Some of my best housemates have had whiskers and pointy ears. No, I’m not talking about bearded elves, although they can be kind of cute too. Especially if they work for Keebler.
I have been around for over 50 years, and in that time, except for very early years, I have never been without a cat in my home. It started out with my parents, who never seemed to be able to say “no” to a feline. I am grateful for this; otherwise I may have missed out on some very clever, very different, and, in their own ways, very loving purrfriends.
Anyone who has ever experienced life with a cat knows that they are not owned. No one can have possession of one of these independent creatures. We care for them, let them in and out (if that is their type of spirit), stroke them, talk babytalk to them—but when it comes down to brass tacks, a cat owns itself. And that fits in with the independent, loner-type of person that I am.
My history with cat co-habitation started before I was born. Maybe he wasn’t in my life, but I feel I should start with the cat that graced my parents’ lives in the years before my birth. Sam was so much a part of their lives that he is a real thread in the family tapestry.
I don’t know a lot about him; the only picture of him that I know of is a grainy, 50s-era picture of him on a fence. So of course he was grey—so was everything else in the picture. His personality certainly wasn’t, though. He had a real affection for my dad, and would greet him as he came home from work, meow-speaking as the two of them walked up to the house.
When my parents moved to a house from the apartment where Sam had grown up, it didn’t set well with him. He disappeared, and after searching for some time, they figured he had to have been run over or taken by a larger predator—the area where they lived hadn’t become all concrete and metal just yet, and critters abounded. But six months or so later, they got a call from one of their neighbors where they had been living—Sam was sitting on his old porch! They drove over and picked him up, but unfortunately, he was in pretty bad shape. His life ended not all that much later.
They went without for some time, until Snowball came along. I’m not sure how old I was—I’m thinking five or so. Snowball was, of course, white. He had one blue eye and one gold (green?) eye. He was not in our lives very long, which is why I don’t remember much about him.
My dad had a hunting dog, a German Shorthaired Pointer, that lived most of the time in a dog run in the back of the yard. Occasionally Dad would let her out to run around the full yard—a good 1/3 of an acre. One awful day, Snowball got out of the house at the same time the dog was free, and he was attacked and killed almost immediately. I remember very sharply how my sister and I tried to save him, but it didn’t work out. I won’t go into detail here, but it wasn’t pretty.
Almost immediately after Snowball’s demise, Tiger came into our lives. A huge tomcat, Tiger was a tuxedo black-and-white beauty. He developed street smarts and survival instincts quickly and never got anywhere close to that dog.
(By the way, a side note: I loved the dog, too—I know she was bred to hunt, and I never held any grudges against her. In fact, as I got older, she became one of my best friends.)
In those days, no one thought about getting their pets neutered, and as time went on, amidst the howling, yowling, and midnight cat fights, lots of little black-and-white kittens showed up all over the place. Tiger always looked very happy…
One night we were driving home from somewhere, and noticed a big lump in the road as we turned toward the house. (Our street was a two-lane asphalt). It was Tiger—his gimlet eyes shone in the headlights, just daring us – or anyone else – to run over him. Mr. Tough Guy.
And he didn’t mind letting other animals that came into our lives know who was boss, either. When the aforementioned dog died, Dad got another one straightaway. This one was a Brittany Spaniel, and the poor fellow never knew what hit him when he was let into the house. Dad tells us that the dog made the mistake of walking under the chair where Tiger was lying, and the cat let him have it with one mighty clawed paw. It only needed the one time, too—Tiger had that dog under his sharp little thumb.
He was a big boy, and loved to stretch out on his back in our arms. When he did so, he measured a good two feet in length. He was always very tolerant of us, and saw us through our formative years. From kindergarten through senior year of high school, he was always there.
Then, on the night of my graduation, I let him outside, and he never returned. He was sixteen. A great friend and a wonderful housemate.
My parents had a trailer on some property in Northern California, and we often went up there to get away from civilization. We loved leaving the hustle and bustle of city life behind, but we were not aware that we would one day bring home some of the wildness of the country as well—not once, but twice.
The first time was grey, wiry Ben, a feral cat that my brother found. And, of course, my folks took the little cat in. The trick was how they were going to transport the cat back home, a drive of four hours. I don’t know what their plans had originally been, but Ben ended up riding home inside the dashboard—the space between the engine firewall and the glove compartment. I kind of stayed away when Dad went to get him out—such language…
This cat was the only one I ever knew that didn’t mind being on a harness and leash. And, after that first trip, he didn’t mind being in the car either. He adapted well to house living, but did like his freedom to move around outdoors too (yes, we had him fixed). But there was no doubt that the feral spirit in him was by no means tamed.
I once saw him jump straight up the wall to catch a spider on the ceiling. A very athletic cat, he was full of energy. I don’t recall him ever having a calm moment.
He even took on a Doberman once.
When the neighbors’ dogs got into a fight, we brought one of them over to our yard until the people could get home and decide what to do. I remember distinctly watching, heart racing, as Ben walked across the yard towards the Doberman. The dog seemed fairly astounded at the sight of this little upstart, and just sat there. And Ben came up to him, hissed, and drew his shivs across the dog’s nose—whap! Then he sort of just pranced off, with the dog in hot pursuit. Up on the fence Ben went, and I could almost see him laughing at that dog!
Unfortunately, Ben’s life didn’t last more than a few years. We found lying in the ivy in our backyard, with bullet holes through his body. The vet showed us the X-rays—no way could Ben be helped. The doctor thought it might have been a high-powered rifle, which seemed out of place in our now fully-populated neighborhood. Nevertheless, we had to say goodbye to Ben.
And soon after, we said hello to our next souvenir from the wild—a trio of baby kittens, eyes still slightly blue. I will tell you about them in the next installment.
I’d love to hear about your purrfriends! How have they affected your lives? I wish I had pictures of all of these kitties I’ve written about, but they are in photo albums in other relatives’ homes. Maybe someday I can find and post them.