When I was a little girl, my dad (who was a self-employed carpenter) was doing some work at a very, very old white house, owned by a very, very old woman named Mrs. Parrott (you know how when you are 7, you have no idea how old "old" really is? She was probably only 70, but to me she was at least 110). Since the house was ancient, it needed quite a bit of work and she kept my dad pretty busy.
Sometimes my mom would take my sister and I there after school or on weekends while my dad was working on the house. Mrs. Parrott's property was as neglected as her house, and so whatever garden there had been in the past had melded into the woods behind it, and everything was overrun with wild concord grapes. When they finally came to bear, the air hung heavy with the foxy, heady scent of ripe fruit. If purple has a smell, this is it. My mom and my aunt picked baskets and baskets of grapes, and we were eating home-made grape jelly for, it seems, years afterward.
Across the road from the house was an old red barn that housed an even older cow and a white horse with blue eyes. Both were gentle (or just old and slow) and didn't mind my dad fishing in their cow pond for sunnies or my sister and I running around. How I longed to ride that horse! Of course I had never ridden a horse at that time (that would come later, at Girl Scout Camp), but what little girl doesn't want a pony?
The best part about Mrs. Parrott's house was the cats. She gave new meaning to the term "cat lady". She had hundreds of cats. Some were in the house, some were in cages in the garage, but most were loose on the property. She told us that people would drop them off for her to watch while they went on vacation and they would never come back to get them. I suspect she had become a defacto humane society and folks knew she would take little Mittens or Smokey or Fang off their hands and not ask any questions. Now, we had always had a cat at home, and it was pretty tolerant of a the "affections" of two little girls. But this was like winning the Cat Lottery. My sister and I reveled in the abundance of fuzziness. Tiger, tortoise, tuxedo -- it mattered not to us what color or size, all that mattered was here was a cat to be held and petted. And another. And another. This cat is tired of being "loved"? Just put him down and pick up that one.
Fast-forward almost 20 years. I am wandering some back roads in an effort to skirt the traffic on the way to a new job in the same town. I find myself sitting at a light on a side street, looking at a boarded-up old house in an overgrown patch of woods, maybe a half acre; it was all that remained of a once-larger estate that had obviously been sold to a developer. Behind it was a large shopping plaza, and across the road was a small office park. Lounging about on the weedy "lawn" of the house were a couple of marmalade cats. Next to the garage are a couple more, white with small patches of orange. And suddenly I realized where I was... the cat-filled purple heaven of oh-so-long-ago!
It was so sad to see it in that state, but I understood the reality of the situation - I don't think Mrs. Parrott had any children, and the town had undergone booming growth at that time. Every farm, hill and meadow had been or was being developed into an office park, shopping strip, or McMansion farm. But here was a last holdout, tangled with grapes and guarded by some hardy felines who would not give up their spot and surely were so feral as to be vicious to anyone who wanted to rip down their paradise.
Sadly, they failed in their mission. There's a Staples there now...