Jenny stepped out into the breezy hallway in her apartment building. Her mother said, “Wait honey, wait. Put on your scarf, it might be a little chilly.” Jenny ran back in and got her scarf, the one she liked with the blue bells on it, and then ran back out and went over and stood by the elevator.
Several of her neighbors were leaving for work and they all smiled at Jenny. Now you might think that Jenny was going to take the elevator but she was too young to be going to work. She was waiting and you might ask what was she waiting for - we’ll get to that.
Well, the people who were leaving got on the elevator and they all waved at Jenny and she waved back. The elevator doors glided shut and off they went downstairs to wherever they were going, Jenny thought.
Jenny was smiling as she waited for her friend. She didn’t have to wait long. Soon the elevator made it’s little sound with a ding and the doors opened. Out walked her favorite person, besides mommy of course.
Well, he wasn’t exactly a person but to her he was. Out walked a cat. Nobody else on the elevator, just a cat and the cat walked right over to Jenny and put his paw up on her which always meant to pick him up and even though Jenny wasn’t that tall, she was only 7 years old, she managed to pick up eekoo and hold him and he would lick her hand a little bit.
Meeting eekoo was her favorite thing to do every day. No one really knew where eekoo came from but they knew his name because it was written on his collar.
Everybody in the building knew eekoo. Some people liked to give him food or treats but eekoo didn’t show up for food and he didn’t really go for it if it was offered - he would just look at you and blink his eyes if he liked you and then he’d just walk around the building.
He came from the neighborhood and no one knew where he came from. Some people decided that he was a free cat and he lived where ever he felt welcomed.
Sometimes eekoo would stay with Jenny and her mother and other times he would stay in other apartments in her building and he came to be known as the cat who came to visit.
Every year a few days before Christmas eekoo would show up with a bell around his neck. It was the only time he ever had a bell around his neck. It wasn’t on his collar. It was more like a necklace with a thin chain and a little bell on it.
Always, eekoo would make sure to go on all the floors and run back and forth in the hallways. The little bell would make its little tinkle, tinkle and people knew it was eekoo telling people it must be Christmas time.
After eekoo was done on all the floors bringing his cheery message he’d find his way out as always. The day after Christmas, eekoo wouldn’t have the bell around his neck anymore.
People wondered for years, who was putting the bell around eekoo’s neck but one day when Jenny was 12 years old, she found out.
Later in life Jenny always said, “I’ve never forgotten that day. It was just a few days before Christmas and I wasn’t really thinking about eekoo or anything else. I was just walking to school and up in the distance I saw this old lady. I’d seen her before and we always waved at each other.
“She lived in a house a few blocks away from our apartment building. I always looked for her when I walked by there because she was getting kind of old and I was a little worried about her.
“I was walking past a neighbors hedge and the lady hadn’t seen me yet. I was getting ready to wave at her but when I got past the hedge I noticed she was bending down and I couldn’t exactly see what she was doing.
“When the lady stood up, there at her feet was eekoo. He had run by a few minutes before when I was further away and paused just to blink at me the way cats do when they’re happy to see you and before I had a chance to pet him he ran down the street.
“The lady was wearing her long winter coat and I couldn’t really see what she had been doing when she was stooped over. I thought she was petting eekoo but then eekoo ran back to me and he was wearing the bell around his neck. He looked at me and quickly blinked again and ran off.
“Well, for years I’d been walking that way to school and I couldn’t wait when I was done with school that day. I stopped off and I was kinda shy but I knocked on the ladies door. She came to the door and she said, ‘I saw you this morning. You saw me put the bell around eekoo’s neck.’ And I said, ‘That’s right.’ Then the lady said, ‘I have something for you. It’s something special but don’t open it up until Christmas.’ Then she went inside the house.
“She wasn’t gone very long. She came back with a tray and some hot cocoa for both of us. There was also a box on the tray. We sipped our cocoa on the front porch and then she gave me the little box. It was all wrapped up for Christmas. She said, ‘Somebody gave me this when I was a young girl and I wanted to pass it on to you.’ ‘Really?,’ I said. ‘Really’, she answered.
“I remember, we sat and talked for a little while and the lady told me that her name was Mrs. Gibson. I finished my cocoa and thanked Mrs Gibson for it and for the gift and then I ran home to tell mom about Mrs. Gibson and eekoo.
“Mom said it was okay that Mrs. Gibson had given me this present because she knew Mrs. Gibson as many others did in the neighborhood because they looked out for the old people to make sure they were alright.
“When Christmas came I remember opening up the gift from Mrs Gibson last. When I opened the box there was another box inside, a wooden jewelry box. It had a small carving on the wood of a cat. I opened that box and inside was a beautiful necklace and it had two small bells on it. On one of the bells was an engraving of a cat and on the other was a girl.
“Mom said, ‘Oh my, that’s beautiful. It looks very old.’ I remember taking it out of the box and I just loved it. Mom said, ‘Oh look, the clasp - it’s also - yes, it looks just like a cat. Isn’t that amazing? Well, you’ll have to tell Mrs. Gibson thank you.’”
Jenny liked to remember this every Christmas because she had a picture on her mantlepiece of eekoo, her beloved cat friend from when she was a child and every year around this time she’d have a dream. The only part of the dream she could ever remember was eekoo and he seemed to be smiling. Also she could hear his bell tinkling and she would wake up smiling.
After that she knew what she wanted to do and she did so with her children. She had her own little girl now and a little boy too. She would take out the necklace and she’d walk with her husband and her children on all the floors of their apartment building and ring the little bell to let everybody know that Christmas was coming.
Merry Christmas to you all.
Photo is © B. Kim Barnes, used with permission, and can be found at https://www.flickr.com/photos/kimbar/6865173881/in/album-72157627291278455/