Thursday, May 18, 2006

cat-alog (okay, bad pun)

My cats have been gazing at me lately, sending thoughts like " went and listed all those dogs. What about the cats in your life? What are we, little dust rags of the cosmos?"

And certainly, my life has had cats in it. Cats sprawled on my bed, cats following me to school, cats pouncing on my toes, cats perched on the computer monitor now as I type, and try to move their kitty tails out of the screen view.

My first kitten was a gift from my aunt. I was four, the cat was tiny, grey, striped. I was in bed with one of the zillion childhood diseases that hit me in my 4th year, while my father was far away once again and my mother and little brother were staying in a small apartment owned by my aunt and uncle, right next door to their big house, where my four rowdy boy cousins also dwelled. My aunt--her birthday is coming up in a couple days, she will be 89--coddled and adored me as the daughter she had wished to have, but never did. I was bored, fretful, scratchy (it was chicken pox or measles or something like that; I had one disease after another during that year). In walked my beautiful aunt with a little bundle of spitting, clawing kitten liveliness.

I named her Katie (I had a book about Katie the Kitten, and this one looked like the gray striped cat in the book). I thought she was a lovely, elegant, and wonderful companion. Katie, alas, was hit by a car not far from our apartment; I remember one of the neighbor boys saying he saw my cat, dead. I remember my denial, and my tears.

My aunt, resourceful and loving, produced a second little striped kitten. Her name was Lucy. Lucy loved to sleep under the covers, waking to pounce on my restless feet as though they were little mice. When we left to join my father in Japan, Lucy went to live with my mother's stepmother, where, I was assured, she would be loved and coddled, and when we came back to the US I could, if I liked, reclaim her.

But Lucy too met a sad end, under the wheels of that gentle grandmother's car. I learned of her end one day as I asked my mother what dear Grandma Ellen had to say about Lucy. Long pause, and then the story--Lucy had run to greet her, Ellen hadn't seen her, she'd slipped beneath the wheels. I tried very hard not to cry.

In Japan we had goldfish, who jumped from their too small bowl, and a parakeet named Cleo and a canary named Marc Antony.

When we did return, after some years away, to the U.S., it was Grandma Ellen who introduced me to my next cat. Or cats, for there were two cats, two kittens whose mother was the blue eyed, long haired white Daisy, beloved of Ellen. The big black and white kitten was for my brother, the small white one, with a smudge of pale gray on her forehead, was mine. And she was mine, wholly mine, though my brother's cat was quite a sweet cat, vocal and fluffy, demanding and clownish. He was called Blackie; the long haired white female I was so excited to have for my own I called Mitzi. She had green eyes, and as she matured lost the baby smudge on her forehead, becoming purest white. Blackie wandered to a neighbors driveway--and, well, cars and cats in my life never mixed well. My brother and I, walking the long blocks to school, saw him lying there. "What a lazy cat you have!" I teased, and we walked up to get him.
I couldn't stop sobbing all that day at school. My teacher, concerned at my grief, offered me a little stray calico kitten to take home. Mitzi would have none of this, and the calico had to go back.

Mitzi moved with our traveling family from post to post, from house to apartment, across the state, indignantly yowling in cardboard boxes held on my lap as I murmured to her "It'll be okay, you'll see". When she first came to our family my father had insisted that cats should live outside. Many a night I took the screen off my window and called the cats in to sleep in my bed; after a few weeks of this, and some tearful conversations with my inwardly soft hearted father, Mitzi, and Blackie till he died, were permitted to be indoor cats who went outdoors when they wished, and only when they wished.

Mitzi was my confidante, the first listener to my poetry, the subject of many of my drawings. She was poised, elegant, and supremely confident. In one place my room was on a second story, facing into palm trees where doves nested. Mitzi spent many afternoons in full on attack-stalk mode, muttering bad kitty curses to the birds outside. The birds ignored her.

My mother pampered Mitzi. She didn't eat regular catfood, but special bits of meat from the butcher, and little dishes of peas, and tastes of melon. She could detect a pastry from the other end of the house and would arrive to demand her share.

Like all the cats I've known, Mitzi had a sense of proper placement for admiration, and when we had visitors would strike elegant poses against darker backgrounds, which showed off her silky white fur.

When I left home at last, I left Mitzi in the care of my mother, who, truth be told, had done a lot more tending of her than I had. Oh yes, she was my cat--but my mother washed the cat dishes and looked to her comfort. And my life was pretty uncertain; I thought Mitzi, then..what, 12 or 13--would feel better in her house with the orange trees in the back garden. Much much later I would learn that she had the habit of strolling down the row of fences to taunt the basset hounds who lived with one of the local librarians. (I would learn this only after Mitzi had long since passed to other dimensions, and I had met and worked with that librarian, befriending her family, and moved to the far northern area in which I live now. In a random conversation she refered to that damn white cat...and we realized we had lived only houses away from each other).
After my parents' divorce the house needed to be sold. I was far away. The woman next door, who was an invalid, confined to her home, had befriended Mitzi, or vice versa--she'd dart through the windows and sit with her. This woman gave my lovely white cat a home until the end of her life--Mitzi, still coddled, still adored, lived longer than most cats, happy to listen to whatever secrets her new friend cared to share with her.

Then there were the two kittens given me by a boyfriend with whom I would end up living for 9 very difficult and heartbreaking months. In kindness he gave me the kittens--two little calicos, one silky gray, one brightly splotched. I called the gray one Daphne and the bright one Bruji. Bruji vanished from the cottage I was renting; Daphne got pregnant and produced a litter of kittens I gave away. She would be my last unspayed cat. She was a sweet cat who deserved more than the distracted and distraught person I was during that time; when I fled to Europe a casual friend took her, and I do truly hope she had a good life. My boyfriend of the time turned out to dislike cats--though lately I have recontacted him and found cats did take possession of his heart at last after all; he has two indulged Persians.

There were, briefly, two calicos on the east coast with yet another live in love--and again, he, who disliked cats, was the one who brought them in from the street and called them unpronounceable Mayan names (he was reading Charles Olson that year). When we returned to Europe the two went to live with a pair of tweedy women who studied Ancient Greek.
The cats of England, none of them my own, ran heavily to black and white ones in Kent, where I was working on a bad novel. I used to come on them while out walking, and stop and talk with them--I've never resisted a conversation with a cat.

Once on the northcoast, having disrupted my lifeplan and settled into a quiet existence, the cats showed up in droves. Often pregnant (Daphne may have been my last unspayed cat, but I have had many a desperate mother come into my life). There was Celeste, a brilliant tabby. There was a calico who went between my little house and the mansion on the hill owned by the richest man in my area. Of course this calico--yes, pregnant--had her kittens at my place. There was little black Calamity, who was seized by a hawk--a strange and upsetting thing to witness. There was Felicity (I thought I'd better give my cats more cheerful names). There was Gwendolyn who came with Tasha the wolf dog. Gwendolyn was quite an amazing cat. She was so enormous I thought surely she must be pregnant, but she wasn't. Gwendolyn would sit in my bird feeder, fluff birdseed over her fur, and draw sparrows into her mouth by sheer hypnotic will. Once I realized what was happening I removed the bird feeder, but Gwendolyn was amazing, and lethal. And there was poor injured Cherie, with her damaged spine, who gave birth to a litter of kittens. They died, except for the black Willow, whom I bottle fed as her mother lay at the vet hospital, where the kind doctor stayed up all night watching over her. Cherie lived, though she never had control of her bladder or back legs much after that, and Willow became a huge and beautiful cat.

Willow died of rat poison. All my neighbors denied using such things. I have rarely been so angry and so sad and so powerless as when I watched over her death.

And there were the 16 cats my partner had when I joined him in our cabin in the woods. At least 16. All abandoned waifs of one sort or another. Tutty, the gray male; Apache, Groucho, Nicole, Pan...I wonder if I asked him now if he would remember all their names. Probably. Nicole, an orange and white female, mother of a batch of kittens (she'd been pregnant when dropped off on the road near the cabin) had feline leukemia, which raged through the group. My cats didn't fall to the disease, despite my grave fears as we joined families.

And with the birth of our daughter, some years later, somehow more cats came. My partner's original tribe of cats had pretty much died off; Gwendolyn remained, until one day she simply died of what seemed to be a heart attack, strong till the end.

So my daughter grew up with Perdita, a little calico, who took her as her own. There were also Gretel and Oliver, a pair of grey and white siblings, and Rose, who was found in a drain pipe. Rose was black, but had red highlights in her fur. And Windy, whose gray fur, said my girl, looked like the wind in the clouds, and Radish, who was orange.
Perdita followed my daughter like a shadow, slept on her pillow, brought her dead mice. When, at 17, my daughter went away on a two week trip--her first trip away from home--one day Perdita came to me, sighed, turned around, lay down, and died. I've never seen a cat die so quietly, quickly, and with determination. It was as if she was assured her girl had grown up, left the nest, and her job was over.
Telling my daughter was one of the harder things I've done.

There was Princess Meow. A scawny, starving ugly kitten she darted into our bookshop one day holding a squeaking mouse in her teeth--or so we thought. She dropped the "mouse" and ran out. It was a kitten. She was, though hardly older than a kitten herself, the desperate mother of three kittens, all of whom she brought to us. But traumatized and starving, she didn't seem able to nurse them. We tried to feed them, but one by one they died. The Princess herself we patted, and fed, and arranged to have spayed--but before we could she astonished us by giving birth to three more kittens, healthy ones this time. She nursed them with ease, and further surprised us by turning out to be a Maine Coon Cat, with a vast mane of fur. We kept one of her kittens and gave the other two to our longsuffering friend who ended up taking one of Jamaica's puppies later. One of those cats is still alive--now 18 or 19--but the Princess and her daughter Annabelle have both left this realm.

And briefly, there was Fuschia, who came to be a bookstore cat and died under mysterious circumstances. And Vita, a silver tabby, who was a bookstore cat for 16 years, till just last autumn when she, who loved to be indoors, insisted on going out, and never returned. Vita had been a 4th generation feral cat, the sole survivor of a litter of brain damaged, nerve damaged, fragile kittens. We knew her mother and grand mother and great grandmother, though they were so feral we never could approach them closely.

And Mehitabel, another Maine Coon cat, who came and went as she pleased. Mehitabel was her own cat, but deigned to hang out in the bookshop from time to time over a number of years.

And Static, the lively black and white cat, who loved to dart around and one day darted, alas, into the path of a truck. Static used to love to ride around on the back of my big yellow lab, the most patient of dogs.

There are always the cats on the fringes--these days I am still feeding and visiting the cat who had adopted my friend Red, who died a year ago, and a little black feral cat known on the street as Dart.

The feral Penelope, and her shy brood of kittens: Daisy and Basil and Pirate Lola and Violetta, all living in the cabin in the woods, spayed and neutered. We had intended to tame these and find them homes, but they never grew to trust any humans but my family, and enjoy their time together terrorizing mice.

And in the store, the elegant Destiny, who has always reminded me a little of my childhood cat Mitzi, and Pippin the brave, who survived the laundromat and pneumonia and starvation to become a cat of culture and literary flair.

And, temporarily, my daughter's pair of kitties: the orange Meatwad, the gray and white Jesus (my girl loves to shock, I tell my more staid friends the shy cat is called...Gigi...).
We just built a cat perch above the door of the bookshop. From this suitably lofty perch they can scold the blackbirds but not harm them. My partner believes we can teach Meatwad to murmur "come buy books...meow". So far, though, he only has the "meow" part down pat.


At May 20, 2006 7:48 AM , Blogger marlyat2 said...

Flabbergasted. So many cats! I thought that I knew cats. Wrong. I take off my hat.

At July 12, 2006 4:15 AM , Blogger Lori Witzel said...

Deep feline stretchy bows from Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Kizmet and Sputnik.

Will need to print so I can read the Amazing Post slowly later on!

BTW, thanks tons for dropping by my neighborhood. I post something fresh most every day, hope you'll come back by when you can.

At July 15, 2006 7:37 AM , Blogger Em said...


Hmm you havent updated in a while ey...

Wen u gna update luv...

At July 16, 2006 7:43 PM , Blogger jarvenpa said...

thanks, dear visitors to cats..yes, Em, it has been a long time since I updated this blog. I have updated my other one, though (outside the windows)

At July 22, 2006 4:38 PM , Blogger blog queen said...

What great cat descriptions. I have three indoor cats who own me, and an outdoor "feral" cat who lives here that we feed. Cats do steal your heart don't they?


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home