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During the Summer of 1981 when Anna was 10 and Laura was 8, they found a starving black and white kitten at the riding stable just outside of Pavia, our small town in Northern Italy. They telephoned me asking to bring it home "Per favore, Mamma!" "No, we already have a cat and a dog. Take it to your grandmother, she lives alone and needs a pet. The riding stable was close to Nonna's house and they took the kitten to her. "No, I don't want a pet. Well, I will keep it for a while just to please you children." She said.
My daughters named him Spiga which means a grain of wheat. But Nonna was hard of hearing so the kitten grew up as Spicca instead. Nonna paid attention to him 24 hours a day. She always talked about him with us on long distance telephone calls after we moved to San Francisco.
Ten years later, in July, 1991, Nonna died. The Persian Gulf War was just breaking out. Leaving Laura in San Francisco to take care of the house and pets, Anna and I flew to Pavia to clean out the condo. Welcome to Italy! They made us deplane on the tarmac while rows of soldiers aimed their loaded rifles at us. It was hot and humid. The apartment looked gloomy and unloved. There was Spicca sitting close to the front door waiting for Nonna to come home. The neighbors had been feeding him and cleaning out his kitty box. Spicca was very unhappy - he yowled and cried out day and night for Nonna - but he tolerated us because we fed him. We tried to give him away but all the neighbors had more than enough cats. Finally, we decided to take him home with us to San Francisco. So I called the airline and reserved him a place under my seat.
On the morning of our departure, we filled the car with luggage and put Spicca in a wire cage on top in the back seat. All the neighbors came out to say good bye. They looked at Spicca and were sorry to see him go.
Malpensa Airport was hot, crowded and chaotic. In addition, it was filled with soldiers holding loaded weapons. It resembled a war zone. I left my cart next to Anna and her cart to find the airline. When I came back, two soldiers pointed their sub machine guns at me and asked if that was my cart. I was unnerved. We had to keep our cool. The airline told us that the wire cage was too big to fit under the seat and they said that the cat must go into the baggage compartment. "No problem" we said as we opened a suitcase and pulled out a soft, folding cat carrier transferring Nonna's by-now-tranquilized cat into it much to the amusement of other passengers standing in line.
The trip was very long - 36 hours from door to door. When we boarded the plane at Malpensa, Anna asked me if cats ever escaped inside the plane. "No, of course not" I said. (Mothers think they know everything). Much later, as the plane flew over the Rocky Mountains west to California and the lights inside the cabin were dim so that everyone could sleep, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder which woke me up. I turned and a lady pointed to the center aisle where a black and white cat was taking a stroll. "Excuse me, is that your cat?"
I hardly knew this cat. How did he escape? My whole life flashed in front of me. "I am not prepared for this" I said to myself as I unfastened my seat belt, stood up and called "Spicca vieni qui". (You have to speak Italian to Italian cats!) To my utter amazement, he actually obeyed and began to walk toward me while all the passengers watched. Anna dove for him when he got close enough and we tried to stuff him back into the carrier but he would not go back in. So we sat him on our laps and tried to get him to swallow another tranquilizer pill. He didn't want that either but, eventually, we won.
Spicca lived for two months under my bedroom dresser observing the dog and other cats. He was terrified. He was actually tense for a whole year. Then, however, he slowly increased his territory to the whole room, then the whole flat and then the back porch. He adopted me as his special person. He followed me from room to room and would not let me out of his sight. At first he would sit at the top of the stairs and howl when I went out but then he learned that I always came back home. He began to play with the other cats and keep the dog in his place. Spicca was such a wonderful cat and I talked about him all the time...
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