Monday, July 23, 2012

Mom & The Cat Face

Mom, in her early teens.
July 22 was my mother's birthday and so, to honor her, I thought I'd write about The Cat Face.

A bit of background on Mom: she's the third of four daughters born to poor folks in a small village in central Portugal. It was a very rough life—her father died of tuberculosis when she was about 4, leaving her mother hard pressed to care for herself and her family. The girls had to be left with their maternal grandparents (my great-greats) for a time, so my grandmother could scratch out an income for them all.

The way Mom tells it, while her grandfather was a gentle old fellow, her grandmother was quite stern, and when they weren't working the family farm, they were praying the Rosary. Life was not only hard but mostly humorless for my Mom and her sisters, yet they found a way to make their own fun. The gals developed a method of cracking one another up on the sly in the form of The Cat Face. It's just what it sounds like—when their grandparents weren't looking, they'd catch one another's eyes and contort their faces into expressions they imagined to resemble a cat's. The evening Rosary sessions became less prayer-like and more suppressed-giggle fests. I have to say, knowing what I do of my great-greats' no-nonsense attitude re: the Lord, I'm mightily impressed with my Mom and surviving aunts (the eldest passed away many years ago of heart problems). It took a lot of guts for them to goof off, however innocently, given how dire the consequences would've been if they'd been caught.

Mom, flashing her gams, but not The Cat Face.
Adulthood didn't mean The Cat Face went into retirement, oh, no. As my sister and I grew up we were treated to it by our Mom regularly. Always surreptitiously, though; if Dad was looking, The Cat Face stayed hidden. But the second his eyes shifted and Mom had our attention, the Face flashed, this bizarrely hideous, wrinkled-up nose, tongue stuck out, grimace. Actually, it could be a bit frightening when we were younger. Now, it cracks us up, because Mom still tosses it out at us.

The "tradition" is that The Cat Face can be shown to females of any age or children of either sex, but never, ever to adult males. Never, never, ever. Mom's speed and stealth have only improved over time, and her daring has grown so that at a table full of family, she will still keep an eye out for a moment that the gals are looking her way and the guys aren't and boom, baby—The Cat Face strikes again, leaving all the men wondering what the hell the chicks are laughing at. My sister has worked at perfecting this art and will often trade Cat Faces with Mom whenever she comes to town for a meal, leaving me choking on my vinho verde. I, alas, am not as adept as they, and can't manage a proper Cat Face to save my life. The shame of it haunts me.

One Christmas around the dinner table, I teased my Mom about no longer being able to get away with doing The Cat Face as quickly as she used to. She didn't realize she was being baited, as I had a camera waiting in my lap to catch her in the very act. So naturally, she had to prove me wrong and SNAP, FLASH! I got a picture of it!!! My aunt and (female) cousin's hoots of hilarity, plus the look of shock, and then fury on Mom's face were all the reward I needed, even if the picture didn't come out (which it totally did). I would dearly love to share it with you all today but, even if Mom hadn't threatened me with unspeakable acts should the photo ever come to light, my sister warned me not to break The Cat Face Code - no men may ever see its grotesque glory. My apologies, y'all—call me a tease if you will, but I must respect the Code or forfeit my honor. (Such as it is.)

So, Happy Birthday, Mom, and Viva La Cat Face!

21 comments:

  1. I was totally expecting a photo... but it makes sense there isn't one. Your mum sounds like a great character!

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  2. I love coming here and having to click through the "content warning" I feel like such a rebel, heeeeheheeh, but I also really enjoy reading your posts. I love this story about your mom and how the women in your family have bonded together through the "Cat Face." It's a unique part of your history that has passed down through the generations and I think that's pretty cool.

    /\_/\
    ( o o )
    ==_Y_==

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    1. LOL! my cat face looked better in the comment box! HA!

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  3. @Annalisa - I know, the topic almost demands the proof, and yet...tradition!

    @Elise - LOL, I wish I'd thought to do a cat face that way! That would've been something, at least...

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  4. LOL!!! You ARE a tease!!!!!! I wanna see it!! I knew you were Portuguese but I didn't realize your mom was from Portugal. I am sure your grandparents and greatgrands must have stories about Fatima. The story fascinates me, even though I've left my Catholic upbringing behind.

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  5. That is one funny story!! It's great to see that prior generations had great traditions, too (I tie my shoe in strange places). I wish I could see it, but I respect the restriction. Funny...funny.
    Happy Birthday to your Mom. She sounds like my kind of gal.

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  6. BAAAW, I WAS SO LOOKING FORWARD TO THE FACE!! Haha! Happy Birthday to your Mom! (: That's a hilarious story. Kudos for their daring and not allowing the tradition to die so easily!

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  7. This is a great story! I would have loved to seen the picture of the cat face :) Your mom sounds like an amazing woman with a healthy sense of humor. Happy Birthday to her!

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  8. @JoJo - Yep, both of my parents are Portuguese natives. Many years ago, on a family trip to Portugal, we visited Fatima. I regret that it'd become such a tourist attraction, however, when we went to check out the tree over which Our Lady was reported to appear, I do remember feeling a certain something special...

    Everybody, thanks for the b-day wishes, and sorry about The Big Tease. But, you know, y'all could go to your mirrors and practice wrinkling your noses while grimacing and simultaneously sticking out your tongues...you might scare yourselves, sure, but you'd get an approximate idea of what The Cat Face entails. :-D

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  9. Aw this is a touching but funny post in a way - nice one. Always have a problem about thinking of Portugal being impoverished as I have spent most of my time there in a drnken port-induced happy haze

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  10. Mina, your mom sounds awesome! What a cool story...it shows how resilient people can be during hard times...finding humor in places where it doesn't dwell often. The cat face is something I would love to see. Don't make me catch you on a video chat one night for a demo! ;)

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  11. @David - there were a lot of poor in Portugal when my parents lived there; Portugal was under a dictator, Salazar, who was not at all a good time. My parents immigrated a little before the revolution - when were you in Portugal?

    @Tracy - if I could do The Cat Face, Tracy, I'd hunt you down on the Interwebs *right now* and show it to ya! :-D

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  12. Happy birthday to your Mom! I would love to see the 'cat face', you've made me very curious...

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  13. To quote Bruce Campbell in The Hudsucker Proxy... That gag's got whiskers on it.

    Still, to keep me (and my ilk) from seeing the hideous hilarity of The Cat Face just because of a stray chromosome? I tell you, that hurts.

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  14. @EvalinaMaria - thank you for the good wishes!

    @Nate - Don't blame me, Dude; blame the major scientific minds of the world for not yet having made time travel possible. ('Cause, like, then you could go back to your little kid self and I could totally show you the pic.) :-)

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  15. Oh how funny. Your Mum sounds wonderful. We have Lizard Face in my family but it's grotesqueness if for everyone to be subjected to, not just girls.

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  16. That's a great story! We all should have a Cat Face and give it as the best inheritance to our little ones. It is for posts like this that I have nominated you for a couple of awards. Come by my blog and claim them!

    http://diaryofawriterinprogress.blogspot.com/2012/07/about-inspirations-and-awards.html

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  17. Your post is a riot, Mina! I loved it, and I think you're mother's fabulous. She and her sisters lived through such a tough time and still preserved their sense of humor. We should all do that. Yes, Viva La Cat Face! :-D

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  18. @Claire - Oooh, oooh, how do you make the Lizard Face?????

    @Gina - Thank you!

    @Lexa - Yep, I learned a lot about enduring from my mother. (Mostly, it involves alcohol.) ;-)

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  19. Daaaaamn, I was very much hoping to see a pic of the Cat Face too ;)

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    1. Yes. But I'm an unrelenting tease, I'm afraid. :-)

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