Sometimes, when you drop your guard and think you've got a set plan, things happen out of the blue. New pets, for example. Unexpected ones. They seem to cross your path at the times you are most certain of your future plans. Their job is to change plans and make you adjust your life. They make you move over and make room, like that extra person squeezing in at the end of the picnic bench.
I have never had reason to fear going to the feed store, despite the fact that desperate animals have crossed my path there before. One was an abandoned rabbit (she was a great pet). Another was a young rabbit destined for the dinner plate (we call him "fork to farm", vice "farm to fork"). He is a great pet, too. But rabbits are uncommon at this feed store, so I was safe.
What no one saw coming was a private little drama in a feral cat family. Feral mama cat had a litter in a snug trailer full of hay. That hay moved to another state. When the trailer was opened, mama cat moved her family into the next, almost empty, hay trailer. Someone noticed her moving her kittens one at a time into the other trailer. Except one kitten fell behind the remaining bales, where she could not reach him. The truck took the trailer with the cat and her kittens (except one) back on the road later that day, The next day or so, the trapped kitten was found behind the bales of hay. He was all alone, hungry, and in shock. He was too weak to cry out. The man who loads the hay for customers happened to see him when he moved the bales.
Meanwhile, John and I were finishing up our purchase of grain when in walks this man holding the tiny kitten in his hand. He explained what must have happened and then came that inevitable question. I was slow on the uptake. I have a bad cold and should have seen this question coming, but, instead, I just stared at the weak little kitten thinking something along the lines of 'someone should feed it'. That was it. My brain stopped processing at the point. My filing system had already placed kitten into the folder marked "Someone Else's Project".
John, however, was three steps ahead. The initial question was innocent enough, but the following statement contained the dreaded word I should have feared above all. The word free has many different meanings to different people. In the adult world, we are somewhat immune to the magic of this word. It usually means there's a catch (though not often a 16 year long catch). It means full price on the other one, or divulging personal information to various email lists. 'Free' doesn't really mean free in the adult world. But when you are a child, free means all kinds of good things. Lollipops, for example, are still free at some stores (and our local bank). Kids are so attuned to that word that they could tell you exactly where all the free things are given away within a twenty mile radius of home. So, when that well-meaning man asked, "Who wants a kitten?", I had not yet entered the danger zone. But when he followed up with a half-smile and a shrug while saying, "It's free", I should have been terrified. I heard an inward gasp of air from the child next to me. All of the sudden, into his world of free lollipops, Tootsie Rolls, and Kisses, entered Kittens. Not just any kitten either, but a really tiny kitten. Nobody moved. The little dull creature was in the outstretched hand pointed in our general direction. I could feel the boy's eyes studying me for the tiniest twitch of a muscle. Without thinking I reached out and the warm bundle was in my hands. It needed help. Laser beams were directed at me from the offspring. I passed it to him, again without thinking. His whole face lit up. Wait a minute. What have I done? It was a standoff and I blinked first. We had a new animal to care for.
I teased the feed store folks for setting us up in my weakened state. Of course, they were all smiles now. Then I added a bottle and milk replacer to the order. The boy, meanwhile was enthralled with our new charge. Before we even left the parking lot, the kitten was named Jacob.
Jacob is doing well. He is about two weeks old. His eyes recently opened and he crawls a bit, but is clumsy. He was dull, weak, and covered with fleas. The flea treatment was easy and after getting his belly full a few times, he is more lively. He is very serious about feeding when he wakes up, but then it's time to play. He rolls on his back and sort of waves his tiny paws around. We touch his little paw pads in a sort of tickle game. FInally, he sleeps with his head tucked in the crook of my arm.
Mike just sighed when he heard about our latest addition. He and I were discussing how no one else offered to take the kitten at the feed store when John piped up with sincere bafflement, "Who wouldn't want a free kitten?" Mike and I had a good laugh.