The Cat and the Squirrel
…an unusual love story.
Referencing animals in the title sets an expectation I’ll be telling you a fable, and I suppose that’s a fair description. After all, this story possesses both a lesson — actually, three of them — and the requisite animals, albeit two plaster animals.
My grandparents had an unusual love story. (Isn’t that true of all grandparents?) I knew they met — and fell in love — because of their shared passion for ballroom dancing.
But, boy, oh, boy, were they ever the couple most likely to never get — or stay — together just by virtue of the “lacking things in common” department. Though they were evenly matched looks-wise — he with his dashing hat, manner, and astonishingly clear blue eyes — she with her fashionably flowing dresses, ready smile, and big brown, laughing eyes, they were not so much a “swipe right on Tinder” kind of couple.
In fact, I’m convinced the guy who conducted the 1950’s study on mate selection came up with “opposites attract” after meeting my grandparents. Here’s the short list of their non-overlap on the ‘ole Venn diagram:
1. He was a man of 10 words or less, while she was a woman who delighted in upbeat, back and forth conversations of 10 minutes or more.
2. He didn’t care for yards, yardwork, or words that had “yard” in them, although he would sit in the yard listening to a ballgame. My Grammie was all about the yard, rendering that exquisite tiny plot of land gorgeous with flowers, a koi pond, and well-placed vintage lawn furniture that wasn’t vintage at the time.
3. He enjoyed a brisk business-like game of Blackjack, while she was devoted to her bridge clubs, enjoying all the social niceties they provided.
4. When he got mad he was a communications camel who could go for weeks without uttering a single word, fully committing to his “strong silent type” persona. She was gregarious, easy-going, and never met a positive word that shouldn’t be uttered. When she got mad she would just sputter out, “Oh, wouldn’t that just frost you?” and go her truly merry way.
The funny thing is you meet your grandparents — if you’re lucky to meet them at all — in the twilight years of their life together. That means the lens through which we view their relationship may seem clear at the time, but it’s not 20/20. That was certainly the case with my own Grammie and Daddy.
Their journey as a couple unfolded, not in real time, but along the timeline that was my own emotional development, providing me with the ability to appreciate what it means to be in a long-term loving relationship. Granted, it can feel heavy on the “long-term,” and not so much on the “loving” at times.
There were rough patches. Plenty. The grandparents I met later in life had survived wars, a head-on car crash when neither was expected to live, and the tough road a marriage travels when alcoholism is one of the not-so-restful-stops.
I didn’t see much in the way of romance, except for one thing they did, but it spoke volumes. Their adorable and quirky expression of love that was re-ordering the cat and squirrel “live action” statues on their backyard pole.
The cat and the squirrel were two plaster figurines my grandmother artfully arranged on the post behind their modest house. She would position these unlikely-to-be-paired-up critters, so the cat was chasing the squirrel.
For years, every so often — she never knew exactly when he would do it — my grandfather would switch the order. Sometimes he was near her when she discovered his antics, and I would hear her say, “Ohhhhh, you!” as she turned toward him. The scene went into slow-mo. There wasn’t any physical display, but what a moment. Precious. Authentic. Powerful.
The meaningful look they exchanged was so intensely personal, I remember feeling happy, but almost embarrassed. I felt as though I’d photo bombed an intimate picture of their relationship.
These unforgettable interludes have stuck with me, becoming part of our family’s lexicon. In fact, my husband and I will often say, “Well, it’s like the cat and the squirrel,” as though it’s some sort of parable that everyone knows. We know.
As it turns out my groom and I have several of our own cat-squirrel activities. One of these is when I carefully arrange dishes separately in the sink, lovingly squirting in the exact right amount of soap for a proper soaking, and he arrives a nanosecond later, dumping out the soapy water, and stacking the dishes all in one dry, towering pile.
I put down throw rugs, he picks them up. He pours cereal into a bowl, and I abscond with it, cackling as I hear him shuffling around, wondering where the flock he left it.
We’ve acted out these silly scenarios — plus several more — over the course of our triple+ decades together. It’s these goofy moments when we’re alone that we’re exactly the same people together as we were the day we met back in 1980-something. And here’s where those lessons I mentioned at the top of the article come in for a photo finish as to which of them represents the most important one.
Lesson One. It doesn’t matter what a marriage or relationship looks like to those on the outside, or how others might apply their personal Litmus test assessing its success. The two people in it, define it.
Lesson Two. One of the most beautiful outcomes of a long-term relationship is you notice things, ensuring your significant someone knows they’re seen, if not heard. (Kind of like what our parents told us when we were knee-high to a grasshopper.)
Lesson Three. Sharing emotional and physical space with someone to whom you’ve plighted your troth means you share a non-verbal language that’s often not spoken by anyone else.
For me, the strongest message of love is a non-verbal one, but I do need that cat-squirrel action to really send the message home. Hey, has anyone seen that bowl of granola I just poured?
Please do find me on LinkedIn where I’ve launched my (new) newsletter MS. WRITENOW.
Biography. After a diverse and rewarding career in television broadcasting, Diane wended her way toward both a teaching credential, and a Master of Arts degree in English, earning several publishing credits in the process, including her master’s thesis highlighting the work of author, Langston Hughes entitled, Changing the Exchange. Diane lives and works in northern California, where she’s often found performing in both scheduled and unscheduled productions in front of mostly attentive audiences. Her “sit-down standup” style of writing is featured in Just Because I’m Not Effin’ Famous, Doesn’t Mean I’m Not Effin’ Funny (Humor), which is Diane’s fifth published book. Her other books include: Maternal Meanderings (Humor), Last Call (Humorous Mystery), KILL-TV (Humorous Mystery), and I’ll Always Be There For You…Unless I’m Somewhere Else?!” (Humor). Other publishing credits include numerous essays that have appeared in MORE magazine, NPR’s This I Believe, The San Francisco Chronicle, Sacramento magazine, California CPA magazine, Bigger Law Firm magazine, The Union, and the Sacramento Business Journal. Diane’s new non-fiction book — REMEMBER — A Father-Daughter WWII Stalag 17-B POW Story About Never Giving Up — has just been released.