By Regena Handy
Until I did a bit of research, I’d never been sure if Blackberry Winter was an actual thing. I had heard of it all my life and just figured it was a term created by us southwest Virginia folks.
I was partly right. According to my internet search, more specifically Wikipedia and Old Farmer’s Almanac sites, it is a colloquial expression used in the South and Midwest and refers to the brief cold snap that occurs in late spring when blackberries are in bloom.
Regardless it has little to do with this story. It just seems that in my memory of that day, it was a cool, early June day. A Blackberry Winter day.
There were three of us in the office work room at the time, a multi-purpose space housing filing cabinet, copy and fax machines and such. The Animal Warden who shared space in our complex returned from a call he’d received earlier.
When he came into the work room — this is why I remember it as a cool day — he was wearing his jacket. He reached inside the partially zipped front and handed something to each of us.
“These are yours now. Take good care of them,” he said, as he placed a tiny kitten — obviously only a few days old — into each of our hands.
A county citizen had called him. Her barn cat had been found dead in the roadway, obviously hit by a vehicle. The elderly caller was almost certain she had left behind kittens in the barn.
When I opened my cupped hand, I found a little gray puff-ball. Really, she was such a baby that I couldn’t imagine how she could live without her mother.
After receiving advice on how to take care of them, we each took a kitten home. We fed them with an eye dropper, then a baby doll’s bottle. They always had messy faces since they did not know how to clean their selves without a mother. So, with a soft damp cloth, it was up to us “new mothers” to show them how.
That tiny gray ball of fur we eventually named Puff due to her appearance was a survivor. Though always a small cat, she was tough and had no problem standing up to the other animals. Without question, she considered herself Queen of her universe. I recall her swatting at our huge husky/Samoyed dog and watching him back away, all the while thinking that she didn’t realize he could bite her in half if he chose.
She was a loyal little thing. Because of my husband’s schedule, Puff became his cat, allowing only him to feed her. During the year and a half of our son’s illness that he lived with us, she was his constant companion. For more than two years after his death until her own, she would climb the stairs to his room, no doubt looking for him.
Perhaps at the time we took her in, it might have seemed we were doing her a favor. But for almost 18 years, we were the true benefactors.