Our kittens, Cuddles and Mittens, chase one another, spat from kitchen to dining room. Their two-ring circus amuses me, unlike PJ and Mo, our beloved and belated tomcats, lone mousers for eight and eighteen years respectively.
Several weeks after we buried Mo, we brought Cuddles and Mittens home. I soon found myself speaking what my mother oft repeated when my sisters and I quarreled and wrestled.
“You girls fight like the gingham dog and calico cat.”
As I separate cloves from a garlic stem, our young cats pouncing upon one another, I ponder again my mother’s meaning. Just what were the gingham dog and calico cat to provoke that inscrutable smile on my mother’s face?
Mind, amply versed in nursery rhymes and children’s literature in school, Mom supplemented our reading with picture books. However, memory will not recall the story or illustrations of a gingham dog and calico cat.
The cat and the fiddle and their allies, yes.
While I chop garlic for spaghetti sauce, it seems fitting for my mother, raised on a farm, to learn a verse casting a dog in gingham and a cat in calico cloth. For she opened our side door to stray toms and doctored them. However, she preferred pups in the house.
Under the influence of poetry and playfulness, I throw the bare garlic stem to the kitchen floor. The girls impulsively paw such things, including spools of thread, and chase them on the wood floors. The sound is soothing, and tells their whereabouts.
The garlic stem barely hits the floor before Mitty, the aggressive sister, bats it down the hall. Then off she goes under a dining room chair.
Cuddy, the compliant one, observes Mitty play with their new toy. Within minutes, Mitty tires and curls up to nap in the kitchen’s sunny corner.
The acrobat of the two, Cuddy enjoys her turn of vicarious exercise. She stands on her hind legs and tosses the garlic stem up.
Who needs a mouse to entertain a cat?
Curious, I seek and find the source of Mom’s gingham dog and calico cat: a poem-limerick by Eugene Field (1850-1895)
“The Duel” (paraphrased)
The gingham dog and the calico cat
Side by side on the table sat.
In the following two stanzas, the dog and cat literally unravel one another by tooth and claw to the last stanza:
Next morning, where the two had sat
They found no trace of dog or cat;
And some folks think unto this day
That burglars stole that pair away!
But the truth about the cat and pup
Is this: they ate each other up!
Now what do you really think of that!
(The old Dutch clock it told me so,
And that is how I came to know.)
Dear Reader, when my mother proclaimed her daughters fought like the gingham dog and calico cat, I think she foresaw the day we stood in her place.
And so explains the smile upon her face.
Contact Iris at firstname.lastname@example.org.