Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My Mother's Cat--A Story on my Birthday.

When my nineteen-year-old mother died, a few weeks after giving birth to me, I inherited her cat, Paprika. He was a gentle giant, with deep orange stripes and yellow eyes that gazed at me tolerantly as I dragged him around wherever I went. Paprika was ten years old when I came into this world. He had been held and loved by my mother for all ten years of his life, while I had never known her. So I considered him my link to her. Each time I hugged him tightly to my chest, I was warmed by the knowledge that she had done so, too.

"Did you love her a lot?" I would often ask Paprika, as we snuggled on my bed.

"Meow!" He would answer, rubbing my chin with his pink nose.

"Do you miss her?"

"Meow!" His large, yellow eyes gazed at me with a sad expression.

"I miss her too, even though I didn’t know her. But Grandma says she is in heaven, and she is watching over us from there. Since we are both her orphans, I know it makes her happy that we have each other," I would always say, for it was a most comforting thought to me.

"Meow!" Paprika would respond, climbing on my chest and purring.

I held him close, tears welling in my eyes. "And it makes me so very happy that we have each other." Paprika’s orange paw reached up and touched my face gently. I was convinced he understood me, and I knew I understood him.

At that time we lived in the country of my birth, Hungary, and I was being raised by my maternal grandparents because World War II had taken my young father away, too. As I grew, the war intensified, and soon we were forced to become wanderers in search of safer surroundings.

In the spring of 1944, when I was eight, Paprika and I snuggled in the back of the wooden wagon as we traveled around our country. During the numerous air raids of those terrible times, when we had to scramble to find safety in a cellar, closet or ditch, he was always in my arms, for I refused to go without him. How could I, when one of the first stories I was ever told as a child was that of my dying mother begging her parents to take care of her cat as well as her baby?

After the Christmas of 1944, when we were almost killed in a bombing of the city we were in, Grandfather decided that we would be safer in a rural area. Soon, we settled in a small house that had a cemetery as its neighbor. Here Grandfather, with the help of some neighbors, built a bunker away from the house, and on an early spring day in 1945, we spent the entire night in the bunker. Paprika was with me, of course, because once again, I refused to go without him.

Warplanes buzzed, tanks rumbled, and bombs whistled and exploded over our heads all night while I held on to Paprika, and my grandmother held on to the both of us, praying the entire time. Paprika never panicked in that bunker. He just stayed in my arms, comforting me with his presence.

Finally everything grew still, and Grandfather decided it was safe to go back to the house. Cautiously, we crept out into the light of early dawn and headed towards the house. The brush crackled under our feet as we walked. I shivered, holding on to Paprika tightly. Suddenly, there was a rustle in the bushes just ahead. Two men jumped out and pointed machine guns directly at us.

"Stoi!" one of the men shouted. We knew the word meant, "Stop!"

"Russians!" Grandfather whispered. "Stand very still, and keep quiet."

But Paprika had leapt out of my arms when the soldier shouted, so instead of listening to Grandfather, I darted between the soldiers and scooped her up again.

The tall, dark-haired young soldier approached me. I cringed, holding Paprika against my chest. The soldier reached out and petted him gently.

"I have a little girl about your age back in Russia, and she has a cat just like this one," he said, smiling at us. I looked up into a pair of kind brown eyes and my fear vanished. My grandparents sighed with relief! We found out that morning that the Soviet occupation of our country was in progress.

Many atrocities occurred in our country in the following months, but because the young soldier took a liking to my cat and me, we were spared. He visited often, bringing treats for Paprika and me. Then one day, a few months later, he had some sad news.

"I’ve been transferred to another area, malka (little one), so I won’t be able to come and visit anymore. But I have a gift for you," he said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a necklace. It was beautiful, and had a turquoise Russian Orthodox cross on it. He placed it around my neck.

"You wear this at all times, malka. God will protect you from harm. And you take good care of your kitty."

I hugged him tight, and then watched him leave, tears welling in my eyes.
In the trying weeks and months that followed, Paprika’s love made things easier for me to bear, for he rarely left my side. He was my comfort, my best friend.

By the fall of 1945, Grandfather, who had spoken up about the atrocities taking place in our country, had gone into hiding, to avoid being imprisoned as a dissident by the new communist government.

Grandmother and I prepared for a solemn Christmas that turned into my worst nightmare when I awoke on Christmas morning to find Paprika, curled up next to me, lifeless and cold. I picked up his lifeless body and holding it close to me, sobbed uncontrollably. He was nineteen years old, and I was nine.

"I will always love you, Paprika. I will never give my heart to another cat," I vowed through my tears. "Never, ever!"

"Paprika’s spirit is in heaven now, with your Mama, sweetheart," my grandmother said, trying to comfort me. But my heart was broken on that terrible Christmas Day in 1945.

Grandfather stayed hidden until the fall of 1947, when we were finally able to escape our communist country by hiding among some ethnic Germans, who were being deported into Austria. In Austria, we landed in a refugee camp where we lived for four years.

These were difficult times for me and I longed for Paprika often. I saw other people’s cats and knew it would be so comforting to feel a warm furry creature purring in my arms. But my loyalty to Paprika—mixed up in my mind with loyalty to my mother—never wavered. I had made a vow and I would keep it.

A ray of hope pierced this darkness when eventually we were accepted for immigration to the United States. In September 1951, we boarded an old Navy ship, on our way to America.

That year, we spent our first Christmas in the United States. The horrors of war, the four years of hardship in a refugee camp, were behind us now, and a life filled with fresh possibilities, lay ahead.

On that Christmas morning, I awoke to a tantalizing aroma wafting throughout the house. Grandmother was cooking her first American turkey. Grandfather, meanwhile, pointed to one of the presents under the Christmas tree that seemed alive, for it was hopping around to the tune of "Jingle Bells" playing on the radio. I rushed over, pulled off the orange bow, and took the lid off the box.

"Meow," cried the present, jumping straight into my lap and purring. It was a tiny, orange tabby kitten, and when I looked into its yellow eyes, the vow I had made in 1945 crumbled like dust and fell away. I was a new person in a new country. Holding the cat close, I let the sweetness of love fill my heart once again.

That Christmas Day, I do believe my mother smiled down at us from heaven approvingly, while Paprika’s spirit purred joyfully at her side.

This story has been published in "Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover's Soul," ("Angel Cats," "A Dickens of a Cat." ) Copyright (c) 2004 by Renie Burghardt.

Unfortunately, the only picture we have of that era is the one above. All others were lost during the war.

I hope you enjoyed the story. My family is here to help me celebrate my birthday, and of course, Thanksgiving. I woke up to streamers and Happy Birthday signs and balloons decorating my bedroom. I feel like a kid of 72! :-)

Friends, I will be somewhat absent from the world of blogging this week, but will be back the weekend.

To all celebrating the holiday, Happy Thanksgiving. And to everyone, have a wonderful week!

I also want to thank my Russian cousin Elena, in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia, for the lovely birthday gift and card. It arrived yesterday, and was such a surprise. Thank you Elena and Vlad!

And thank you so much for reading.

Blessings from the woods!


Patti said...

First of all, Happy Birthday Renie!!!

What a beautiful story! It brought tears to my eyes. What a comfort your little cat was for you all those years! I am a cat lover too.

Take care and have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family!

Granny Annie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bennie and patsy said...

Oh!Renie what a sad but loveing story of your mother and her cat. I know you are having a wonderful time with your daughter here for Thanksgiving. Happy Birthday

Gramma Ann said...

What a lovely story, sad but at the same time sweet. One thing we can't stop, is each year we become another year older! Enjoy your visit with your family, and tell us all about it next week.

Brenda said...

Happy Birthday Renie!
I was happy to see you had shown one of your published writings today. I had not read that story, so it was a treat for me. It sounds like a story that could be fiction but I know that it was a true story for you. Animals really do fill our hearts. I haven't had a cat for years, but I remember the humming purrs they make when they sleep next to you. Thanks for sharing all this with your readers.
Blessings and Hugs,

Granny Annie said...

Happy Birthday Renie. What joy for you to give this lovely story to us on your birthday.

Scarlet said...

I'm here via Granny Annie's blog and I must say, that is quite a beautiful story! You had me in tears.

Happy Birthday and Happy Thanksgiving, young lady! ;)

JennyLu said...

happy birthday. You made me cry. :( I also tagged you under my 4th picture post.

Janice Thomson said...

Oh Renie what a touching touching story. I'm so glad a kitty was there to comfort you through all those horrific times that I can't possibly understand.
Have a wonderful birthday and enjoy your week off.

Lakeland Jo said...

what a wonderful story- I loved it. You are a great writer

Jaina said...

Wow, what an incredible story. Sounds like something from a movie. I can't imagine having gone through that. Have a happy happy birthday, and a fabulous Thanksgiving.

Sandy said...

Happy Birthday and now.....

what a story, I had tears reading what you and your family went through. How blessed we are in this country not to have experienced the pain of your childhood. Wow. Still shaking my head and wondering how does one keep going ...but yet so many like yourself did...

all the best to you and enjoy your holiday. and ...what a special cat...

Cole said...
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Cecile said...

Your story is so beautiful and made me teary eyed.I am a cat lover to and all they want is just love and food and they give you their hearts.I am sorry for your sadness in your.Happy Birthday and Happy Thanksgiving!

Z said...

I came over from Granny Annie's site, and I'm sure glad I did..what a beautiful story. I can only imagine what holding that cat to your chest felt like after having lost your mother!
I had 2 cats which lived till 20 and people say "get another cat!" and I always say "I want THEM, not any cat~!" but, maybe, some day, I will get new ones!

Happy Birthday and a blessed Thanksgiving to you!

Rachel said...

Happy Birthday Renie!! What a truly wonderful sad, but very touching, story!! You went through a lot back then and how wonderful to have Paprika with you.

You brought tears to my eyes with this one!

In your previous post I see you have the raccoon visitors like we do here. They never get full I think!!

Loretta said...

Happy Birthday. After a sad, sad day today this story made me feel good. I have a 14 year old yellow cat that I love very much. Thank you for your comment today.

Happy Thanksgiving,

BClark said...

What an amazing life you have led and continue to lead. So many people would have spent their time feeling sorry for themselves, but you have turned adversity in a wonderful pitcher of Lemonade.

Some of my earliest memories are of my animals. A small grey kitten. There is always the sorrow when they leave us, but while here they give us so much love.

A wonderful Thanksgiving to you and yours Miss Renie

Deborah Wilson said...


Happy Birthday! The story was very sweet. Animals are soothing to the spirit - they love unconditionally. In my opinion, life is not complete without them.

Have a good Thanksgiving with your family. I don't have to travel, the travelers came home...:)

hippo chick said...

Oh Renie,
My heart is full after reading that wonderful story. You are truly a woman of strength and determination.

And now, Happy Birthday, dear friend. You deserve every happiness in the coming year. When I think of you, there in the woods, I smile.

Have a delightful visit with your family, and once again, Happy Birthday and Happy Thanksgiving.

~hippo hugs~

Linda said...

Happy Birthday Renie!! Thank you for the wonderful gift of your story. I so love reading your stories.

Wishing you and your family a wonderful Thanksgiving.

audrey` said...

Dearest Renie

Wishing you and all your loved ones a Very Blessed Thanksgiving =)

Happy Birthday, Renie =)

Hi! I'm Grace said...

Oh, this is a very touching story of your life. Paprika must be happy to have you, too.
Happy Thanksgiving Day. :)

Rosy said...

Your story really touched my heart, brought not just one tear but many.

Your cat really did kept you safe in more ways than one through love and spirit.

Hope you and your family had a very wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.

Rosy said...

Also hope you had a wonderful Birthday too!

venus66 said...

A lovely story and very touching too.
Many More Happy Returns of the day. Take care.

Old Lady Lincoln said...

Renie, what a sad story with a beautiful and happy ending. So many things you had to go through in your early years. I know they have all made you the person you are today.

Again, Happy Birthday late, I did send you a Jacquie Lawson card,over the computer to the e-mail address I had, but it shows you haven't picked it up yet. I also sent you a Thanksgiving Day card. Have a blessed week with your family.

Merle said...

Dear Renie ~~ I hope your birthday was wonderful. I am so sorry this is a late birthday greeting, but I hope you know that you are an inspiration to me and many others.
And that we all love you and feel so sorry you had such a bad time during the war years. Happy Thanksgiving.
Take great care, Love, Merle.

Sandy said...

Wishing you a happy thanksgiving!!

I am thankful for your sharings you write.

JennyLu said...

Happy Turkey Day

Hootin' Anni said...

Hope you had a wonderful, blessed Thanksgiving!!!

Mary said...

I absolutely LOVE your stories!
My blog has been inactive for awhile but I continue to read a few blogs of others. .

Happy Birthday and Happy Thanksgiving to a delightful blogger and writer!


Dawn said...

Happy birthday and what a wonderful story! I am a devoted cat lover too! I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and a great weekend!

ancient one said...

I'm late as usual... but Happy Birthday Renie! Loved the story and the photo! Enjoy your family. Happy Thanksgiving!!

Jmkdreak said...

love this story and you!
Hope you can rest up from
your busy week!
and hope you feel better soon.

miss you.

Midlife Mom said...

What an amazing story Renie! I was glued right to each word! What hardships you experienced in your young life, I'm so glad you had your wonderful cat as long as you did! They can be so much comfort!

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family!! Happy Birthday my friend! xoxox

Mountain Mama said...

Through tears and smiles I read this awesome post Renie. You are an incredible lady. You have lived through such hardships and still you believe and still you smile. Your faith and forgiveness are an inspiration. God bless you always,
Aa very happy Birthday to you and a blessed year too.
Hugs, hugs and more hugs!
I hope you don't mind but I took your picture to Photo*shop and enlarged it a bit and tried to lighten it up for you. If you like the result I will be happy to do this with any other photos you have.

Mountain Mama said...

Oops!! I will need your e-mail addy to send you the picture. Mine is on my blog.

Mad Bush Farm Crew said...

Hi Renie

What a beautiful touching story. It brought tears to my eyes as I sat here at the computer and read every line. Paprika and you were so lucky to have each other. All you went through and suffered. Happy Birthday even though I am a few days late in saying so. My own mother is 76 and I am so lucky I still have after nearly losing her earlier this year.I am so glad you have the woods and the creatures around you and your family.

All the best and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!

star in heaven said...

Happy Birthday Renie... A big hug to you :)

Leslie said...

Wonderful story-I love Paprika! I came to your site from Liz at Mad Bush Farm. I'm so glad that you had Paprika to get you through so many difficult times in your very young life.
Praise God that you are in a place that you love and is so comforting for you after so many years of having to endure such hardship.
Happy Birthday too and thank you so much for sharing your story about Paprika!

Blessings Always,

Mary said...


I've always loved this story and enjoyed reading it once again. I'm glad that your grandparents gave you a new cat to love.

Happy Birthday, my friend. Enjoy the time with your family.


Hi! I'm Grace said...

Hi Renie, I had a great first thanksgiving here in US, how about yours? :)

Hootin' Anni said...

I'm sobbing!!! I fell in love with Paprika as you did.


Just wow.

I'm trying to clear my eyes to type.

I want to wish you a belated Happy Birthday Renie.

Oh my oh my....what a heart wrenching share...but all in all a wonderful way to let us know what your young life was like. Through tears, I thank you for sharing this.

W. Latane Barton said...

Oh my word, Renie, how I thank Patsy for getting us connected. I just sat and cried reading your post. What an awful childhood you had but I am so thankful that you made it to America and now have a loving and wonderful family.

I know your love for your cat. My father was killed by lightning just before I was born and we had a hard time. I had a grey and white cat that was born in a litter from another cat I had. I named this new kitten 'Noddy' because it's little head would bob around when I would hold it. I had the cat for years and then it came time for my mom and me to move from the country where we had been living with my grandparents. Mom had a job in town. I took my cat with me but she did not like town life and ran away and I never saw her again. I was heartbroken. So, yes, I feel the pain you felt at losing Paprika.

I will be back to visit you often. God bless

Gramma Ann said...

Hi Renie,

Sorry to hear you caught a bug. I just left mine go, so maybe he found you. hee, hee. I hope you continue to feel better each day. I'm pretty much over my cold. I think! Today, we went shopping, the first I've been out of the house for 2 weeks.

Your granddaughter Nicole is lovely.

Nancy said...

A belated Happy Birthday to you, Renie!!! I did not know it was your birthday.

I was spellbound, reading your story!!! I am sorry you lost your mother at such a young age and never got to know her. But she passed her love of cats on to you.

God Bless Paprika! He sounded like your soulmate. Cats do understand our feelings, I am certain of that! In reality, Paprika saved you all from the Russian soldiers that day. I was so touched that tears came rolling down! I can understand why you are a cat lover like me! Your grandparents were very special to you. The new kitten was such a special gift and so heartwarming! We love those little furry things, hairballs and all, don't we! LOL And especially the cat hair we find on our clothing from time to time. Aren't they cute? That's what my daughter always says when mine get themselves in trouble. LOL

Marvelous story!!! You are truly a very talented writer!!!

Love you!
(((((( HUGS ))))))

The W.O.W. factor said...

The tears are still falling Renie! That story, the life and struggles you endured...and Paprika! Oh my goodness...
I truly hope you had a wonderful birthday...you so deserve the best!
My heart is filled with warmth, knowing you've had a better life after all you've been through.
Many Blessings Dear Renie!

Anonymous said...

I am back, after a long absence. I so thoroughly enjoyed this story. A story of Love and Loss, Peace and War. A story of life as most Americans never knew or will know. I can not imagine how a child must have felt. so many losses but you did have a wonderful blessing in your Grandparents.
I too have a kitty, I love him so much, when I brush his fur or rub him he gets so relaxed, the droll comes rolling out. LOL MY Granddaughter thought that was the funniest thing she ever saw.

Poetikat said...

Renie, what a wonderful story! I'm so pleased to see that it was published because it is so heartfelt, suspenseful and moving to anyone, but also to cat-lovers (and I am one of those, certainly).
It should be done as a children's book. It would be brilliant!

Take care,


dot said...

I came here from Deborah's. I'm glad I did. Your story was wonderful!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Renie Burghardt said...

Oh, no, spam!