I live on a patch of countryside west of Minneapolis with my husband, John; a statuesque Weimeraner named Tasha; a curly girl dog named Scout; and a tattered ark of a barn which is home to, if not millions of cats, a lot of them. As cats do, many come and many go, but several stay all day, every day. Gus and Cali, the resident barn cats in A Secret Keeps, have been there from the beginning. Gus is the Grandma cat (yes, Gus is female), Cali’s her daughter, and several other adult “grandcats” round out the mix. Though I never discussed the cats in this book with the wonderful illustrator, Heather Solomon, Gus and Cali might think otherwise. Ms. Solomon painted them the colors—tiger gold and calico, respectively—that they are in life. In this case, art truly did imitate life!
We’re happy to live with this multi-generation cat family, and they seem happy to live with us. We feed them and pet them and keep them warm in winter. In the spring, they reward us with litters of kittens, not millions of kittens, but a lot of them. Gus and Cali are patient, faithful mothers, but with all of those kittens to watch, sometimes one or two get lost in the barn. John and I find them (better us than the dogs) and provide several weeks of foster care. We hand feed them with eyedroppers, graduate them to milky-mush dinners, and cheer when they’ve finally eaten their first bites of solid food. They’re ready for their forever homes.
“KITTENS FREE TO GOOD HOMES” reads the sign John posts at the top of our gravel road. We only give kittens to friendly families, usually with children who are looking to raise a cat of their own. We miss the kittens when they go, but once in a while, we keep one, a “secret” for one of our grandchildren to find on the farm. Every spring when the peeper frogs peep, the rooster crows, the cows moo, the pheasants cluck, the eggs hatch, and the stars blink behind the barn, we listen for a soft mew or two.
A Secret Keeps is my homage to our cats and kittens who tough it out in a tough old barn and to the tender children who love them.