What Happens When Four Anti-iPhone, Salty-Ass Texan Women Argue About Cats

By Andrea Grimes

Illustration: Sophia Foster-Dimino
In my family, the presence of Siri has fundamentally, and forever, changed us.

They say that smartphones are tearing us apart. That technology is building walls, not tearing them down. That the internet makes us dumber.

Not in my family. In my family, the presence of a goofy ole gal named Siri has fundamentally, and forever, changed us. For the better.

Every family has its special holiday traditions and quirks. Some folks all wear matching pajamas for Christmas morning, others all share a beloved pancake or latke recipe, or escape to their favorite skiing locale.

My family argues about facts. Dates of birth, dates of death, celebrity marriages, the lengths of various wars both foreign and domestic. The ingredients in all manner of pies and desserts. The temperature at which meat is safe to eat. Which QVC host rang in New Year’s Eve 1998 while shilling for Craftsman tools? (Or was it the Kirks Folly jewelry spectacular that year?) If it’s a question that definitely has an answer, my family is definitely not just going to find out what that answer is and do literally anything else with the precious and limited gift of life.

I have tried to warn my friends and boyfriends about this habit ahead of time. They never believe me. Until it’s too late. My mom and dad once spent the entirety of a half-hour car ride to dinner arguing in front of my new friend Susan about the nature of real estate purchases on cruise ships. What if, my dad suggested, you could buy a condo on a cruise ship? You could live on a cruise ship!

My mother was not having it.

< twang > “But Tommy, who would want to live on a cruise ship? You’d just visit the same places over and over and over again.” < / twang>

My dad countered: < twang > “No you wouldn’t! The ship would go all over the world!” < / twang >

Hey, quick question: Do you guys know if you can buy a house on a cruise ship? Do you know whether, if you did, that ship would go to like, the same five destinations, or if it would go all over the world? I DON’T KNOW EITHER. NEITHER DID MY MOM. OR MY DAD. OR SUSAN, WHO NEARLY CHOKED HERSELF TO DEATH TRYING NOT TO AUDIBLY LAUGH HER WAY OUT OF THE CAR. This didn’t happen in 1995. This happened in 2010, 12 years after the invention of Google and three years after God gave us the iPhone.

But did my parents ask Siri, “Can you buy a room on a cruise ship” or “if I lived on a cruise ship where would it go”? They did not. It was pure fucking speculation all the way to the Olive Garden.

But the Grimes family comeuppance was on its way. And it came in the form of a meek, three-word rebuttal, uttered by my dearest and sweetest aunt, sugar personified, sweetness incarnate: Cindy. Cindy is the youngest of my mom’s three sisters, and while she failed to cultivate the brash smartassedness characteristic of her sisters, her capacity for generosity and quiet affection is unparalleled. Cindy does not start shit.

Until the year she started some shit.

It was Christmas, the year of the great Cruise Ship Debate. I’d brought my boyfriend, now my husband, home to meet my family for the first time. Things were going well. We had not had a protracted fall-out over whether Richard Nixon had died in the spring or the fall, so I was hopeful, but nervous, especially since big ordeal holidays were not really Patrick’s family’s thing. Patrick’s family just sort of of gets together whenever it’s convenient, because his parents are divorced, like normal people willing to end their factual forever-wars in a draw.

But Christmas lunch went great. We ate at 2 p.m. and were on track to continue grazing, as we do, until one of my aunts remembers that her cats haven’t eaten in 14 hours and the party breaks up.

My aunt Cindy does not start shit. Until the year she started some shit.

Cats are important here. My family is a cat family. Growing up, we had anywhere from six to 20 cats at any given time. My mom, who is an actual genius, went back to school at age 50 and got a veterinary degree so she could take care of more cats. I have heard my family argue about the temperature at which sand becomes glass, but I have never heard them argue about cats. There’s nothing to discuss. Because we don’t just know about cats — the things we know about cats? ARE FUCKING FACTS.

So this is like, nine hours into grazing on turkey and dressing and cream taters and this jello-coolwhip-pineapple thing that we call “pink stuff,” and me and Patrick and my mom and her three sisters, and my dad, are all staring at our phones because we love each other a lot, and my aunt Terri pipes up to read this news story she found on Facebook about this puma they spotted in the woods in East Texas.

Now, my family doesn’t argue about cats but they will argue about East Texas, where they are all from. Are there pumas in East Texas? Well — I mean, this news story seemed to indicate that there are! That was not good enough for my aunt Carla. Carla is the un-Cindy.

< twang throughout > “There ain’t pumas in East Texas. They mean mountain lions.” Carla is the oldest sister. She is 68 years old and she has never been wrong.

But Cindy wondered, ever so gently: “I think pumas and mountain lions are the same thing?” But here’s what: You don’t just suggest, to Carla Fay Baker’s face, that Carla Fay Baker doesn’t have a real solid grasp on the taxonomy of the big cats of her ancestral homeland.

My aunt Terri is just trying to read the story: “Well, anyway, it says there was a puma — ”

Carla: “THERE AIN’T PUMAS IN EAST TEXAS.”

My mom: “Well now, but they could mean jaguars.”

Questions that were explored by my mom and her sisters over the next ten minutes include: What is a jaguar? What is a puma? Is it “jag-yar” when it’s a car, and “jag-u-war” when it’s a cat? Does a jaguar have spots? Is a jaguar a kind of leopard, or is it more like a solid-colored cheetah? How big does a big cat have to be?

Are all wild cats “big cats,” or are some, such as the North African sand cat, which is a small cat, simply wild, but not big? Housecats: More closely related to jaguars, or pumas, if in fact jaguars are not pumas? Do mountain lions have to live in the mountains?

Did I mention that my family does not drink? Or consume mind-altering substances of any kind? This is just straight up, four salty-ass Texas women with giant Texas hair telling each other things they’ve heard about big cats as if Christ himself crawled out of the manger and issued to Carla, Becky, Terri and Cindy each a different, but equally accurate, individual gospel in feral feline biology.

Finally, Carla shut that shit down.

“A PUMA IS NOT A MOUNTAIN LION. A PUMA IS A JAGUAR. AND THERE AIN’T NEVER BEEN NO JAGUARS IN EAST TEXAS.”

Well, it was settled. Because Carla said it was settled. After a few moments of quiet reflection on her decree, my dad cranked up the volume on the Longhorns game. I sipped the last of my coffee and started thinking about a final serving of pink stuff. My mom, cowed into silence once again by the only woman on earth who can out-cat her, resigned herself to flipping through Southern Living’s annual best recipes book.

Are all wild cats ‘big cats,’ or are some, such as the North African sand cat, which is a small cat, simply wild, but not big?

And then my aunt Cindy looked up from her phone. My sweet, demure, dear- hearted aunt — who come to think of it, had been unusually quiet. Turns out she’d mostly spent the last few minutes consulting the tiny experts locked in her bejeweled phone case, straightens up a little in her chair.

“Carla?” she squeaks, holding the screen of her phone up over her cup of super-creamed coffee. “This says not.”

No one on earth could have put together three more shocking words. “I eat dicks.” “Chili has beans.” “Jesus was gay.” Nothing, and I mean nothing, would have done it quite like “This says not.”

Carla was stunned. Cindy proceeded to read the wikipedia article about mountain lions — also known as “pumas.” I quote: “They are a large felid of the subfamily Felinae native to the Americas. Their habitats range from the Canadian Yukon to the southern Andes of South America. Also known as a cougar, the mountain lion is the most widespread of any large wild terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere.”

Not only are pumas and mountain lions the same thing, but they are more likely than other big cats to be found ANYWHERE, including East Texas.

Seven years later, there is no putting the fact-cat back in the bag. Everyone has learned to use their iPhones. Whenever a debate gets rolling, the phones come out and appeals to Wikipedia are made. “We don’t have to wonder!” I find myself shouting over the din of discord as somebody fails to remember who was quarterbacking for the Texas Longhorns in 1985. (It was Bret Stafford.)

The Vietnam war started in 1955 and ended in 1975. A macaron is a meringue-based sandwich cookie, while a macaroon has coconut and is dipped in chocolate. Sand turns to glass at 3,090 degrees fahrenheit. Richard Nixon died in April. Beef, pork, veal and lamb cuts should be heated to 145 degrees, and ground meats to at least 160. Poultry of all types should be cooked to 165 degrees. It was the Craftsman tools special on QVC in 1998.

And a puma is a mountain lion.

Now we have nothing left to talk about. Just like a real family.

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