As night came everyone started packing up and stumbling off. Most folded up their lawn chairs and headed for their cars, poking here and there at the bushes to find the gap to walk through to the parking lot now that it was pitch dark outside. Rob and his family had a camper on the property so it was simply a matter of rounding up the small children and herding them inside. A few other families split off to grassy locations and popped up dome tents. I could have gone either way; I could have gotten in my car and driven through the night back home, or popped a tent. Since staying till morning meant visiting another set of cousins and a block of homemade cheese from the Amish store, I went for the tent.
The morning that came was dewey and gray, but I woke with no trace of either a hangover or the back pain customary of sleeping on the ground. I climbed out of my tent and stood barefoot in the wet grass. Residents of other tents were also stirring, and those of us who had emerged waved sheepishly, each fumbling with our bed hair and wrinkled clothing. I waited until Lindsay and Rob had emerged from their sleeping places and said goodbye, then threw all my gear back into the car and started the drive around the lake to the home of another family.
Cousin Mel met me with a cup of coffee and a homemade blueberry muffin. Despite the fact that I was rumpled, bleary-eyed and probably smelled like residual fireworks she led me into the kitchen and took a chair down from the top of the kitchen table for me to sit on. “Where you mopping?” I asked.
“No,” she replied. “The baby gets up on the chairs and up on the table and tries to hang from the chandelier.”
I started to file this away under Reasons to NOT Become a Parent, but she went on to point out spectacular refrigerator art from the same kiddo, and tell me wonderful stories of him and his sister being helpful and sweet and snuggly. One of the stories involved a litter of kittens that had been born in the barn. Mel had thought there were only four until her daughter found a fifth, a tiny runt so small he fit in a coffee mug, and named him Brave. She explained how she’d been hoping the little guy would meet his end swiftly, and in a location where the kids wouldn’t find him. There was no way he was strong enough to survive in the barn, and they were not capable of giving him care at the house. One bit of conversation led to the next, and before I could think better of it Brave the Kitten was in my sweatshirt pocket headed for my house.
Maybe it was missing the barn and his family, maybe it was his overall weakness, but by morning Brave was in bad shape. He wouldn’t mew, and could barely stand. He refused food and water. After just a few minutes of holding him he was limp. I’d heard about, and read about, people feeling souls depart the world as they leave the body, but it’s hard thing to conceive of unless it’s happened to you. Little Brave died peacefully in my hand, and his tiny kitten soul washed over me as he went. Exhaused, I cried for a long time.