Years ago, my parents took me and my sister on a cruise. I’m not a cruise person but I found plenty to entertain me, including these two old ladies from the Channel Islands.
One of the “formal nights” the four of us were joined by two little old ladies. These women were the size of Hobbits and weighed as much as Beav did when he was about two. Both of them were probably on the far side of eighty if not in their early nineties. They were easily the oldest women I had ever seen outside of a nursing home or hospital. The ladies introduced themselves to all of us, craning their necks at me–a skyscraper of a woman in high heels–peering at my EXTREMELY short hair and remarked they were sisters and this was their umpteenth eleventh or something cruise together. They reminded me of the cartoon old lady on the funny Hallmark cards (Maxine?) who is a little salty and cranky about getting old. They also reminded me of characters Eric Idle would play on Monty Python’s Flying Circus. They were so very very English they made the Queen Mother look like she was a five dollar whore from Dime Box Texas. These two were adorable and I wanted to know about the little village they were from, I pictured in Sussex, bucolic and green with rolling hills and country houses in the distance of the little village with a stone church and a couple of shops. I wasn’t buying the whole “sisters” thing but hey they were 90 and I wasn’t going to pry any further so I went along with how sweet it was sisters had lived together their whole lives and had–cough cough–never married. I was corrected when I asked which part of England they were from because they weren’t from England technically. The Hobbit Sisters were from The Channel Islands. I looked over at my own sister–whom I would have killed about twenty years ago if were living together–with a WTF look because I didn’t know where these islands were. No doubt, I was reapplying my lip gloss or writing a long note to The Coolest Girl In The world that day in 8th grade world geography. My sister was probably joy riding in the mess the day her geography class discussed this place because she looked as dumbfounded as me.
I know. Sad. And they think education is in trouble now? This was when schools were supposedly good. But you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make her put the lip gloss down and stop passing notes in class, right?
Anyhow, being a curious sort I asked the Little Hobbit next to me: “I’ve never heard of these islands, where are they.” I swear I hadn’t been drinking all day and that sometimes I am just that stupid. If I had taken a minute to think about it and used my self-professed finely honed critical thinking skills I could have sussed out from her accent and the word “channel” that these islands were somewhere between France and England. Because that I did know. Barely. But I knew there was a channel between France and England. I either learned about this channel thingy from an old movie about swimming the English Channel and Georgette Heyer romances when the soldiers crossed the channel (it was always rough) to keep the French from taking over the world or something…I’m not sure why they were fighting the French maybe it just made interesting narrative and led to eighty gazillion romance novels.
Oh. My. God. I am just kidding. Everyone knows the War of 1812 was fought because Dolly Madison invented ice cream and wouldn’t give King Henry VIII the recipe but did give the recipe to Napoleon. So he could make a dessert with it.
Where was I?
Oh yes, so the tiny woman next to me was incredibly gracious when she explained to me she was from an island called Guernsey (fortunately I did not shout out: “Oh like the cute cows!”) which lay in the middle of the English channel a bit closer to France. I started asking questions about the topography and climate: was it rocky and cold the beaches in Normandy (ok, I’m not really as stupid as you think I am) or was it green with rolling hills like southern England. They primly described it as green and bucolic with gardens everywhere. I was charmed by their description and pried further, asking nosy questions about what they did for a living before retiring (secretaries) and how they kept busy now (the garden and books) I spurned on by their willingness to answer my questions and my imagination finally awakened from its gyro stupor when I realized these islands must have been strategic for the Nazis and their V-2 bombs.
I leaned in towards Madam Hobbit so she could hear me over the murmuring den of the restaurant, “I’m curious, were your islands defended by the French or the English?”
She raised her eyebrows and looked at her “sister” next to her, shaking her head and clucking at a memory over fifty years old but still fresh in her mind. Both of them set their mouths in hard lines and inhaled deeply as they each took turn telling me the story of the occupation:
“It was terrible.”
“Most most terrible.”
“The Nazis invaded and took over everything”
“Food grew scarce.”
“There wasn’t enough.”
“They resorted to eating our pussies.”
“Yes, they ate our pussies. All of them.”
I sat back in my chair taking in fully what had just been said to me. The devil in me wanted to ask if “all of them” referred to all the Germans or all the–ahem–pussies. I licked my lips and took a deep cleansing breath in because the last thing I wanted to do was laugh at these old spinsters sorrow over the hungry invading German soldiers. But the cleansing breath wasn’t enough and besides I wanted to see if I could make my sister laugh (I swear I was really 43 on this cruise and not 12) so I turned to her and said:
“Sister, did you hear how awful it was during the war? The Germans ate their pussies.”
Sister gives me a funny look as it’s registering exactly what the Hobbit Ladies meant and she leans forward, looking very seriously at me as she says: “Did you just tell us the Nazis ate your pussies?”
“Yes they did. All of them.” She sat back with while she took in a quick breath and pursed her lips together tightly because the memory was just that fresh.
Sister give me an evil look: this was going to be a contest to see who was gonna laugh first so I met the evil look hoping she could read my mind that was saying bitch if you make me guffaw with laughter it is ON! I’m short sheeting your bed tonight!. My sister reached forward for her wine glass took a long drink, sat the glass back down and shook her head, and said with most exquisite comedic timing I’ve ever witnessed
“What a terrible thing, having your pussies eaten by Germans.”
I wish I could remember what happened next because I had to turn my head and choke back laughter, while I wiped away tears. But after I composed myself, we bruised one another shins and my right palm was bleeding as I put my nails through it to keep from laughing again because the conversation continued into how much the Hobbits love their pussies and delight in taking care of them and miss them when they are “on holiday”.
Which leads me to this question: If you are crazy for cats in England (and the Channel Islands) are you “Cat Crazy” or “Pussy Crazy”?