Rural Life: Lazarus Rising

"Lazarus, come forth!"

Nearly every morning, a male voice can be heard bellowing these words outside our back door. A guest in our home might find it strange or disconcerting or even rush to the window half-expecting to see The Son of God resurrecting somebody from the dead right there on our patio. I casually carry on with whatever it is I am doing. I know it’s just my husband talking to the cat.

This is not to suggest that nothing miraculous is happening out there, because it is – and on more than one level.

The most compelling argument for divine intervention is the fact that Lazarus (or Laz, as we call her) is, against all odds, not dead.

Laz got her name when she was about six weeks old. Before that, she was just one of the legions of mewling offspring that her teenaged mother spit out so frequently there was scarcely time between litters to get the little hussy spayed. Laz was the runt of her litter and one of the last to be adopted.

Unfortunately, she wasn’t proving very marketable. While her siblings were friendly and playful like normal kittens who have never been mistreated, Laz darted under the house if anyone came too close, peering out from her lair with horrified, accusing eyes. One time she actually flunked inspection from a prospective owner who came looking for a new kitten. The adoptive parent quickly concluded that this scrawny, scowling misanthrope wasn’t the pet for her.

But the story of how Laz got her name really begins Easter Eve 2011. I was up attending to certain late-night Easter Eve tasks when I decided to set some leftovers out for our dogs. (Dogs in the country still eat table scraps and bones and other things nobody knew were bad for them before Science Diet was invented.) I had no sooner stepped back inside than I heard what sounded like a dog fight. Rushing out, I found the unwanted kitten thrashing uncontrollably on the patio, blood pouring from her mouth and one eye bulging hideously. I knew immediately what had happened. Our 70-pound Lab – normally so docile that kittens followed her around the yard like baby ducks follow their mother – had snapped when the 1-pound cat attempted to share her food. It seemed that the huge dog had taken the tiny kitten in her mouth and violently shaken it or slammed it on the concrete. I was kicking myself for making such a dumb, thoughtless mistake, but there was no question about what had to be done now.

I brought the mangled kitten inside and woke Harvey up to get his rifle. Farmers don’t call veterinarians in the wee hours of the morning to put down an injured cat. But Harvey said, “Let’s just hold off on that.” At the very least, we agreed (perhaps selfishly), that we didn’t want to have to tell our children on Easter morning that we’d shot one of their kittens. So Harvey placed the handful of furry wreckage – the kitten was twisted like a pretzel and unable to control its motor functions – into a box with a towel and took it to his workshop at the barn, fully expecting to find it dead the next morning.

It wasn’t. It wasn’t dead the next afternoon, either, when Harvey brought it back to the house. He set the cat and its box by the stove, and we fed it milk with a syringe. Within a couple of days, the kitten was able to stand. Not long after that, it was walking, although every few feet it would suddenly stagger and fall over like a drunken sailor. It took weeks, but that darn cat didn’t just make a full recovery. That cat practically came back from the dead. She’s on the small side for a full-grown cat, but otherwise she looks and acts perfectly normal. That is why Harvey named her Lazarus – after the friend Jesus resurrected in one of his New Testament miracles.

That wasn’t the only miraculous transformation. In addition to her physical healing, Laz emerged with a whole new attitude. Somehow, the reject with the prickly personality became one of those wonderfully laid-back lap kitties – the rarest of felines that not only tolerates but seems to enjoy the attention of an 8-year-old boy. We aren’t sure whether it was our tender loving care that turned her around or if she just has brain damage. Either way, we like the new version a lot better.

Still, I’m not sure any of these amazing developments could ever compare to the earth-shaking miracle that happened next: Harvey admitted to liking a cat.

In his defense, let me point out that Harvey is kind to all animals. One of the first times he ever made my heart melt, we were dating and I witnessed him bringing a mother cow and her newborn in from the field. He carried that baby calf  in his arms so tenderly and placed it on the tailgate of his truck so reverently anyone could see he had a huge heart. Throughout the years he dairy-farmed, he was sincerely saddened and disturbed every time he was forced to put a cow out of her misery, no matter how many times he’d done it before. Not long ago, he quit hunting after deciding that the pleasure it brought him was not worth the lives of the animals it took. He is always telling me stories about beloved dogs from his childhood. It is Harvey who makes sure our pets get fed every morning.

Still, there is no other way to put it. The man does not like himself a cat.

Or maybe it would be more fair to say that he does not like cats the same way cat lovers like cats. His mindset is classic farmboy: He believes cats should stay outdoors and make themselves useful by doing things like killing mice. He is less enthusiastic about cats that require litter boxes, shed hair all over the house, claw furniture, exact violence when they aren’t being petted in exactly the way they like or get underfoot every time the door opens.

That was the kind of cat I had when we got married. Harvey thought she should act more like all the other cats on the farm. She thought she should act like a cat that had spent most of her life being pampered in an apartment. In other words, it was war.

When Harvey tried to turn her into an outdoor cat, she dangled from the window screens, yowling to be let in. One night, she climbed through the sunroof of our car and peed on the upholstery. Harvey got so mad he took her to the woods on the far side of the farm and put her out, his rationale being she would quickly find her way home but with a humbler disposition. His plan backfired. I was absolutely furious when I found out what he had done. It would be a toss-up as to who was more ecstatic when that cat finally showed up two weeks later: me or Harvey.

Needless to say, there have not been any more house cats in our life. Plenty of stray cats and barn cats and yard cats have passed through, but none have ever achieved the status of Most Favored Cat. None, that is, until Laz came back from the dead.

And it’s all because Harvey likes Laz. I know because I hear him talking to her every morning when he goes outside to feed our pets. “Lazarus, come forth,” he says if she doesn’t appear first thing when he opens the door. Mostly, Laz lives outdoors, but every once in a great while I find her asleep in Harvey’s lap in his recliner or curled up on the pillow beside his head.

I don’t care what anybody says. That’s a miracle.

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