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We have had several cats who for one reason or another have chosen to leave us. Too much, love, too many mice, a too friendly dog, and cheap cat food a few of the mumblings I heard. But living in the country one gets used to strays dropping in and out.

Sammy just appeared one day and instantly endeared himself to everyone. It does not take much for a two-and a three-year-old to fall head over heels in love with a cat. But for a cat to actually enjoy the company and the boundless love of a toddler is another story.

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"Let's give Sammy a rest," I'd say now and then as I rescued the overloved, limp feline with the bulging eyes.

"But I get to hold him next!" my son would say.

"You kids just hold him tooooo tight," I'd sigh.

"But, Mom, he tries to get away!"

"He needs to breathe sometime, sweetheart."

"Oh, Mom, cats don't breathe. They got tails," He gave me that know-it-all-look I was gearing up for when he turns 16.

But there was one prerequisite for being considered a permanent pet at our house. Before Sammy found his haven on my chintz couch, his creative powers would have to be in check. Not wanting to put any more stress on a brimming pet collection, I took our Sammy to my neighbor, the authority on everything.

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She appeared to scrutinize the cat with great expertise: "It's a boy."

I really had no reason to trust this neighbor. It was she who told me I could make a fortune selling chicken eggs, and that if I didn't water my lawn when the dandelions were seeding the seeds would die of thirst. But we had some sort of answer around which to lay our plans. Sammy wanted us, and we wanted Sammy, who could fit right into the scheme of things and at no extra expense at this time. He actually liked us: He ate our generic cat food happily; he learned to run when he saw our two-year-old; and he made himself right at home on my chintz couch.

We thought Sammy was full grown when he arrived, but later realized, by his eventual size, he could have only been days old when he happened into our yard.

"Sammy sure is getting big," my son observed one lazy day as we lay around on the dandelions

"He sure is," I agreed.

"Does cat food make you big?"

"Cat food makes catsm big, not boys!" I blew a white bubble of dandelion seeds at him.

"Where do cats come from, mom?

"Cats come from mommy cats," I knew it was a dumb answer, but how technical do you have to get with a three- year-old?

"How do they do that?"

Of course, all this led to how God had dreamed up Ben Aufderheide and made arrangements for him to reside at our house. And this led to further questions I haven't thought of since I was 3. After making me feel the confused parent, my son indicated his complete understanding with a final "Oh."

A few days later I realized the state of confusion I had left him in. He bounded in the door, breathless "Mom!"m "I'm right here, honey!"

"Mom!m The cat . . ." He could hardly catch his breath.

sensing his alarm, I said, "Is Janey hugging Sammy?" -- visualizing the loving hug and the bulging eyes.

"No, Mom!m Sammy -- he just had some Puppies!"m I ran faster than Ben.

Sammy had indeed given birth. They looked like little rats, but are growing into giant cats. They all thinkm they're going to live here, gorging themselves on our cheap cat food, and napp ing on my chintz couch. And -- they are probably right.

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