Cats here, cats there,
cats and kittens everywhere
Hundreds of cats
Thousands of cats
Millions and billions and trillions of cats
from Millions of Cats
written and illustrated by Wanda Gág
Puffin Books, 1956
Friday morning, our 20-year-old cat, Frances, took her last breath. Toward the end of December, I noticed that she was “a little off.” Our vet saw her the first week of January and after his exam, he gave us a nebulous description of what might be going wrong: Ocular Systemic Anomaly. While I understood the words and had an idea of how they went together, he continued. Something he noticed behind her left eye was probably affecting many other parts of her body. Without further tests and maybe surgery he couldn’t give us an accurate diagnosis. My husband and I looked at each other.
It took no time at all for us to analyze the situation. Frances was 20 years old.
She did not appear to be in pain. We did not want to subject her to the painful process of surgical recovery.
At home, she was herself, doing her Frances things. Together, we watched birds at the feeder and squirrels in the yard. She liked to be “on camera” when I zoomed into one meeting or another. She liked to use the keyboard, but only typed capital Qs and sometimes an a or an s. She liked her cat food and my grandson’s honey-mustard salad dressing, popcorn, pasta sauce, cooked chicken, and tuna fish, but not salmon. She didn’t play very much any more, but she liked to sit close. She napped in her favorite places.
It’s odd sometimes to see the universe align. Last week, I was asked to tell a little something about my mom in honor of the anniversary of her death. I remembered a story that seemed appropriate and when I finished it, it felt appropriate to share here, too.
Let’s just say that my mom, like all humans, was complicated. I remember her when she was the age I am now. That feels odd, but she always told me “You’re only as old as you feel.” She taught me much more than mere aphorisms, and I knew I could do better. Here’s where my mind went next.
Like most kids, my brother and sister and I wanted a pet. Mom said “no fur.” So we tried to be content with goldfish and red-eared sliders, those tiny turtles that came with a round plastic dish and a built-in, spiral ramp leading up to a tiny plastic palm tree.
But we were dissatisfied. You can’t play with a fish and those turtles didn’t last long enough to play with either, really.
“No fur” was her answer until I got a babysitting job. When the family got a kitten, I enjoyed my job even more than I thought I could, but the dad found out he was allergic to the cat. The family was in a quandary, but they decided to keep the dad. Princey would have to find a new home.
At first Mom said “no fur,” but when she realized what would happen if we didn’t step up, she softened.
“Princey will always be your cat,” I told young Brett. “He’s only going to live at our house. You can visit him whenever you want.”
That lasted for a little while, until baseball and school took up more of his time. And he knew Princey had a good home.
By the time Princey came to the end of his life, I was in high school. I asked for another cat. Cricket was aloof. After all, she was a show cat with ribbons. Mom and Dad adopted Cricket when I went off to college and Mom was never without a cat again.
So what made her go from “no fur” to sharing her life with cat after cat? I’m not sure, but I remembered a story she told me about her own growing up.
My grandmother was loving, but not in a huggy, kissy way. She must have always been kinda like that. When Grandma wanted to teach my mom and uncle to be responsible, Blackie, a black Lab, came into their lives. Mom said Grandpa loved that dog.
Blackie lived with them for many years, until WWII broke out. Mom was a young woman by then. Uncle Bob, was grown, too. But Blackie was still a big part of their lives. One day, when Mom, Uncle Bob, and Grandpa were all off to work, Grandma decided to sign up Blackie for his own military service.
No one saw Blackie again.
Grandma probably thought she was doing a good thing, patriotism and all that goes with it including dogs, apparently, you know. And I believe people do the best they can with what they have.
But I understand now, that the resentment and betrayal Mom must have felt toward her mother did not allow her to attach her own feelings to a pet again.
Until Princey. She knew he had a “forever home” with us.
I like to think, that when Mom allowed Princey to come into all of our lives, she began to understand that holding onto those feelings of betrayal and resentment was destructive.
As I watched her with Princey, I learned that the more love you give away, the more you get to keep.
Thanks, Mom, for all your complicated love.
I wondered what does a dog actually do in the service? and do dogs still serve? The quick answer is they perform many different jobs and yes, there’s currently a shortage. Dogs also serve veterans. Here's the rest of the answer from the American Kennel Club.
—Be curious! (and love your pets and each other)
I just started reading The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings (Random House, 2007). I saw the movie years ago on TV. It’s a story of family dynamics and relationships and like real life, it’s complicated. The book is readable and engrossing. I’m looking forward to getting back to it!
FB: As I write this on Sunday, Feb 4, it’s been 14 years since my mom passed away. I’m feeling a little un-moored, since we just lost our last cat, too. Connecting with all of you, though, feels right. Thank you.