By Mike Todd
“Dude, there could be hornets’ nests in there or poison ivy or rusty nails sticking out all over the place,” I told our four-year-old son, Evan, and his eyes grew wide.
“Please can I go in there? Pleeeease?” he said again, and I realized that I might as well have told him that Dora the Explorer was handing out lollipops in there.
Kids will keep you guessing. I’d just warned Evan of a high probability of very real danger, and it only served to turn him into Intrepid Explorer Man. The previous evening, he’d refused to walk to our kitchen pantry by himself for fear of a monster intercepting him, which is just silly. The monsters live in the laundry room.
“You’ll have to ask Sergey. It’s not my barn,” I said.
Evan ran up to the grill, where Sergey was just removing the last of the hot dogs.
“Sure, I’ll take you on a tour of the barn,” Sergey replied to Evan’s shirt-tugging entreaties.
Sergey’s wife, Julie, is a horse person. They don’t have any horses at their house, but the little barn in their backyard lets them keep their options open, just in case they decide they’d like to have some grazing beasts wandering around their house, and having their friends over for barbecues isn’t doing the trick anymore.
“The last time any horses lived here was two owners ago,” Sergey said as we approached the open door. The entire structure was about the size of a two-car garage. Like most two-car garages, though, you wouldn’t have been able to fit any cars in it, on account of all the stuff.
After sidling past their lawnmower, I held Evan up so that he could see into the first of four horse stalls. He grabbed the top of the dusty door and peered in at the pile of discarded drywall, broken glass, fence posts and rusted wire. You needed a tetanus shot just for looking at it. The other three stalls looked ready for a horse to move in tomorrow, but this one had made itself useful by agreeing to house decades’ worth of stuff that wouldn’t fit in the trash can.
“What’s all that stuff?” Evan asked. Before Sergey could reply, the pile answered for him.
“Meow,” the pile said.
“Dude, I think that pile just meowed,” I said.
“No, there’s a bird outside that sounds like a cat,” Sergey said.
“Meow,” the pile replied.
“Meow,” it agreed. All of a sudden, a chorus of meows started coming out from under the pile.
“Kitties!” Evan squealed, running outside to tell everyone of the discovery.
“Aw, man,” Sergey said, locating the tunnel against the side of the barn where a critter had burrowed into the stall. A pregnant critter, apparently.
As the party moved from the backyard to the barn, everyone got on their knees to peer under the rubble.
“Awwwwww,” was the collective response as four tiny, blinking kittens emerged into the sunlight.
Julie whispered, “Oh, dear. There was a dead cat on the side of the road a few days ago.”
“Did it look like these kittens?” I asked.
She nodded, wincing. Word spread quickly that these kittens needed a good home. From that point forward, Sergey and Julie were no longer hosting a backyard barbecue. It was Kittenpalooza.
“Get ya kittens heee-yah! Who wants a kitten? Get ‘em while they’re cute!”
Someone brought a paper plate of wet cat food outside and set it on the ground. A couple of the kittens approached, taking cautious nibbles. A third ran from behind and bellyflopped into the food, determined to eat the entire pile from underneath itself.
In the end, a couple of Sergey and Julie’s friends agreed to take all the kittens home, keeping some and bringing the rest to a no-kill shelter.
Evan, for his part, is off to an auspicious start of his exploring career, though he’s disappointed when he doesn’t find litters of kittens in the pantry.