Me and My Playmate Dusty

Dust Ball

We had the windows open on a warm evening. It was probably 1968 and I don’t recall anyone in Old Saybrook having anything more than a box fan, or possibly a window air conditioning unit in a bedroom, for cooling. When it was hot, we just waited for the breeze off the Sound. It always came.

What I recall well are sweating glasses of lemonade or iced coffee on a coaster, handheld fans made of folded paper, and cool breezes in the evening that brought relief from “dog days”. We would open the window to the front porch and the two windows on the back, and sit in the living room hoping for a cross-breeze. 

Upstairs at 351 Main Street, my grandmother had a small fan in a window, blowing out. Even if no air was stirring outside, the little fan would draw in a little outside air downstairs while it blew out the hot air upstairs. 

Into this silent evening, between the cars moving on Main Street and the occasional clinking of ice, there came a tiny mewing. We couldn’t discover the direction at first, but somewhere there was a kitten in distress. We’d hear it, then hear nothing over the traffic for half a minute. Then we might hear it again.

My mother finally decided it was coming from out front. The three of us, my mother, grandmother, and I stepped out onto the porch and listened for the mewing. Sure enough, it was a little less faint out there, and coming from the direction of the street.

Mom and I moved out onto the sidewalk and could discern that the noise was coming from the top of a pine tree across the street. The night was moonless and a little hazy, so we could not see exactly what was in that tree. After dark on a summer night, the traffic is not steady, but it is not infrequent. Dangerous for crossing.

By the headlights of a car coming from the direction of Maple Avenue, we suddenly saw a shadow of a tiny creature dropping from the tree. It darted into the road toward us, right into the path of the car. My mother gave a squeak of fear and put her hands on her head in a panicked motion. I doubt the driver ever saw what tumbled across the road, but he saw my mother and hit the brakes, barely avoiding a tiny, gray dust ball of a kitten as it ran right up to my mother’s feet.

Mom scooped the little guy up to take him inside. My grandmother scowled, unhappy about having a cat in the house. But there was no sending him alone into the night at that point. He was so tiny and so alone. And he had come to us for help. We never turned away a stranger in need, even if he was just a flea-bitten kitten.

We put a notice in the paper and asked a few neighbors, but nobody claimed the little fuzz ball. We named him dusty and gave him a full-time job as chief mouser. He had to grow into it, but in time he did, just as he grew into our hearts, especially that of my skeptical grandmother.

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