Home with Henry: a Memoir

On a noisy suburban road, copywriter Anne Kaier stops traffic to rescue a stray ginger cat, and takes him to her vet. A week later, Henry is still hiding behind a dust ruffle under her guestroom bed. Both she and Henry feel scared, for similar reasons. They are trying to make a home in a city house—and a city life—that’s new to them.

Like many in her generation, Anne had thought a woman has to wait until she marries before she buys a house. She recently gave up that notion, found a lovely house with a garden and moved in—only to realize she would never fill the house with a traditional family. She has to get used to being alone—or figure out a way to make a rich, alternate life. 

Anne keeps a journal, noting Henry’s progress—or lack thereof. For months, he hides under the bed. Her visiting nephew, ten-year-old Tommy, delights in the bloodthirsty pirate stories Anne writes for him. He tries to lure Henry out to play, but the cat stays put. With the help of a work colleague who nurtures hurt birds, Anne invents ways to entice Henry. She tucks food between her knuckles and slides them under Henry’s pink nose. She sits on his bed reading WWII histories and chatting at him. Finally, he begins to emerge—only to fight with the other resident cat, an older calico. Anne watches their territorial negotiations, thinking that the dailyness of the cats—their comings and goings—has begun to make her house more homelike.

By now, Henry has discovered the walled garden in the back of Anne’s house. In a climactic scene, he perches on the wall. Will he stay or run away, leaving Anne behind?

Meanwhile, Anne begins to fit into her diverse and interesting neighborhood. Cathy, another writer who lives down the block, shows her an unkempt path by the banks of the Schuylkill River—where Anne begins to sense that she can find comfort from the natural world even in the city.

Gradually, with setbacks and with wit, Anne makes a kind of alternate family with her visiting nephew, her neighbors—and Henry.

 

A reading by the author: