Confessions of a Florentine Pet Sitter

Paranoid Poop Battles

Three Sets of Beady Eyes

In the last 15 years of her life, Mama repeatedly accused Beth’s cats of leaving cat poop and puddles of pee on her sagging flat roof which collected pools of water when it rained, water stagnating in the many concave areas of the old roof. When it rained, the roof leaked, smelly water dripping all over Mama’s floors and furniture. She claimed Beth allowed and even encouraged her cats to be on her roof. It was a low flat roof easily accessible by all “creatures great and small,” even Mama. To prevent the cats from getting on the roof, Mama created the Berlin Wall of “catdom” with a barrier of chicken wire stretched all around the eves.

I believe this adversarial relationship between Mama and Beth came about very early in my life after Mama left us the first time and hooked up with Walker Winslow. Beth and her husband Dana were good friends of my father’s and Beth became a surrogate mother to my sister and me after Mom walked out of our lives. I enjoyed Beth and Dana very much and spent a lot of time at their home listening to their stories. When Mama came home again, and for the rest of her life, Mama was jealous of the relationship I had developed and maintained with Beth and Dana when I was very young.

Beth became the root of all evils for Mama—primarily with her cats and her tendency to befriend all creatures great and small in the hood. She adopted stray cats. She lived, breathed, slept and ate with her cats. She slept with the litter box at the head of her bed by the fireplace, dirty litter kicked back into her eyes as the cats pawed around to bury their mess. Beth suffered many eye infections as a result. She fed all the neighborhood cats and dogs. And she fed the raccoons believing if she fed them, they wouldn’t attack her precious cats.

Mama’s house was ten feet away from Beth’s home, but was at a slightly higher elevation. We could see the roof from from our place. Mama blamed Beth for the cat poop on her roof and Beth claimed Mama bombarded her roof with shovels of cat poop to get revenge. I know, pretty bizarre. The ravages of old age.

Now, I don’t really know who was telling the truth here. I just don’t know. Of course my tendency was to believe Beth. She seemed more rational and sane than Mama. All I can say is there was bad blood between the two women. At every visit with my mother, Mama confronted me with a tirade about Beth. She harbored a vitriolic dislike of her. Neither women spoke to each other for years and years, even though they lived next door to each  other.

The summer after placing Mother in the nursing home I stayed in Mom’s house while cleaning out years of collected junk. One night a powerful odor wafted through the cracks and crevices of the wood exterior walls. It was so powerful, so vile an odor it woke me up from a deep sleep. My first thought was maybe Mother wasn’t so crazy after all. My second thought was that perhaps her neighbors to the south, who lived in a house higher in elevation than Mom’s, were tossing dog poop onto her roof and into her small back yard. Their house, situated higher than Mom’s, and Mom’s house, situated higher than Beth’s created a perfect harmonious arrangement for throwing poop on roof tops on down the road. Could have gone on all the way down to David Avenue for most of the houses were at successively lower elevations than Mom’s. My third thought was maybe I was just as paranoid and crazy as Mom.

But since it wasn’t raining and the ceiling wasn’t dripping, I knew the smell wasn’t coming from the roof. With flashlight in hand I opened the back door to check the yard to see if someone had been throwing fresh dog poop over the shared fence, and in the light of my torch three sets of bright white beady eyes glared back at me. Caught in the act of defiling Mama’s property, the raccoons stood very still for a moment, I suppose to see what that strange orb of light was going to do next, and then in slow motion they turned in unison and crept back into the blackness.

Sleuthing in the yard the next day, watching where I stepped as I parted the jungle of neglected waist-high weeds, I found what was causing the stench: a cache of curly black feces. Raccoons, strong and agile with the ability to climb under, over, or through anything, were using a weedy patch of ground in the corner of Mom’s backyard as their midnight toilet! Mama’s house and yard offered a glorified artistically designed outhouse, a flat roof to pee on, and lush greenery to defecate in.

There was so much raccoon fecal matter in that one location, it stank like an open cesspool. Who’d have known the raccoons would travel back to the very same yard every night to do their jobs? Why not spread it around a bit?

Gangs of marauding raccoons were known to have mauled and ripped up one or two cats and small dogs in the neighborhood. The cute, fearless creatures came right up to the window panes of Mama’s front door, staring inside, demanding food. They rummaged through Mama’s garbage, leaving a trail of trash in their wake. At one point, a threesome of raccoons crawled through an open section of the glass door made into a cat door many years before. They roamed around inside the house as if they owned the place until Mama came home and startled them out of their fantasies.

Even with the knowledge that raccoons roamed the hood, Mama chose to blame Beth’s cats because she knew I adored Beth. Mama was paranoid about many things and many people.

When I was in high school, Beth’s husband, Dana, had helped me write a paper on China using knowledge gained from talking on his shortwave radio to people in China and around the world over. I never suspected he was talking to me about Chinese communism, but my Civics teacher knew as soon as he read my paper. Very angry, he made an example of my paper in front of the whole class. Held it up and said THIS is how NOT to write an “A” paper! He graded it with a “D”. Those were the days when believing in, joining, or even teaching about Communism was considered criminal. Apparently, I had committed some horrifying breach of the American contract with my civics paper. But it was worth it. I enjoyed my time talking to Dana and Beth and enjoyed being privy to a lot of inside information. But I never asked him for help on a class paper again!

Mother never said anything good about anyone I knew. Over the years, she maligned my girlhood friends, Hope, Sandy, and their mothers, too, in an attempt to make me believe they were bad and I was bad for hanging with them. She told me Sandy was too Catholic and her mother Grace was trying to turn me against her; Hope was a bad influence and besides, her mother had an affair with Dad; and Dad was a cruel son of a bitch because he was reserved; my husband, raised a Catholic, was untrustworthy, as was his wealthy mother who was always trying to entice me away from her; Albert my high school boyfriend, also Catholic, well…he kept getting me pregnant don’t you know; and Beth and Dana, of course, were chipping away at the foundations of her house and her relationship with her daughter.

I now know that for all those years, she was ill. Back then I didn’t know it was mental illness that would soon merge into dementia. I didn’t know fighting with an irrational woman was pointless. When she was in the nursing facility diagnosed with dementia, the staff and the psychiatrist told me that agreeing with her when she made wild claims was harmless—harmless to her and harmless to me. No skin off my back. Don’t fight or disagree with her, they told me. At this point it makes no difference to her; all it does is make your life miserable. So I learned.

 © 2011 Susan Canavarro. All Rights Reserved.

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