Many people would tell you that feeding wild animals every night isn't exactly good for them, but my grandmother lived for animals, whether or not she followed proper protocol. She wanted to nurture and care for them. She loved them, even though it was something that she was never taught as a child.
My grandmother grew up on a farm in rural Pennsylvania during the Great Depression, her father a coal miner and her mother rumored to be less than warm. They'd wanted a boy, but instead they got her. They named her Alva.
She and her three sisters were expected to work their way through their childhoods. Like the animals on the farm they served a pragmatic function. When the barn cat who kept mice populations in check had a litter of kittens, my grandmother as a young girl was told to drown them, one by one.
She was taught to do what she was told. She did what she was told.
* She didn't revisit the events of her childhood often - or if she did, she didn't speak of it.
Each evening in her house, when I knew her late in her life and early in mine, she would feed her many cats (Crockett, Bumblebee, Sneakers and Rascal are the ones whose names I can remember now). It was quite the feast. She left cans of wet food all over the house. Some preferred to eat on the screened-in porch and she served them there.
The smell of the processed chicken of the cat food permeated the walls, but it was the only meat in the house. When my mother was growing up, there was a point in the late 60s when she started listening to George Harrison and gave up meat for good. Soon after, my grandmother too gave up eating meat. It had never occurred to her before - she was brought up in a place where animals had just two functions: working and providing meat - but suddenly becoming a vegetarian seemed like the obvious thing to do.
She introduced me to my favorite books. One was, in retrospect, a surprisingly elegant allegory for overpopulation called "Millions of Cats." Another about an invisible orphaned dog named "Nothing At All." Nothing At All believed that if he spun around very quickly, he could appear and people would begin to care about him.