Bees at Midnight: Housecats and Barncats by Mother Diane

October 24, 2020

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Bees at Midnight is a compilation of reflections during Mother Diane’s twelve-week internship on a farm in Oregon while on her journey to becoming a priest. This collection of short stories captures her beautiful experience and candid musings. In the coming weeks we will share one short story each week.

Preface (9/19) | Rock Festival (9/26) | The Parade (10/3) | Seeds and Weeds 10/10 | Cockcrow (10/17) | Housecats and Barncats (10/24) | Bees at Midnight (10/31) | Fancy That (11/7) | Swimming Upstream (11/14)

“Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to
you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it
will be opened.” (Luke 11: 9‐10)

Housecats and Barncats

There are four cats in residence at Taucross Farm. The official housecat is Julie’s cat, Pas de Chat. She accompanied Julie to the farm. Pas de Chat is a large, shorthaired, yellow cat, and I did not get to know her very well. She stayed in Julie’s room upstairs in the main house most of the time. To me she always had the air of a cat who knew she had most favored cat status, and she acted like it. Evidence of this attitude came out one day when I had left my jeans and sweatshirt on top of the ironing board while I went upstairs to the interns’ quarters to get my other laundry. When I returned, Pas was comfortably reclined on top of my sweatshirt on top of the ironing board purring away. She seemed quite put out when I strongly encouraged her to get down.

The barncats were more interesting creatures, possibly because their status at the farm was somewhat less secure. All these cats came with the place, so to say, or had wandered onto the place as strays and had stayed. In some ways my favorite cat was Juniper, a very thin, battered, flea‐bitten, yellow tomcat who used Taucross Farm for rest and recuperation from his adventures and battles. Julie was the first to tell me about him. She described him as a wild cat who would hardly let anyone touch him. I had seen him once and didn’t know his name. I happened to see Juniper not long after my conversation with Julie. I was walking along the dirt road near the old house on my way to the barn. There was Juniper limping across the lawn at the back of the house. I paused and said, “Hello Juniper, how are you today?” To my surprise he answered me back and came my way. The tone in my voice must have been close enough to cat for him to recognize a friend. We exchanged small talk, and pretty soon he was on his back rolling and riggling so that I would scratch his tummy, which I did. Quite politely, I asked him if it would be okay if I picked him up. It was. We walked toward the barn, and I rubbed behind his neck and under his ears. He purred. Father John walked out of the barn just about then; and when he saw who it was getting all my attention and enjoying it, he looked rather astounded. I saw Juniper more during the first part of the summer than recently. I always greeted him and checked on how his new wounds were healing. I saved meat scraps especially for him one day. Several days later when he finally stopped by, he practically swallowed them whole, a feline vacuum cleaner taking the morsels out of my hands. I told Father John that Juniper and I were simpatico. He just looked at me and didn’t ask me what I meant. That was appropriate.

Socks has the most gentle spirit of all the cats on the farm. A grey and white, shorthaired cat, she was abandoned by the previous owners of the farm when they left, and she had been a housecat. Father John assigned her to the barn, giving Pas de Chat the higher seat at the table. Socks has accepted this turn of events with remarkable dignity and grace. She has submitted to Father John’s judgment and to the abuse she suffers from the other barn cat. Still, in her heart of hearts Socks knows that she is a housecat and not a barncat. There are times when she comes over to the main house hoping that the door will be opened. The most revealing episode of Sock’s secret desire came when she brought oblations of large, dead mice on three successive evenings to the front porch of the main house. “Oh Socks,” I finally said, “don’t you realize that with these gifts they will be able to go on thinking of you as such a fine barncat and never understand how much you want to be a housecat?” Someday I hope her persistence will be rewarded and that for her importunity the door will be opened. He who has ears let him hear.

Cat Stevens is a real barncat. She came down the road from another farm where there were thirteen cats. Apparently she was on the low end of the social scale there and was continually being bullied. So she moved up the road to Taucross Farm and became the bully, lording it over poor Socks. Juniper had her number, but Socks was a lady and her gentile demeanor registered constant disgust and then distrust of the audacious newcomer who had taken over the barn. She was, in short, a cat with few scruples who simply muscled her way into becoming a cat to be reckoned with. Father John has a particular soft spot in his heart for her and describes her as ubiquitous. True, she is here, there, and everywhere on the farm. I, however, think that is due to the fact that she is part gremlin. Basically, Cat Stevens remains substantially unredeemed. What other reason could be given to account for the fact that the only time that she would go up into the rafters in the barn and kill baby swallows was during Compline? What better way to disturb our prayers for a peaceful night and a perfect end, amen, than by committing bird napping and murder right above our heads, and then by terrorizing Socks when there was nothing left alive up in the rafters? I think Father John must like her so much because she is an excellent prospect for salvation. Where Cat Stevens is, there is still plenty of the Lord’s work to do.

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