Tiny Ginger kitten and her Mommy, and her brothers and sisters were barn cats. They lived in the barn in a box filled with straw. Ginger was the tiniest baby in the family. Mommy called her Ginger because her fur was yellow with brown highlights.
Ginger was very hungry. She always seemed to be hungry. Her bigger brothers and sisters pushed ahead whenever Mommy said it was time to eat. So, Ginger never got enough. Ginger was always very cold, too. She always got pushed to the edge of the pile when her brothers and sisters curled up together to keep warm.
Today, she was too cold and hungry to try to sleep at the edge of the group, and she couldn’t push her way into the center. Ginger decided that she would go see if there was milk somewhere else. She peered around the door of the box. Everything she saw was bigger than she was.
She saw Tony the horse and Sally the cow. They were so big! She was smaller than Tony’s foot. She was smaller than Sally’s foot. She saw piles of hay, a bucket, and a pitchfork. She didn’t see anything she could eat. She shivered because she was a little afraid of all those big things. But then she remembered how hungry she was.
Ginger slowly stepped out of the box.
Ginger was ready to run back into the box at the slightest noise. She was only two months old, and everything scared her. But she had to find more to eat. So, Ginger slowly crept away from the box. As she got farther and farther away, she began to notice that it was very cold – even colder than in her box. She started to shiver again. She looked back at the box. It seemed very far away. What if she got lost? Maybe she should go back. But she knew there was nothing to eat there. And Ginger was very hungry.
Ginger went over to Tony the horse. “Tony,” she said, “I’m so hungry. What can I do?”
Tony lowered his head and looked at Ginger out of one eye. “You can have some of my hay,” he said, and he pushed some toward Ginger with his nose.
Ginger bit into a dried, brown grass stem. But it was hard and dry, and it had no taste. And the sharp hard piece she bit off hurt her mouth when she tried to chew it. Ginger knew she could never swallow it. “Thank you, Tony, but I can’t eat this,” she said.
Ginger left Tony and went over to Sally the cow. “Sally,” she said, “I’m so hungry. What can I do?”
Sally lowered her head and looked at Ginger out of one eye. “Wel-l-l,” she said doubtfully, “You can have some of my feed,” and she pushed some out of her feed box and down to Ginger with her nose.
Ginger picked up some of the dry flaky feed with her tongue and tried to chew it. But it was dry, and it had no taste either. And it made her mouth feel as if it was full of dust. Ginger knew she could never swallow it, and so she tried to spit it out. But it stuck to her tongue, and she had to clean it off with her front paws. Finally, the stuff was gone from her mouth. “Oh dear,” she said, “Thank you, Sally, but I can’t eat this.”
Sadly, she turned away. Maybe there would be food somewhere else. She looked around, wondering if she should just go back to the box, she called home. But, as she looked around the barn, Ginger saw light coming through a space in the wall. She went over to the space and looked out. A cold wind blew through the hole, and it made Ginger shiver even harder. But it smelled very different from the barn. Maybe the new smell was food.
The space was very small, hardly big enough for her head to go through, but it did, and Ginger’s whole body followed. Cats are like that, you know. A cat’s whole body can go through anything its head can.
There was a very narrow ledge outside the wall, and as Ginger forced herself through the space, she slipped off the ledge and fell.
The fall was very short, and before she could even be afraid, Ginger landed all sprawled out in something soft, and fluffy, and white – and very, very cold. It covered all of her, even her head.
Ginger scrambled to her feet and stretched her head up as far as she could. She shook her head and sneezed. The white stuff flew everywhere, and Ginger could see. But everywhere she looked, Ginger saw only white. And it was falling through the air!
The white stuff fell in big soft flakes that tickled her nose and then melted. She licked her nose and looked around again. There! Right behind her was the barn wall! Everywhere else there was only white stuff – in the air and on the ground. And it was cold! So very cold!
Ginger was very frightened now. She forgot how hungry she was. She wanted to be back in the box with the bed of straw with her Mommy and her brothers and her sisters. Maybe Mommy would have more milk. Even if she didn’t, Ginger would at least be warmer than she was out here in the white stuff.
Ginger tried to climb back up to the hole through the barn wall. But the stone ledge below the wall was too tall, and her claws wouldn’t dig in. She couldn’t climb up.
“Mommy! Help!” Ginger cried. She called over and over. “I’m cold! Help me, Mommy!”
Suddenly, she heard Mommy’s answer from inside the barn. “Where are you?” Mommy called.
“I’m down here!” Ginger called back. “I’m so cold!”
Mommy looked out through the hole. “I see you,” she called to Ginger. “Don’t move. I’ll come for you.”
Soon Mommy was there. “Follow me,” she said. Mommy began walking away from Ginger through the snow. Ginger tried, but she couldn’t keep up. The snow was too deep, even where Mommy walked.
“Mommy!” she called. “I can’t keep up!”
Mommy came back. “I’ll have to carry you,” she said. She reached past Ginger’s head and took the skin at the back of Ginger’s neck in her mouth. Mommy was very gentle, and it didn’t hurt at all when she picked Ginger up. Turning back, she trotted around the barn to the door in the front, Ginger swinging below her chin. The door had been closed when Ginger had gone through the hole in the barn wall, but now it stood open a few inches.
As Mommy carried Ginger inside, a voice said, “What’s this?” Ginger didn’t understand the words, but she looked up when Mommy stopped. Ginger saw her first human. The human was big, but not as big as Tony the horse or Sally the cow. The human had long yellow hair and was all covered in pretty colors. The human bent down and picked up Mommy and Ginger. She cradled them in her arms with one hand under Ginger.
“Maggie,” she said to Mommy, “where have you been with this little one? You’re all covered with snow.”
“Mommy, I’m scared!” Ginger cried.
“This is the human lady who feeds me,” Mommy said, letting go of the skin of Ginger’s neck. “She won’t hurt us.”
Ginger settled into the human’s hand. She hardly filled it. “Would the human feed me? I’m so hungry!” Ginger said.
“Maggie,” the lady said, “this little one is so tiny, and I can feel her ribs.” She lifted Ginger up to her face. “Such a tiny baby,” she said. She touched Ginger’s fur to her face. “And so soft.”
The lady bent down and placed Ginger’s Mommy gently on the barn floor, but she still held Ginger when she stood up. “Maggie,” she said, “I’m going to take this little one into the house with me. She’s wet. She’s cold. And she’s hungry.”
“I think she’s going to feed you, Ginger,” Mommy said, winding around the lady’s ankles,
“It’s OK, Maggie,” the lady said, completely misunderstanding Mommy, “I’m not going to hurt her. She’ll be fine.”
Ginger found herself tucked inside the coat of the lady. Only her nose poked out above the zipper. Ginger was still hungry, but she wasn’t cold any longer. In fact, she was suddenly almost too warm. She wriggled around until she was comfortable, and she began to purr. The sound startled her. Ginger had never purred before.
Ginger peeked out of the front of the lady’s coat. They were moving toward the door of the barn. When the lady opened the barn door a blast of cold air and snow blew the fur on Ginger’s face back flat against her skull, and almost froze her nose. Ginger sneezed again and ducked back behind the coat where it was warm, and the wind couldn’t get at her.
Ginger heard the barn door close and latch. Then she felt a rocking motion as the lady carried her. She almost went to sleep, but when she heard another door open and close, she just had to look out again. Ginger was ready to sneeze again, but when she poked her head out of the front of the lady’s coat, there was no more snow. And it wasn’t cold anymore.
The lady reached inside her coat and lifted Ginger out. Holding Ginger up in front of her face, the lady smiled. “My,” she said, “but you are little, aren’t you? And you’re so-o-o skinny. We’ll have to feed you.” Holding Ginger gently to her body, the lady went over to a big white box and opened the door. Ginger squirmed. The air coming from the box was cold. But the lady took something out and closed the door.
“All right,” the lady said, “we need a pan,” and she bent down and pulled open a drawer and took out a pan. “And” she said, “we need a little bowl,” and she opened another door and took out a bowl. She sat the pan and the bowl on a counter and picked up the thing she had gotten from the white box. From it she poured a white liquid into the pan.
Ginger squirmed again. The white liquid smelled a little like milk, but she wasn’t sure. She sure hoped so, though!
The lady sat the pan down and took the thing back to the white box. Then she carried Ginger back to where the pan was. Ginger watched as the lady put her finger into the pan. The lady took her finger back out and touched it to her tongue. She smiled down at Ginger. “Not quite yet,” she said.
She stood there, holding Ginger, for a little time, and then put her finger into the pan again. “Ah-h-h,” she said, “just right, I think.” And she picked up the pan and poured the liquid into the little bowl. This time, Ginger was sure. It was milk! “May I have some?” she asked, in a very small, hopeful voice. Ginger was always polite.
The lady sat her down by the little bowl. Ginger looked into the bowl. The smell of warm milk was wonderful. But Ginger had no idea how to get it from the bowl into her tummy. She just looked at it, and then at the lady.
“Oh my,” said the lady, “you don’t know how to drink from a bowl do you? Well, we’ll just have to teach you.” With that, she dipped her finger into the bowl and touched it to Ginger’s mouth.
Ginger licked her mouth. It was milk! She looked up at the lady. “May I have some more?” The lady put her finger back into the bowl, but this time she did not quite touch Ginger’s mouth. Ginger reached out and sniffed the lady’s finger. Then she licked it. Her stomach made a small noise. The lady laughed and brought more milk out on her finger, but Ginger had to stretch farther to lick it off. After a few times, the lady barely brought her finger to the surface of the milk. Ginger found herself with her face almost in the milk. As she tried to lick the lady’s finger, it disappeared under the milk!
Ginger chased the lady’s finger into the milk. Milk went up her nose, and onto her whiskers. Ginger yanked her head back and sneezed. Then she licked around her mouth. There was a lot of milk. She looked back into the bowl. The lady’s finger was still there, just above the surface of the milk.
Ginger stretched toward the finger, but more carefully. As she touched the lady’s finger with her tongue, it disappeared under the milk again. But this time, only Ginger’s tongue followed it into the milk. When she pulled her tongue back, it was full of milk. Ginger sat by the bowl for a minute, thinking about what had just happened. Then she put her head down, and slo-o-o-wly put her tongue into the milk. It happened again! Her tongue came back into her mouth full of milk! She tried it again.
Wonderful! Every time she put her tongue into the milk, it came back into her mouth full of milk. She lapped faster. There was all the milk here she could possibly want! Ginger was so happy!
But then, an awful thing began to happen. There was lots of milk left, but she couldn’t put any more in her tummy. She looked sorrowfully at the bowl. She tried to drink more, but she just couldn’t. But she had been so hungry. She had to eat!
Suddenly, Ginger realized that she was no longer hungry. In fact, she was so full her tummy hurt a little. She stopped worrying about the milk and began washing her face. She was purring again. She decided she liked it.
“Well,” said the lady, “looks like you’ve had enough to keep you a while. I think we’d better take you back home before your mommy begins to worry too much.” She picked up Ginger and tucked her back into her coat.
Ginger was feeling much better, so when she peeked out of the coat again, she kept her face outside the coat, even when they went outside. She was warm, and the snow tickled her nose. She sneezed again, but she wasn’t afraid anymore, so she didn’t hide again.
When the lady took her out of the coat and put her down beside the box, she could hear her brothers and sisters inside. She licked the lady’s finger one last time and went inside the box.
Mommy was feeding her brothers and sisters, but Ginger wasn’t hungry, so she curled up by Mommy and went to sleep. When she woke up later, she found herself at the edge of the pile again, but with her tummy full, she wasn’t so cold, and so she didn’t mind so much. Ginger went back to sleep.
The next day, while she and one of her sisters were playing with a piece of the straw they slept in, the top of their box was lifted up. Ginger was hungry again, because her bigger brothers had pushed her away from Mommy while they were all eating. The cold air came in and made Ginger shiver. She looked up, and she saw the lady who had given her milk yesterday. “Hello,” Ginger said. “I’m hungry.”
The lady didn’t understand Ginger, of course, but she reached in and picked Ginger up. “How would you like some more milk?” she asked. “I’ll bet you’re hungry again.” She tucked Ginger into her coat again. “You’re still awfully skinny,” she said. “We’ll have to do something about that.”
Back in the house, the lady put a saucer down in front of Ginger again. This time, Ginger knew what to do. Reaching her head daintily toward the milk, she lapped rapidly. Soon, she wasn’t hungry anymore. She couldn’t put another drop in her round little tummy. She began to wash her face again.
“Well,” laughed the lady, looking at Ginger’s tummy, “you look like you ate a tennis ball.” She picked up Ginger again. “Time to go home,” she said, tucking Ginger back into her coat.
They went back to the barn. Ginger went into the box, but everybody was asleep again. Ginger curled up against one of her brothers, and went to sleep, too. When she woke up later, everybody was moving around the box. Ginger felt crowded, so she went out into the barn.
“Hello, Tony,” she said to Tony the horse.
“Hello, Ginger,” he said. “Are you hungry? You can have some more of my hay.”
“No thank you,” she said. “I’m not hungry right now.” She looked around, shivering. It was very cold outside her box. Sally the cow was lying down in her bed of straw. Tony was standing up. White steam blew from his nose. “Aren’t you cold?” she asked them.
“No,” said Sally the cow, “I’m lying in this warm bed of straw.”
“Why don’t you lie down in your straw bed?” she asked Tony the horse.
“Horses don’t lie down,” said Tony. “We always stand up.”
“Even when you sleep?” Ginger asked.
“Even when we sleep,” Tony said. “It’s just the way we are.”
“But aren’t you cold?” Ginger asked.
“Not really,” Tony said. “I kind of like it. It makes me feel awake and strong.”
“Oh,” said Ginger. She really didn’t know what else to say. Finally, she said, “Well, I’m cold. I think I’ll go back in our box.”
“Good-bye,” said Tony.
“Good-bye,” said Sally.
Ginger looked back at her door. “Good-bye,” she said, “I’ll see you tomorrow.” She went into her box.
Ginger was unhappy, but she wasn’t sure why. The barn seemed cold and cheerless. She burrowed into the straw and went to sleep.
The next day, Ginger waited outside her box for the lady to come. It was very cold, and Ginger was shivering very hard. But she wanted to make sure she was ready when the lady got there. She was looking forward to cuddling up inside the lady’s coat for the trip into the place where the lady kept that nice, warm milk. But this time the lady didn’t pick Ginger up. Instead, she sat the little bowl of milk down in front of Ginger.
At first, Ginger didn’t understand. She looked up at the lady and waited to be picked up. But the wonderful smell of the warm milk was too much. Ginger bent her head to the bowl and began to lap the milk. Every few laps, she looked up at the lady, but the lady just watched her eat. Finally, Ginger was full.
The lady reached down for the bowl, and Ginger rubbed her face against the lady’s hand. “No, dear,” the lady said, “you’re a barn cat. I can’t keep bringing you inside, or you’ll never learn to be happy living in the barn and hunting mice.”
Ginger, of course, did not understand people talk. She just looked up, waiting for the lady to pick her up. But the lady didn’t. “See you tomorrow, dear,” she said, and she turned and carried the bowl away.
Ginger sat by where the bowl had been, cold and miserable. Didn’t the lady like her anymore? She watched the barn door close behind the lady. After a while, she turned to go back into the box.
“Ginger,” called Tony softly.
“Yes, Tony?” Ginger answered, turning to face him.
“Don’t be sad, Ginger,” Tony Said. “We all have to live here in the barn. It’s where we’re supposed to be.”
“But it’s so cold and dark here,” Ginger said. “And where she took me was so warm. And it was bright, too. I could see everything. Good-bye Tony.” Ginger turned again and went into the box.
And that’s the way it was. Every day the lady brought milk for Ginger. And as her brothers and sisters began to come out of the box, the lady brought two bowls of milk. One, she kept for Ginger. She wouldn’t let any of the others drink from it until Ginger was full. She would sometimes pet Ginger softly while Ginger drank, and once in a while she picked Ginger up when Ginger was done.
Ginger and her brothers and sisters played in the barn. It was warmer some days, and some days were cold, but while they were playing it didn’t seem so bad. As time went on, there were more and more cold days. It was sort of dark, too. But there were shafts of light from cracks in the wall, and from a small window. It was fun to bat a piece of straw into the air in the light and see how long she could keep it there.
Days passed, then weeks, although Ginger didn’t know about weeks. Ginger became resigned to living in the barn. She wasn’t really happy, but she wasn’t really sad either. She played with her brothers and sisters, although she couldn’t always keep up with them. And they could climb higher than she could. So, she was often alone. Tony and Sally tried to cheer her up when she was alone, but they were far too big for her to play with, and they really didn’t have much to talk about. Tony offered her some of his hay almost every day. Then he would whinny with laughter when she politely turned it down. Tony thought he was very funny.
The lady came with milk every day, and with food for Mommy, and she always petted Ginger while she ate. She wouldn’t let the bigger, stronger kittens steal Ginger’s food. Sometimes she even picked Ginger up, but she never took Ginger back in the house, until….
Ginger was about three months old. She had even started eating some of the meaty food the lady brought for Mommy. One day the lady came as she always did, and she picked Ginger up when she was done eating, as she sometimes did. “Oh-h, you’re still so tiny,” she said. It was true – Ginger was barely half as big as her smallest sister. “You can’t be a barn cat; you are way too little,” the lady said, “but I think I have just the place for you.”
Then, instead of putting Ginger back down, the lady tucked her into her coat, just as she had done so many, many days ago.
Ginger was too excited to keep her head inside the coat. She poked her head out above the top button. As before, snow swirled around them, landing on her nose, tickling it, and making her sneeze. Ginger purred contentedly all the way to the house, pausing only long enough to sneeze three times. But she didn’t care! The lady was taking here to the wonderful place she remembered!
Inside the house, there were a hundred different smells – all of them wonderful! And the lights! There were bright little lights everywhere! Hundreds of them! This was so different from what Ginger remembered. The lady put Ginger on the counter while she took off her coat. Ginger looked around. The place she remembered had been bright, but quiet; and the smells had been soft to her sensitive nose. Now, there were sounds and lights everywhere, and too many smells to sort out.
Before she could even begin, the lady scooped her up again. They went through another door, and Ginger saw even more light. There was a tree full of lights at one side of the room, with a pile of packages under it. Ginger didn’t understand at all. There was another lady there, too.
Ginger’s lady walked over to the other lady and held Ginger out to her. “What do you think?” she asked.
The other lady held out her hands and took Ginger carefully into them. She held Ginger up to her cheek. “So-o-o tiny,” she said, “and so soft! She’ll do wonderfully!” Ginger found herself tucked into the front of another coat. This time, she was a little frightened. She didn’t understand what was happening, so she stayed inside the coat.
Ginger heard the door close, the sound muffled by the coat, then more sounds, and another door closed. After even more sounds, Ginger felt movement. She stayed hidden in the coat, afraid to look out. But it was warm, and she could feel the lady’s heartbeat. Soon she began to purr softly. It didn’t seem she was going back to the barn.
When the movement stopped, Ginger felt the lady stand up. She peeked out, but it was still snowing, and she could see nothing. Besides, it was getting dark. She ducked back into the coat. Soon, she heard another door close, and the lady carefully unbuttoned the coat and took Ginger out. She held Ginger up to her face again. “So soft,” she said, “so tiny, and so pretty. Yes, you’ll do just fine.” With that she put Ginger into a small box lined with soft cloths, and with slits cut into it for air and light. She closed the box, and Ginger watched through a slit as she walked away and closed the door behind her.
Ginger was a little frightened, but the box was warm, and the cloths were so-o-o soft. Soon she curled up and slept. Later, she woke to the sounds of paper rustling and people talking. She peeked out of the box. Two people were sitting in front of her, wrapping boxes in pretty, brightly colored paper and ribbons. The ribbons looked like they would be fun to play with. She couldn’t understand what the people were saying, but they seemed to be happy.
“May I come out?” Ginger asked politely.
The lady lifted the top of the box and lifted Ginger out. “We’ll have to keep her quiet,” she said with a little laugh. “You’ll have to play with her.”
The other person reached for Ginger and placed her on the floor. He pulled a short piece of ribbon across in front of her. Ginger pounced! She caught the end of the ribbon, and rolled over and over, biting it. The people laughed. After a while, the lady left the room. She came back with a small bowl of milk and put it in Ginger’s box. Lifting Ginger gently, she placed her in the box, saying, “You’ll have to stay in here, or we’ll never get done.” With that she closed the lid.
Ginger drank the milk and listened for a while to the murmur of their voices. Then she fell asleep again. Cats sleep very lightly, and Ginger heard them leave the room and return several times, but she was too warm and full to investigate. Eventually the lights went out, and Ginger fell into a deeper sleep. But she awoke when the lights came back on.
The top of the box went up, and the lady lifted Ginger from the box. “Come on, little one,” she said, “I think you’d better sleep with me.” She lifted Ginger to a soft warm surface and lay down beside her. Ginger cuddled against the lady, curled into a ball, put her tail over her nose, and promptly went back to sleep. She didn’t know where she was, and she didn’t know these people, but she was warm and full, and the people were kind. She could worry about it tomorrow. At least she hadn’t been taken back to the cold, dark barn. Ginger slept.
She was so comfortable that she almost didn’t wake up when the big hands picked her up in the morning. The person carried her down the stairs, into a brightly lighted room. There was another tree full of lights and sparkles, and it too had a mound of bright packages under it. But they went past the tree and into another room. Ginger was lifted, and carefully slipped into a tube hanging on the wall. The tube held her firmly but softly, and, with a little effort, she was able to hold her head above the edge and look around the room. It was brightly lit, although not so brightly as the room with the tree.
“Come down!” called the person who had put her in the tube. “It’s Christmas! Come on down!”
There was laughter, and rapid thudding, followed by two smaller persons appearing in the room, along with the lady and the other person. Suddenly, inches from her face, appeared the face of one of them. “A kitten,” she squealed! “Oh, how neat! A kitten in my stocking! What a wonderful Christmas present!” She reached into the stocking and carefully lifted Ginger out. “So tiny,” she said, “and such a pretty color. I think I’ll call her Ginger.” She held Ginger against her cheek. “She’s so soft,” she said. Then, “And listen, she’s purring!”
Ginger batted softly at a strand of hair falling on the little girl’s cheek. The little girl laughed. “This,” she declared, “is the best Christmas I’ve ever had!”
“Well,” said the lady, “let me tell you a story.” And she told the little girl Ginger’s story – this story, just as I’ve told it to you.
“…and so, you see,” the lady finished, “you got a kitten for Christmas, and that’s wonderful, but Ginger got a whole family for Christmas, and a warm house to live in. Who do you think had the better Christmas?”
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:
Ginger’s Christmas is a mixture of truth and fiction. The kitten’s conversations are imagined, but the denouement happened as I’ve written it.
RC Larlham grew up on a small farm in Northeast Ohio, He was a first generation college graduate, and Master's level graduate. Trained in Zoology and Wildlife Biology, he spent most of his working life as a hazardous Waste management, clean-up and disposal specialist (don't ask). Wherever he went he told stories, stories to illustrate a point, entertain, fill downtime and generally to fill the silence. Many who heard them said he should publish, and thus was born "The Old Man and Me--Books 1 and 2." Since then he has been writing and editing the third book and writing and submitting short stories and poems.