I lived next door to the Lewises, Jean, Sara and her father. They were from Cleveland, Ohio. No one else in the neighborhood could claim the distinction of being from somewhere else, somewhere west. Of course the O’Briens were from Hell’s Kitchen but that’s east. Hoboken being five minutes from Manhattan, we didn’t count them as being foreign. Anyway, the O’Briens talked like everyone else, saying aw-range not or-range and Flaw-rida not Flor-rida,
Besides their speech patterns, Jean’s dad was ‘odd’ in other ways. Her father had a hobby; he fixed time pieces. The only hobby the men in the neighbor had was going to the ale house on the corner. Like clockwork, at 5:05 you would see a steady stream of men walking south from the Tea Company and Maxwell House Coffee, and noth from Bethlehem Steel. The factory workers and longshoreman living between 5th and 6th streets would all stop for a few beers either at the German Ale House or Max’s Bar that were ‘kitty-corner” to each other. Men chose bars near where they lived. It was easier to get home for dinner on time that way, especially if they had to be dragged home.
When they passed Jean’s house would see Jean’s father, Ned and shake their heads. “There was something weird about Ned.” It wasn’t just that he spent every waking moment sitting at his desk in front of a wall of clocks which could be seem from the street. He talked to no one.
Jean’s father was always saying to her, “You must have a hobby.” Jean thought taking care of her dog, Collossus and her cat, Hazel was hobby enough.
Jean’s cat was always about town; consequently, she had a litter of kittens at least three times a year. There were cats, cats, everywhere, the backyard, front yard, the shed and in the hall. The only cat allowed in the main house was Hazel, the mother cat.
Well one day as Jean’s father returned a can of paint thinner without its lid to the bottom shelf in the shed attached the house. He couldn’t find the top in the darkened shed since the light was out. With the phone ringing in the kitchen, he just left the shed and run for the phone. Big mistake!
They say curiosity killed the cat and whoever said that knew what they were talking about. A couple of the kittens made their way into the shed, climbed up and fell into the paint thinner. Their cries were pitiful and Jean immediately came to their rescue.. Their eyes were ringed in red and shut tight and patches of what little fur they had was burned off in spots. How the tiny creatures cried! Their pitying mews were heart-wrenching and Jean tried her best to wipe them dry but they mewed, mewed and mewed. When she set them down, their legs wobbled and their bodies went into spasms, like they were being electrocuted..
That’s when I found out how Ned dealt with the many broods of cats that were birthed each year but mysteriously thinned out until the next litter was born. Jeanie’s father turned the gas on and put the suffering kittens in the oven. “It’s very humane,” explained Jeanie. “They just breathe in normally and fall asleep. It only takes about a minute.”
I didn’t want to know if the cats ended up in the trash. Somehow, the entire idea, the oven, the trash, didn’t seem right to me.
I made the mistake of telling my neighbor Lillian about what happened to the cats. Well, people thought the family was weird before. With this tidbit of information which became embellished as it was passed around and around—FAGETABOUTIT! When people would pass by, they’d say, “They cook cats for dinner in that house. Want some? Yuk!” Everyone laughed. No one was really that shocked. After all, everyone swore that the Chinese restaurant on Washington Street had been cooking cats for years.