Methodist Church, where I was christened as a baby. All the children are peering under one section of this long wooden pew. I discover there is a box into which they all are gazing. The twins giggle and make “awww” sounds and Oaky tells me to come see but not to touch just yet. Then I know. Tiny Toes has been expecting kittens and they have arrived during the night! What joy! We can hardly wait to touch, cuddle and play with them. Breakfast is the last thing on our minds when Aunt Suzanne calls us to the table.
Aunt Suzanne’s grits were just right—not too runny and not to stiff but somewhere in between. Salt and homemade butter made them perfect. Aunt Suzanne milked the cow everyday and skimmed the heaviest cream off the top. When there was enough cream saved up, she poured it into the churning jar and we all took turns spinning the crank, which turned the paddles and made the best butter ever. On mornings when there was eggs or sausage, I liked to mix those into my grits as well. This morning I just wanted to eat fast and get back to observing the new kittens so I cut open a biscuit, slapped on some grits and butter and proceeded to take large bites which were hardly chewed before swallowing. Washing it all down at last with my cup of fresh milk, I asked in almost unison with my three cousins, to be excused. Though Uncle Bill did not seem to be amused as he excused us while reminding us to brush our teeth before dressing. Thankfully Aunt Suzanne had warmed our clothes for us behind the cook stove and we took turns dressing in front of the fire while the others watched the new kittens. When it was time to leave for school, we walked the entire mile to the bus stop in agony and dred for the day at school with no kittens. It occurred to us how unfair that baby Neil would get to spend the whole day with the kittens as he was not yet old enough for school.
Afterschool Oaky and I shot out of the schoolbus at full speed but were halted pretty quickly by the twins who were two years younger than Oaky and I and could not keep up. Rebecca cried out that she had twisted her ankle. So ofcourse then we had to go even more slowly. It would have been torture, had Uncle Ross not come along to give us a ride in the back of his El Camino. Even though he only had one arm, Uncle Ross helped Rebecca into the house as the other three of us ran to see how much the kittens might have changed since the morning. Oaky buzzed through the front door and past the kitchen table where our after-school snack was waiting. Right on his heels, I flew in behind Oaky, then Fairlight behind me. The new screen door slammed behind Fairlight so she had to go back and do the customary ten “I’m sorry door”s before proceeding.
“There are more kittens now!” I exclaimed. Without missing a beat and with a sweet smile, Oaky pointed out, “Four more, Rye-Rye.” I scooted over for Fairlight to squeeze in. “We should name them.” She said as she knelt down between Oaky and I. We customarily named new animals on the farm after characters in the books we had recently read or heard read to us. I choose Pipi for the bright orange tabby, but wanted to change it to Aslan once Oaky chose Mr. Tumnas for a lighter yellow kitty. Fairlight said, “Pipi would be a good name for this calico kitten.” and so the name was juggled. Rebecca pointed to the other calico kitten, “This one shall be Meg!” Remembering that A Wrinkle in Time was truly the most recent story we’d had read to us by Aunt Suzanne, we all agreed the two smaller, powdery blue-gray tabbies should be Charles and Calvin. I was never as good at naming as Oaky and the twins were but I was happy to feel a part of the family on the days I was there with them at Timbrook.