February 27, 2024 | Rome, Italy

My Roman cats

By |2024-01-20T04:37:40+01:00January 8th, 2024|L'Americana|
Cashew and Almond.
M

y daughter Julia sprang out of bed the other morning declaring that she’d had a dream that we’d taken our two cats, Cashew and Almond, to Rome, where we met Prima, Macchia, and Ciccio — my Roman cats from two decades ago. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that they might not still be living.

My Roman cats feature in her favorite bedtime story, which I’ve been telling her every night for nearly six months. Despite my attempts to tell her another story, she insists on the cats. The story goes like this: My boyfriend Giuseppe and I took in a stray cat one winter. We named her Amelia, Lia for short.

At the time, I would see people pushing strollers and think, “Someday.”

One night, Lia had gas, and we figured that she’d just eaten something bad on the streets. But the next few nights she wasn’t much better, so we decided to take her to the vet, a white-haired man who put Lia on an examination table with a bright light shining overhead. The scene looked straight out of a Rockwell painting. “In cinta,” he said in a gruff Roman way. She’s pregnant.

For the next few weeks, we took care of Lia, not letting her roam the streets. As her belly grew bigger, it sagged on the ground. One night, we went to the late showing of Big Fish, a 2004 movie about an American reporter in Paris who has to go home to the American South to care for his sick father. It was funny and sad, and, for me, a reporter in Rome, prophetic. A few years later, I too, would be homebound, to Iowa, to care for my dying mother.

Normally after movies, we went to the 24-hour Pasticceria Romoli on Viale Eritrea for a cappuccino and a dama, a cream-filled pastry. But that night, we were a bit sullen and just went home — to find Lia, rolling around on the ground in labor pains. I tried to help, but she made her own way into the bedroom and hid under the bed until she birthed her three kittens.

The author with her daughter.

I was mesmerized by the process. Lia licked the kittens immediately after birth, and then they began to suckle. Ciccio, the fat boy cat, soon became our favorite — and his mother’s. Once when we were playing with him, Lia came running from the other room to interfere. My own maternal instincts were formed by watching the cats. That may have also triggered me to leave a relationship that didn’t promise children. Even though there were other reasons for breaking up with Giuseppe, I also remember that at the time, I would see people pushing strollers and think, “Someday.”

Sadly, when I left Giuseppe, I had to get rid of the cats, too. As I was gathering my things in his apartment, he put the cats in the crate, then handed it to me, saying, “They were your idea, so they’re your problem.”

Problem they were indeed. My roommate at my nearby apartment didn’t allow pets, and after one night, she declared, “Either the cats go, or you both go.” After calling everyone I knew in Rome, and every cat rescue listed in the white pages, I found places for the cats to go. I met Ciccio’s new owners in front of a church, and I took the girls to a cat hostel by San Giovanni Basilica.

Getting back into the taxi, without the cats, I started crying. The driver asked me what was wrong, and I told him about the cats, leaving out what was really gnawing at me, which I didn’t then completely understand. Leaving Giuseppe was the first adult act of my life, and I struggled with it, especially since he was such a mentor to me.

I loved him, but I loved me more, especially the me that I could just barely see on the horizon. They are called growing pains for a reason. “Così è la vita,” the taxi driver said tenderly, a phrase that I tucked away and pull out periodically. Such is life.

They are called growing pains for a reason. “Così è la vita,” the taxi driver said tenderly, a phrase that I tucked away and pull out periodically. Such is life.

At this point in the story, as told to Julia, I pick up Lia and her girls at the hostel one week later and take them to my colleague Anna, who gives them a forever home. But in my own version, I fast forward to the present, realizing that I’ve become the person I’d seen on the horizon, which includes being a mother (as well as a cat mother).

It might be a stretch to say that I left Giuseppe in order to have Julia, especially since several years, lovers, and life events happened in between. But it’s fair to say that the Roman cats helped make me into a mother — and that’s inspiring enough to keep telling their story, for as long as Julia will listen

Kristine Crane is Associate Editor of The American and the author of the "L'Americana" column. She lives and writes in North Central Florida. She was formerly a Fulbright scholar and journalist in Rome, where she helped found "The American." She is originally from Iowa City.