Gloves off

Gloves off

There are appropriate contexts for gloves at Tabby’s Place:

Conducting surgery.

Cleaning (human) toilets.

Performing Cabaret for Suite A. (Carrot appreciates jazz hands.)

But handling jalapenos? Never.

Tortoiseshell cats are fond of metaphor, but Sammy wishes I would just get on with it. What is this talk of peppers and gloves? May we please just jump, bare-handed, into the big business of stroking speckled cats?

Sammy has spent so long on the back burner, she’s impatient to be the main event. She is a chocolate cat strewn with fairy lights. She is too awake to burrow under a bushel. She is Quinn’s Corner’s new queen, and she wishes I would quit pontificating.

But she will humor me, for she is a tortoiseshell cat. So back to the jalapenos we go.

When I am not erupting in blogs about our feline overlords, I am (a) raising money for our feline overlords, (b) lowering the standard of age-appropriate attire for 42-year-olds, and (c) skimming cookbooks by women who answer to “Meemaw.”

I don’t know how this began, but somewhere along the way I began collecting Taste of Home cookbooks from the thrift store. For $2.99, I can sit at the knee of Lurlene and Perlene as they wax buttery about Jolly Jambalaya or Meat Loaf For A Mob. (I am not making this up.)

If you spend time meditating with the Meemaws, you will learn two rules: (1) margarine is an abomination, and (2) you must always wear gloves when handling jalapenos.

Cats commend the Meemaws for #1. Cats cannot abide #2.

Sammy is not eating peppers, any more than I am cooking actual recipes. Sammy is living on love, luring our bare hands into her beautiful minestrone fur. Sammy is gobbling up gentleness, rolling like rotini in the laps that live to love her. Sammy is shining in the solarium sunshine, occupying orange windows built for cats whose colors were too bold for anyone but Tabby’s Place.

But Sammy knows spicy, and Sammy knows the gloves are off.

She was born with more colors than a cassoulet. But colors are not the problem. Complexity isn’t the problem. Cats conquer puzzles and paradoxes more gracefully than we make breakfast.

Just consider our salty suites: strangers sprinkle each other with sass and cinnamon until they become old friends. (Exhibit A: Mullet and Malora.)

Old nemeses forgive each other for being ambulatory until someone spills the cayenne. (Exhibit B: Grecca and Prescott. Cannot two queens reign simultaneously?)

Four o’clock brings the mystery of wet food, created ex nihilo daily, and every cat falls silent with reverence. (“Silence” in this case including “warthog snorts.”)

But jalapenos…jalapenos are a problem.

Jalapenos add zest and jest to your minestrone, but jalapenos carry strange fire. Get a little lazy with the seeds, and you will howl as though your tail has been slammed in the door.

There are few jalapenos more jolting than feline leukemia virus (FeLV).

Throw this ingredient in your skillet, and you’ll see everyone from Meemaw to Mark Wahlberg reach for the gloves.

When you are infected with FeLV, some will say you are no longer a precious pepper. You are no longer a gift of the earth.

You are infected. You are unsafe. You are too hot to handle.

Your only hope is a kitchen where cooks have no fear of tears. They’ve touched fragile beings and then touched their own faces and lived to love again. They’ve touched the hem of heaven by looking in the eyes of death.

They’ve accepted that the pot will boil over, and tears will boil over.

They’ve stripped the recipe down to one step: love vigorously.

And so, Sammy, spicy with uncertainty, finds a place at the table. She is FeLV+, and the outcome is not assured. No one can read the marks on the kitchen timer. No one can prevent the souffle from falling, or the temperature from rising.

No one can keep Sammy from rising to the top cubby that kisses the sky.

Sammy may thrive past twenty. Sammy may not.

We understand why most would wear gloves. Every garden-variety living being is a liability. This is why some scarred chefs keep their gloves on even in the shower, even in their sleep.”I will never adopt another cat. I will never face that pain again.”

But a creature charred with questions? A cat whose disease bars all reasonable gates? Are we asking to get burned?

Or are we answering the kind of question only grandmothers and tortoiseshells are brave enough to answer?

If you live long enough, jalapenos will come. Live brave enough, and love will stuff them with cheddar and bread them in mercy.

Live among mortal cats, and you will be torched and scorched and taken on the jet stream of your own tears.

Even if they are uninfected. Even if they are safe as oatmeal. Even if you have let fear write the recipe.

Love will bake you and take you where you do not want to go, and you will be grateful it did.

At Tabby’s Place, we’re just wise and foolish enough to take the gloves off.

Disease is not the jalapeno. Life is the jalapeno. Small, speckled cats can tell whether it’s your fingers or your fears burrowing beneath their fur. They can believe it’s not butter. They can look us in the eyes and know if we will follow wherever their lives lead.

Take off the gloves. You are taking a chance even when you think you’ve taken precautions, so you may as well love as gratuitously as a grandmother.

Tabby’s Place is a jalapeno sanctuary, and no one is too nuclear to be touched.

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