While Luke struggled at Maxi Toyota, God heated up another special project in His iron furnace, preparing her for the future. Although her name was Catherine Ann Thakkar, everyone called her Cat.
Cat’s journey began years earlier in Durban, South Africa, when her Indian mother, Leela, met a handsome musician at a concert. The short romance resulted in a pregnant Leela. But sadly, the musician caught a boat back to Mangalore, India, leaving the beautiful teenager behind to grapple with the consequences of her family and culture.
At the time, Durban’s Indian culture valued sons because they could earn money and help families with financial struggles in the South African apartheid society. Any value daughters had, depended on marriages being arranged with other families, especially wealthy ones. Unmarried daughters with children were considered a curse, often shunned by their own families.
Although the pregnancy enraged her mother, Leela remained in the small family home. Yet, the stress of working long hours for a few rand per week and the cultural shunning hurled Leela into a deep pit of despair. Each day, she struggled to put one foot in front of the other
On one especially bad day, Leela and her three year old daughter trudged home after cleaning a house. The home owner promised ten rand for the job, but ended up paying only two rand. When Leela complained, the home owner slammed the door in her face and said, “Take it up with the police, coolie.”
As Leela walked down a dirt road in Durban, she heard music and saw a well-worn tent. The lively music lifted her spirits.
“Cat, let’s stop here and rest for a bit. My legs are tired and the music is lovely.”
Leela and Cat sat in the back row on folding chairs. They listened to the music and then to the gospel message spoken by the evangelist. Leela rushed down the aisle at the altar call, praying with the evangelist for her salvation.
The two dashed home afterward to tell everyone about Jesus. Leela’s mom and brothers, all Hindus, reacted to the good news by grabbing machetes and chasing them out into the street. Standing there in the road, Leela made up her mind to follow Jesus no matter what the cost might be for her.
This decision by Leela eventually led to her marrying Raj Thakkar whom she met on a mission trip. Thakkar, a second generation Indian-America businessman, lived in San Francisco and taught economics at San Francisco State University. Although leaving her family and native land was a difficult decision, America offered a new beginning for Leela and her daughter.
Cat’s reaction to the decision brought smiles to Raj and Leela.
“San Francisco? Is that near Bollywood?”
Raj Thakkar’s favorite story about Cat as a child came about while he was mowing the lawn at their Mission District home in San Francisco. The five year old galloped her broomstick horse straight at him, motioning for him to stop. He turned the Toro’s engine off.
“What’s up, Princess?” he asked with a big smile.
She pushed her black cowboy hat back on her head with one hand while holding tightly onto the broomstick horse’s reins with the other one.
“Guess what, Daddy?”
“Now, Daddy, don’t laugh.”
“Okay, I won’t.”
“I’ve just decided that when I grow up I’m going to ride in the Kentucky Derby and also be a cartoon runner.”
“Princess, that‘s great. You’ll be the best jockey in the whole world. But what exactly does a cartoon runner do?”
“Oh, Daddy, everybody knows that,” she said in a style reminiscent of Shirley Temple. “Cartoon runners show the Donald Duck and Bugs Bunny cartoons at the movie theaters. And Daddy, promise not to tell anybody, but I’m going to let all of my friends in free.”
She giggled and grabbed her hat, waving it back and forth, content with her career goals. Then, she wheeled around and took off, seeking new adventures in the neighborhood.
(The above is the first part of Chapter 6 for a new novel I’m writing, The Day LA Died, © Larry Nevenhoven, 2012.)
(Continued in Part 11)