Sunday, September 13, 2009

On the road again

Ed Kost and his cats Princess and Jasmine are living in transit now.

I was strolling through the glass doors as I exited my bank this week when a 1978 Ford Fairlane parked in the lot caught my attention.

I circled behind the faded orange car to take a better look. I think it piqued my interest because there was a time in my past when I’ve called a vehicle home. It taught me how to spot the signs of a rolling residence. Extra clothing, toiletries, all the tiny comforts squirreled away into the little pockets of a vehicle interior.

Or maybe it was the paws that gave me pause.

Two fluffy cats were perched on the car seats with their backs to me. I’ve seen lots of dogs in cars waiting for their guardians, but never a cat. And here were two of them intently watching the bank door, waiting for their master to return. I noticed they were wearing collars, implying someone loved and protected them.

I didn’t want to ambush an owner at close range who might be potentially defensive about a tough situation. To minimize the chance of face-to-face conflict, I crossed the lot and waited beside my vehicle for him to come back.

It took a little while, but 15 minutes later, he appeared. I walked up slowly and explained my purpose. I talked about how pretty his cats were, but didn’t wait long before I got around to gently asking my main question: was he living in the car?

It turns out he was glad I asked.

Ed Kost spent the next hour with me, talking about how a man who had pulled his life together more than once had everything taken from him yet again. And this time, it happened just as he was entering his golden years. Ed, who recently turned 65, lost his house of 28 years. That was just seven weeks ago.

But, “it doesn’t feel that recent when you’re doing this,” he told me.

He’s a recovered alcoholic, and had been working as a chemical addictions counselor at St. Joseph Hospital in Bellingham, Washington. Then a car struck him down while he was out for a jog, breaking his pelvis. Ed lost his job in an economy where work is scarce. And he couldn’t find a new one once he’d healed.

Before he knew it, Ed got behind on mortgage payments. The bank closed in.

He’d enjoyed a big property, a shop, and 17 cars to call his own. And now he was forced to live in one of them.

“The sheriff said load your car up and go.”

But Ed isn’t letting his latest run of bad luck take one of the last things he owns, that thing he’s worked the hardest to earn.

His sobriety.

The meetings are keeping him going, and he goes to several of them a day. It passes the time and provides social interaction. And there’s strength in that support.

“My ass is getting tired from sitting in meetings so much,” Ed said.

Ed’s story is sadly echoed at shelters across the country. They are reporting an influx of owners surrendering animals because they have lost their homes, another casualty of record foreclosure numbers.

But Ed’s not intending to give up the animals he’s committed himself to. Not if he can help it. He speaks fondly of one-year-old Jasmine and Princess, who are well cared for and obviously precious to him.

They started out their lives without a home, brought into his house when they were tiny by a mother cat in the neighborhood. The cat wasn’t allowed inside her family’s house. So when her babies were born, she carried all three kittens into Ed’s house one at a time, settling them into a back room. Ed was instantly taken with this street-smart mother and her helpless kittens.

‘The owners treated her like an outside cat. I treated her like an inside cat.”

The cat chose well. Because even though Ed doesn’t have a place to stay right now, home isn’t necessarily where the house is. It’s where the heart is.

And Ed has proven he has plenty of that.

Ed tethers Princess and Jasmine together when they go to the park so they can safely enjoy some fresh air without slipping away.

On the hot days this summer, Ed had a fan going for the cats, and misted them with cool water to keep them comfortable with him in the car.


Shelly Patton said...

Of the many excuses for an alcoholic to pick up a drink, Ed definitely has a few more to choose from than most. Yet he remains sober. I would that I have his priorities and commitment if faced with the same unfair circumstances in life.

Carreen, when/if you see Ed, please tell him I said thank you for allowing you to write his story. He reminded me we always have choices.

“Serenity is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with it."

Astrid Bray said...

Carreen, while I do realize the story written is very sad, it certainly was a great story. What beautiful kitties he has and how well groomed they look. They are obviously well cared for and much loved. Certainly made me realize what a wonderful life I have right now and how lucky I am to have what I have. Thank you for sharing a sad but very profound story.