As children, my sister and I squealed to the strains of Dad reading Riley’s Little Orphant Annie. (Yes, it’s a real poem; no, it doesn’t have anything to do with the movie except I always assumed that’s where the film got its title.)
And now we have our own little orphan: Hadley Hemingway. She came to us with her brothers and sisters on a dark and scary night, exhibiting that absolute stillness of a kitten traumatized into terror. They sat in their blanket, blinking and waiting for what would befall them.
We gave them goat milk. We gave them kibble, we gave them a space heater, we gave them ear rubs. And we gave them a chance to find homes – which they did, all but our little Hadley.
Hadley’s birth sac opened late. Likely Mommy had to rip it open, because our Hadders is a few cells short of a full brain set She is damaged. She knows where the food stays, she knows which chair has the softest cushion, but at night she can’t find the stairs to our bedroom and sometimes she forgets other basic life skills – like that her tail is attached to her body.
But Nike has taken Hadley in paw. About a week ago, I said, “Bedtime,” a word all our staff animals know. As God is my witness, Nike walked over to Hadley, licked her, and meowed, “Follow me, kid.” And led her to the bedroom. The next morning, Hadley sat about befuddled until Nike, who had charged up the stairs for breakfast, came back down and got her. Nike licked her and said, “Right, sorry, hadn’t realized. Come with me. I won’t leave you again.”
That morning, Nike seemed to figure out that Hadley was special. She led her to her box, and peed first. Jumping out, she swished her tail and turned to Hadley. “Now you, sweetie.” And Hadley copied her foster mom.
Hadley’s got some challenges ahead, but with Nike’s help, she will turn into a fine bookstore staffer. Hadley tends to race up people’s trouser legs and lick them on the nose. Tiny Hadley also has a mew like velociraptor, primal and piercing. Nike is trying to temper this enthusiasm with a bit of decorum and a modulated, feminine meow, but she has her work cut out for her.
So next time you come to our bookstore, say hello to our staff cats Beulah, Owen, and Nike–and Nike’s pet kitten, Hadley Hemingway.
- Little Orphant Annie
- Little Orphant Annie’s come to our house to stay,
- An’ wash the cups an’ saucers up, an’ brush the crumbs away,
- An’ shoo the chickens off the porch, an’ dust the hearth, an’ sweep,
- An’ make the fire, an’ bake the bread, an’ earn her board-an’-keep;
- An’ all us other children, when the supper-things is done,
- We set around the kitchen fire an’ has the mostest fun
- A-list’nin’ to the witch-tales ‘at Annie tells about,
- An’ the Gobble-uns ‘at gits you
- Ef you
- Wunst they wuz a little boy wouldn’t say his prayers,–
- An’ when he went to bed at night, away up-stairs,
- His Mammy heerd him holler, an’ his Daddy heerd him bawl,
- An’ when they turn’t the kivvers down, he wuzn’t there at all!
- An’ they seeked him in the rafter-room, an’ cubby-hole, an’ press,
- An’ seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an’ ever’-wheres, I guess;
- But all they ever found wuz thist his pants an’ roundabout:–
- An’ the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you
- Ef you
- An’ one time a little girl ‘ud allus laugh an’ grin,
- An’ make fun of ever’ one, an’ all her blood-an’-kin;
- An’ wunst, when they was “company,” an’ ole folks wuz there,
- She mocked ’em an’ shocked ’em, an’ said she didn’t care!
- An’ thist as she kicked her heels, an’ turn’t to run an’ hide,
- They wuz two great big Black Things a-standin’ by her side,
- An’ they snatched her through the ceilin’ ‘fore she knowed what she’s about!
- An’ the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you
- Ef you
- An’ little Orphant Annie says, when the blaze is blue,
- An’ the lamp-wick sputters, an’ the wind goes woo-oo!
- An’ you hear the crickets quit, an’ the moon is gray,
- An’ the lightnin’-bugs in dew is all squenched away,–
- You better mind yer parunts, an’ yer teachurs fond an’ dear,
- An’ churish them ‘at loves you, an’ dry the orphant’s tear,
- An’ he’p the pore an’ needy ones ‘at clusters all about,
- Er the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you
- Ef you
Sweet story about Hadley and Nike. I grew up hearing Little Orphant Annie read at bedtime. I didn’t get much sleep, but I know much of it by heart.
My Indiana-born father used to read that to us. I don;t know why I wasn;t scared. I read to K-3 kids in a city school, and annually read this because SO many of the kids ASK for “scarey stories”.
Mlle Clémentine and Sir Roger de Coverly send love to Miss Hadley, and I to you and Nike for recognizing and caring for this needy little critter.
You gotta read about Orphant Hadley and Nike. Too dear. Makes me want to run out for another one.
Sent from my iPhone
The film (and the musical) took the name from the comic strip, but the comic strip definitely took the name from James Whitcomb Riley’s poem. It’s my favourite of his poems, and I love quoting that refrain. Riley was kin to the Riley family of Falls Church, Virginia, and referred to them and to their farm, Cherry Hill, in some of his poems. The house is now one of those what I refer to as “one house Williamsburgs”, restored (with a book case full of vintage editions of Riley’s poetry) and open for visitors. The property was divvied up and sold as the town grew. The Mary Riley Styles Library, where my mother was in charge of the local history collection, is across the street from Cherry Hill. So, yeah, this is all familiar territory for me! [laughs]
Love the story of Nike and Hadley! Isn’t it beautiful how animals “just know” what people often don’t see? My parents used to read us the poem too, when we were young. Hadn’t read it for years so thank you so much for including it!
As a young kid, I was scared of just about any imagined danger. But “the Gobblins’ll get you ef you don’t watch out” was delightful, not scary! Give dear little Hadley an extra tickle behind the ears – what a delightful little kitty he is!
Their story makes me tear up and I am so very happy that Hadley is staying and Nike is taking care of her. They could give humans a few lessons.
My grandfather kept a retirement home for elderly hunting dogs (former boarders) in a cozy, lower room of his barn. When a stray marmalade kitten appeared, he joined the retired dogs, “star boarders” all. Until Cotter hit puberty, when his tom-ness drove him to new duties in the barn, he led Jimmy, the blind setter, to and from the yard multiple times a day. He’d trot to just in front of Jimmy, crook his tail so it hit Jimmy’s foreleg and lead him out and about. At Grampa’s call to “kennel up,” Cotter repeated the procedure to lead Jimmy back to his bed in front of the big, sunny window before he jumped back into his roost. I don’t know how animals “just know,” but they do.
Hemingway? How many toes?
her brothers were polydactyl, but she isn’t
You can visit James Whitcomb Riley’s boyhood home in Greenfield, Indiana, and “seek him in the rafter room, the cubby hole and press.” We have! It’s a nice visit!