They lounge on her buffet, tails flicking with nervous energy. They sprawl across her shelves, paws curling and uncurling in anticipation. Their eyes track our every movement.
They are everywhere.
They pad softly in our wake when we wander from room to room and when we turn to catch them at it, they freeze in their frames.
They may look innocuous but we know better. My mother’s photographs lay coiled as tightly as springs – waiting for the slightest mistake.
They usually do not have to wait for long.
Inevitably, one of us will always say something stupid, like how we skipped church that week – that is when they snarl and pounce.
“Say, would you like to see some old photos?” my mother will ask her grandchildren.
They are no fools, they understand the subtext and gleefully accept the invitation.
Mother then matches the album to the transgression.
For minor infractions, she lets loose the tabby cats of our younger years, exposing our bare bottoms and toothless grins for ridicule.
But for serious offenses, she calls out the big cats. The leather bound volumes of our teens and twenties. These are always good for a howl.
It is not so much the big hair and garish color of our youth that is humiliating, it is the hubris that goes with it as if there was nowhere for fashion to go after peasant blouses and bell-bottom pants.
Then out come the stories.
How one brother once opened his wallet at a church dance and a condom fell out into Sister Alice Gertrude’s lap.
Or the time when another brother tiptoed up to bed after stumbling home drunk — only to learn he had snuck into the wrong house.
Despite having heard these stories a thousand times, our children still squeal with delight.
Though we protest when she does this, complaining that it undercuts our authority, she doesn’t listen. For her, this is all good fun and it is fun for the kids too – until she unleashes her cats on them.
“Oh don’t laugh too hard, my dears,” she says, “your parents keep scrapbooks of their own.”