News from Penny B. Evins

Thursday, March 13, 2014 

Good morning, ladies and adult members of our SPSG community:

I asked my children, my go-to source of great ideas for Prayers Talks, what my topic should be this go-round with y’all. June Friend offered up the idea of crafting a talk about Ronald. Sam VI chimed in and told me, “If you are going to talk about Ronald that is a Prayers Talk I want to hear.” In our household, when consensus is reached, the angels sing and we move forward in lockstep.

This morning, it is with great pleasure that I talk to you about Ronald. Let me begin by offering gratitude to those who gave me the necessary skills to fold a moral and worthy lesson into a talk about the furry guys, all three, who are up on the screen behind me. As you know, Creativity, is a core value of SPSG. Thus, I will be creative and find a way to discuss character and temperament through the life of our cats and an unshaven Mr. Evins. The pictures behind me portray the origin of how we became a family.

What is furry, weighs in somewhere just under 20 pounds, has no tail, is a child of the millennium, survived Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath, chews up TEVAs and other rubber items for kicks, and is the origin of my daughter’s favorite stuffed animal “RORO”?

Ronald-AKA Fluffy McSnufflepants.

To discuss Ronald without discussing his “brother” Jerry, who is no longer with us, seems impossible. Ronald and Jerry were gifts for my 28th birthday. Mr. Evins and I drove cross-country from Atlanta, Georgia, to Glacier National Park in Montana. When stopping in Wyoming, he asked me what I wanted for my birthday. We are outdoor enthusiasts and after going through ideas like a mountain bike, fly fishing rod, hiking gear and more, the reality of our professional lives in Atlanta, where we worked and were more groomed than this photo displays, set in. He landed on the “how about a kitten” concept… practical, soft, low-maintenance, and something I would want to keep even if the relationship did not last. I decided it was a great idea.

Upon return to Atlanta after our month-long road trip, relationship still in tact and stronger, I went to the local animal shelter. Time stopped, slow music played, my eyes were drawn to one cage with one tiny little fluff ball. I was in love. I was told I had to wait a week to make sure no one claimed him. Fear set in. I was so in love with the little feline that I did not see his awkwardness. A cat with no tail and eyes so big he looked like an alien was most likely not going to be claimed by another small child, feline-loving adult, or anyone with decent vision; however, I paced for the next week and was shocked and relieved to find him unclaimed and in the cage seven days later.

I returned to the floor of the shelter, put him in my lap and we had a test session. The itty-bitty kitten had no tail, ridiculously large eyes, and a deafening purr. Our arranged play date was going well and I was ready to head home with my birthday present. Ready to rise from the floor and get his vaccines on site, the best-laid plans took a turn for the unknown. I felt something coil around my side and turned to see a cool kitten up close and personal.

With the tailless fur ball in my lap, “cool kitty” acted as if he had a beret on sideways and was playing jazz on his piano. Number Two, cool kitty, curled up around me and pawed at the no-tailed fluff ball in my lap. Wait, this was not the plan. One kitten was now turning into a double trouble play date for life. I remembered a friend of mine telling me that two is easier than one as they keep each other company so I convinced myself that if they got along, it was a sign. They did. It was. We, cool kitty, tailless fluff ball and I headed home.

I purchased the wants and needs of a new pet owner and we made ourselves comfortable back at my house. Mr. Evins was in the thick of football coaching season and thus, had no idea what I had done. Hours after I came home with my felines, he was finished with practice. He wanted to know if I picked out my birthday present. He had no idea of my two-for-one mentality. Cellphones were not yet ubiquitous and texts, photo sharing, etc. were not a part of the daily routine. I know it is hard to imagine such delayed communication. Honestly, I think we’ve lost some of the great surprises as a result of this instant share mentality. However, this was, without a doubt a surprise worth waiting to unwrap.

Yikes, he saw not one, but two kittens expose whiskers from underneath the couch. He looked at me as if I was his sitcom wife announcing I was pregnant with twins. As new parents to our kittens, we had to pick out names. Ronald and Jerry were two friends of ours who worked on the maintenance and facilities team at the school where we met working in Atlanta. Prior to us knowing each other, Mr. Evins and I each knew Ronald and Jerry. As such, they were more than coworkers; they became friends and a part of our work family. Ladies, in time you will experience that with your work family, you know more than what type of sandwich one brings for lunch, the transportation one takes to work, or who is in photo on the screensaver. Schools are communities where we work, live, and express emotions. My guess is the adults in this room consider themselves, for the most part, a work family. You can see how naming our cat after our coworkers was our tribute to them and our work family.

Ronald and Jerry, the cats, were part of my family before we became Team Evins. Ronald and Jerry were our travel companions when heading to our mountain home in North Carolina. Ronald and Jerry sat in the crib before Sam and June Friend were born. Ronald and Jerry made the move with us to New Orleans. Because we thought it was going to be a day or two away from our new home, Ronald and Jerry were left in New Orleans when we evacuated for Hurricane Katrina. Ronald and Jerry survived the storm and lived on their own for weeks, before Mr. Evins was able to get back into the city and rescue them.

We last saw Jerry the Sunday before Mardi Gras in 2006. Due to the hurricane, we were having a new roof put on our house and we believe that he climbed into the dumpster and something fatal happened. However, not sure of that I looked for Jerry for the following seven plus years. We would see a bull’s-eye tabby cat and stop the car, call for him and hope would fill my soul. I would be running down the avenue, see a bull’s-eye tabby and stop, climb through brush and call for him. Hope, the feeling that things will improve, drove me to continue the hunt for the cat I lost day after day, month after month, and year after year. Loss is heartbreaking, time consuming, and simply seems unnatural. However, when I think about what I learned from losing Jerry, I tip my hat to Ronald. By tending to Ronald and looking into his huge yellow green eyes, I found solace. I feel and believe Ronald keeps Jerry in his heart and has a distant memory of his “brother”. Mr. Fluffy McSnufflepants has a heart and he carries his brother Jerry with him. I choose to believe this.

During years that we had both of them, Ronald was more of a survivor with a Darwinian mindset. Ronald stayed closer to home, crawled through the cat door, despite his size, before bedtime and came when called. Jerry on the other hand would take endless after curfew strolls. When in our mountain home where bears are regular visitors, Jerry would often be missing. After hiking through the forest and endless kitty cat calling from us, his parents, he would reappear hours later. If our children, I would have to say Ronald is the easygoing, obedient, homebody teenager and Jerry the risk-taking and more demanding adolescent. That cool kitten turned into a risk-taking cat. It isn’t that Ronald doesn’t take healthy risks. Just recently, he has slowly found his way to the front or back door, where he sniffs the bushes, and comes back inside. We think he knows the fox, deer, large campus and his age-almost fourteen in cat years, are not favorable factors in his surviving his new outdoor environment.

However, spring is showing signs of light and he is lingering a bit longer. As his parent, I can only offer him guidance, but I must trust his intuition. So, if you happen to se Ronald Mr. Fluffy McSnufflepants Bach Evins around campus please join me in hoping his is a healthy RISC.

Take this as a reminder to hold yourself and each other to your very best as we depart for spring break in the coming weeks and return to what will be the final stretch of our academic school year together. Yes, I believe we are all born with temperaments. Some of us like straying and testing our luck. Some of us like the shallow end of life. Either way, I believe we can learn and be reminded how to stop, think, and then act with the help of our friends and colleagues.

Let us pray-

Dear Lord, as we think about loss, hope, healthy RISCS and the power of pausing to consider our choices please guide us to stop, think, and then act in word and deed. Let us give thanks to those, whether animal, human, spirit, real or fictitious who help to model good decisions and healthy risks. And help us to serve as role models to those who look to us as examples.

Amen.