Kind-hearted Women

Years ago, for her birthday, I bought my mom a plaque with a drawing carved on it that looked something like this:

Kind hearted woman sign

Yes, I drew this.

Though it may look a bit crude (the version above was drawn with Paintbrush on a Mac using a recalcitrant mouse), the image is pretty close to what appeared on the plaque.

It was based on a hobo sign:  a simple image scratched with coal or chalk, or carved unobtrusively into fence posts. These symbols were used as a cryptic code shared by the itinerant people who rode the rails in 1940’s America, stopping to look for food or work along the way.

The symbol of a smiling cat meant “A kind-hearted woman lives here.” In other words, if you were hungry and knocked on the door of this house, you were likely to be fed. Maybe in exchange for some work around the house, or maybe just because. But more than likely, you wouldn’t get turned away with an empty stomach.

I gave that plaque to my mom because it exemplifies her.  She makes friends wherever she goes, and welcomes strays of all kinds into her home — whether they’re human or otherwise. I have this belief that my mom has some kind of universal symbol like the kind-hearted woman sign hovering around her, translatable into languages understood by all creatures. The strays know who’s doorstop to show up on.

Collecting strays runs in the family

Growing up, we had a dog (from a friend’s “oops” litter), a guinea pig (another “oops”), a large white rabbit (found in the woods by my brother and a friend) and three white mice (rescued from a lab.)

My first on-my-own dog, Kelsey, was responsible for my  mom’s first cat. A dog who loved to chase the neighbor’s cats when they intruded on her territory, Kelsey was completely dumbfounded one day when she tried to chase a cat — and it didn’t follow the Turn Tail and Run Up the Nearest Tree script.

Kesley, who liked to chase cats

Kesley, who liked to chase cats

A trip to the vet confirmed that the cat was malnourished, dehydrated, and had worms; it had been a long time since someone had cared for her. That night, the kitty slept in our basement, while my husband at the time alternatively sneezed, complained about the cat, and complained about sneezing.

My mom took in Pussywillow, as the cat came to be called, and nursed her back to health. Even my dad loved that cat, though he didn’t admit it at first. My parents had several cats after Pussywillow — all rescued.

I think I inherited my mom’s “all strays welcome” sign. I can’t count the number of animals I’ve helped rescue over the years: dogs, cats, mice, rats, frogs, opossums, birds, rabbits — even a snapping turtle that was crossing a busy road. (Don’t try this at home, folks; a snapper’s bite is nothing to sneeze at.) I rescue spiders, moths and stinkbugs that are unlucky enough to enter my home, so they don’t become kitty toys. And of course, there are the cats and dogs whom we adopted from shelters and rescue groups.

My kids are the same way. My son rescues frogs and snakes that come into our yard. My daughter rescued a tiny stray cat. Animals are drawn to us. They find us. And we can’t help but help.

Mother, nature

Perhaps my children and I inherited this need to help; it’s in our nature. Or maybe it was passed down through the environments we lived in, as we were nurtured on kindness to all. My mom’s mom’s also took in strays. My favorite story about my grandmother was when she came home and found someone in her house; not realizing he was a burglar, she asked him if he was lost and offered to help him find his way.

Rusty, one of the dogs who my mom grew up with.

Rusty, one of the dogs who my mom grew up with.

And on my dad’s side, my grandparents may have actually had the kind-hearted woman sign somewhere on their New Jersey turkey farm, as they often fed the hungry and homeless who showed up at their door.

My grandparents, with my dad and uncle, on the porch of the farmhouse.

My grandparents, with my dad and uncle, on the porch of the farmhouse.

When my mom visits, as she did recently for Passover, all the animals find their way to her side. Even shy Calvin, who normally finds refuge under a bed when someone new enters his territory, comes out when Grandma visits.

My mom with Tucker, Jasper and Lilah

My mom with Tucker, Jasper and Lilah

I used to joke that the sign on my house says, “A sucker lives here.” But as I watch my kids care about those around them, I’m happy to say we’re all kind-hearted women — and men. And it’s a legacy I’m sure we’ll continue to pass on.

29 Comments on "Kind-hearted Women"

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  1. that IS a wonderful legacy….

  2. Ellen Pilch says:

    Beautiful post, your Mom sounds wonderful.

    • She is. I learned a lot from her. When I stop and talk to the woman at the checkout, or the man next to me in line, my kids lovingly call it “pulling a Bev.;” my mom’s name is Beverly. She’s such a warm and friendly person, she’ll talk to anyone.

  3. da tabbies o trout towne says:

    Susan…this post is awesome; as is the drawing you did; as are these photo’s today { I hope grandma and her home and possessions were all alright; wonder what thoughts went through the burglar’s head at the time ~ }


    • Thank you. The drawing looks amazingly crude, but it is pretty close to what would have been carved or scratched into a post. As for the burglar, the way the story goes, he was so startled by my grandmother that he mumbled some excuse and left in a hurry. It wasn’t until later that she and my grandfather noticed some items missing, and realized in retrospect what had happened, and who the intruder really was.

  4. I love this story. It is true that when we teach our children how to care and love animals, they reflect that in their adult life. Both of my children are amazing pet parents. ♥

  5. Emma says:

    That is awesome! We rarely ever see any stray animals, which is good because my mom would be a collector too!

  6. jan says:

    When I read about some of the horrible things some humans do to animals i am so grateful to have been brought up the way you were by kind and caring people

  7. Leona says:


  8. Your mom is terrific…and passed that on to you. 🙂

  9. Rebekah says:

    This is so heart warming. I’m sitting here with a big smile on my face.

  10. Daisy says:

    This is such a lovely post! And I can see what a beautiful person your mom is. Wish her a Happy Mothers Day from Daisy’s family!

  11. meowmeowmans says:

    I love this! What a wonderful mom you have, and what a legacy she has passed on to you.

    I hope you had a wonderful Pesach!

  12. It seems our families have a lot in common! I’ve done so many posts about our families legacy with pets. It’s nice to see someone else’s old photos for a change! I sometimes think that the best thing we all learned from our folks was to love animals.

  13. Kitties Blue says:

    What a lovely story and sweet photo of your mom and the dogs. Our mom has that plaque as well. Our dad would say she is a “sucker.” XOCK, Lily Olivia, Mauricio, Misty May, Giulietta, Fiona, Astrid, Lisbeth and Calista Jo

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