When my husband and I first got together, I decided we needed a cat, and my future husband readily agreed. We looked in the paper and found an advertisement for kittens for sale. As it turned out, they were teenagers, rather than kittens, but we chose a charming and lithe female from the bunch.
We named her Molly. She was such a character. We lived in an old house with a nice backyard, and in the summer when we would leave the windows open, she would jump out and stalk and catch worms and bring them in and give them to us as presents on the bare wood floor. Which was quite a surprise first thing in the morning on the bare feet. Our friend Kathy stopped by and slept on the couch one time, and as Kathy sat there, Molly calmly climbed onto the back of the couch and onto Kathy’s head.
As it turned out, our landlord was selling the house and so we decided to get married and find a house of our own, but we needed to be out by June 1 so we temporarily moved to a trailer park. The day we moved in, our neighbors' teenage boys sat out front of their trailer smoking cigarettes and listening to loud music, and there always seemed to be people coming and going. They were good neighbors though ~ except for one thing. Within a week of moving in, Molly disappeared. We started asking around, and as it turned out, those neighbors thought it was some cousin’s cat, for whatever reason, and just picked her up and put her in the car to drop her off. When they got to the cousin’s way across town in a rural subdivision and opened the door, of course Molly bolted, never to be seen nor heard from again. And let me tell you ~ we looked and looked and asked and asked. No hide nor hair, of course.
As I was looking for Molly and asking around, I came across a woman who said, “Well, don’t know about that cat but I’ve got this one here.” She told me with a tsk-tsk that this little female had had the audacity to have kittens in her area and was busy stealing food from her fluffy white Persian male. This momma cat was the spitting image of Molly, except her head was slightly less streamlined and she was in poor condition. Well, the kittens were old enough, and I said I’d like to take the momma, if that was all right with the woman. It was.
We brought her back to the trailer and she was so dehydrated at first she couldn’t even meow. We named her Celie after the main character in The Color Purple because she’d had a hard life. We got married and found a house that year, moving in on Thanksgiving Day, and Celie came with us. It wasn’t long before she was much better. She turned out to be much less a tomboy and much more a princess. She always finds the warmest place in the house to sleep, and she takes very good care of herself. She’s pretty strictly an indoor cat. She’s lived a long and happy life, and now she’s about 20. She’s always been this little bit of a thing ~ most people mistake her for a teenage cat ~ but now that she’s hyperthyroid it’s all we can do to keep any meat on her bones. And she’s totally deaf, and so she walks around the house at night and yells at the top of her lungs: MMMMEEEEEEEOOOOOOOOWWWWWW MRRRRRRRKKKRGGGNAAAOOOOO. And she likes to throw up on things, and her bladder stopper leaks, which does not endear her to my husband. But when you’re 103, you get a little slack.
And then one day, this big black tomcat showed up on our yard. He was solid and round ~ not fat ~ with lush black fur, and when he walked, he’s swing his right front leg way out and around, like it had been broken and healed badly. We called him The Neighbor’s Cat. There are a lot of cats in the neighborhood, and so we didn’t think anything of it. He was friendly and so we’d pet him. But he just kept hanging around and hanging around, and we started to worry whether he was eating anything. So we put some food and water out for him in the metal building/garage. Then winter came along and it was dang cold, so we put a bed and a heat lamp there too. Somewhere along the line, we figured out that we were his ~ he’d adopted us ~ and in fact he was not any of the neighbors’. Which was great, actually, because my husband has a fondness for outdoor cats, being raised partly on a farm, and we’ve had a number of outdoor cats in the past. So we renamed him Jose and he was here to stay.
He’s a sturdy and loveable guy but also commands respect. He and this gray male had a running battle for years, and we’d hear yowling in the night and then Jose would show up with a ragged ear or a cut. We’d take him to the doctor every once in a while. He loves to be petted, but as my kids found out the hard way, you got to give him space too. They were being particularly loving, squeezing him and everything, and he gave them the warning signs (I wasn’t there), but they didn’t know that, and so he gave them a stronger warning ~ he scratched my son on the shoulder. A very valuable lesson for the kids, I think. He wasn’t being mean or aggressive, just telling them to back off.
I think the cats teach the kids lessons in a lot of ways. They know that Jose likes attention but that you need to be respectful or face the consequences. They know that Celie is a very old lady and you have to treat her gently. I have to say: we’re not a family whose lives revolve around our pets, but they teach invaluable lessons. I learned those lessons growing up on a ranch, and I sometimes think that they’re missing out by not being closer to all that.