“Daddy, When You Have a Heart Attack, Can I Have A Cat?”

Every family has a list of famed stories which are told at every social event. And for my parents, the time I was three years old and unintentionally threatened my father’s life has definitely made that list.

Backstory: First – My father is extremely allergic to cats; however, from the day I understood what a cat was until the day I learned I was also allergic to cats, I insisted my family buy a kitty. To young me, the only thing that stood in the way of me and a new kitty was my father. Second – Because of my father’s obsession with Bluegrass, every year for the past 35+ years my father and one of his bands has attended the oldest Bluegrass festival in the United States – ‘Fiddler’s Grove.’ The only year my father missed was the year I was born (the festival is Memorial day weekend and my birthday is the week after.) Up until this year, I had also attended every Fiddler’s Grove – 22 years in a row.

Story: Three years old. Still small enough to fit on my father’s shoulders. And already mischievous enough to get into a ton of trouble if my parents didn’t keep a close eye on me. Our family would always set up our tents in a huge camping circle with the families of my dad’s band members and other friends. As with every other band gathering, 50% of the time the band was playing music, and the other 50% they were sitting around telling each other stories of their lives since the last time they saw each other the year before. (Though, at Fiddler’s Grove, pretty much every adult had a beer 100% of the time, even when they were playing music.)

That year, one of my dad’s band mates had recently had a heart scare, which of course he told the group about. Being the mischievous little three year old, I was soaking up every word the adults said, whether I understood what it meant or not. But I was smart enough to understand that a heart scare could mean a heart attack and a heart attack meant death.

Fast forward to the middle of the afternoon. The camping circle was running out of ice for our coolers, so my dad volunteered to go buy more from the store in the barn at the entrance to the festival grounds. Being a mischievous little three year old, I insisted he take me with him, and that he carry me on his shoulders. About halfway to the barn, my little head bent down in front of my dad’s face. With a very serious face, little me announced with full confidence, “Daddy, when you have a heart attack, can I have a cat?” He was stunned for a second, partially startled by the confidence and seriousness with which I asked the question, partially contemplating how to respond to such an unexpected question, and partially disturbed that I had already chosen the method with which he would die. But ultimately the only thing that came out of his mouth was bellowing laughter while I stared down at him, puzzled at why my question wasn’t receiving an answer.

When we got back to the camp circle, dad proceeded to tell everyone about how his three year old was already planning what to do when he died. The adults laughed and laughed, and my mother aptly responded ‘Ron, be careful what Lena feeds you, you are an obstacle to her being able to own a cat.’ Needless to say, it has become an infamous story.

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