BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL
Just this side of Heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.” — The Rainbow Bridge, –Unknown Author
I thought I hated cats. Aunt Nell and Uncle Charlie had them everywhere. At least that’s what it seemed like. When I was young, and not visiting Aunt Nell and Uncle Charlie’s cats, I had gold fish and guppies. They died–mostly from overfeeding, or lack of oxygen because of the slime never cleaned off the sides of those little bowls won at carnivals, or the sides of a bigger “tank.”
There were some dogs and birds, and stories to accompany them and their lives as part of the family.
Off I went to college, then marriage. My 20-year-old bride and I had no pets: plants, ice skates, a 1962 Corvair, but no pets.
With the births of our two boys came some talk of having some other living creatures to promote responsibility and appreciation of living, not stuffed, animals.
One gold fish, then guppies, then bottom-dwellers for the others in a five-gallon tank. Then a Dutch Checker, black and white bunny-then-rabbit.
He was donated to a Purina Stud Farm…where he was forever loved, fed, and made happy.
No pets then for a while, yet a sailboat we called “KATT.” For it was cat-rigged: a sail with a sleeve, which fit over the 20-foot mast.
Then, we moved, pet-less, in 1973, to the farms and farmlands of Western Minnesota, where pets ran wild, in town, on the farms, and in homes.
“Cat? I hate cats?” I could never forget the smells in Aunt Nell’s home. And food bowls everywhere. And dried up milk.
“But they have a new litter on the farm” (which was across the highway beyond the football field which was behind our rhubarb and raspberries and apple trees and our one-car garage-shed).
The four of us (one former cat-lover among us: the wife was raised with cats when she grew up in a farmhouse) made our way across the field along the 50-yard line, across the two-lane highway, to the large farmhouse belonging to friends of the boys.
I’ll never know how I let myself be put into that position of looking at cats. “OK, but we’ll just look.” Perhaps. Or maybe it was more like, “OK, if it’s all right with your mother, we’ll go look. But we’re not getting any cats or kittens or whatever.” (Our boat KATT was the only cat I wanted. And mute, too.)
Up the stairs to see the mew-ers. Mewing from everywhere. “Yes, she’s really pretty” (the mother cat). And all those little furballs with noses and little legs and mouse-y tails. And I heard myself saying unintelligible–irrational–words, something like “We have to take two….”: Bert and Ernie.
Bert stroked out–and was gone: our first experience together with the Right-to-Die Movement in a vet’s office. This first cat-I-would-never-have was 16 years old. A year later, at age 17, Ernie.
Anger accompanied our second loss. “No more pets!” I shouted as I tearfully bagged any reminders and remnants of cat-dom. The litter box went into the trash, along with catnip, cat toys, blankets, towels, and litter scoopers. I loaded the food into the car, drove to the Humane Society, and gave them the food and a donation.
No more cats.
“No more cats! I’m not ready. They are too much. I cannot get involved with pets anymore!”
“How about this one, Grampa?” What was I doing back at the Humane Society? “These two twin kittens. Aren’t they cute?” Yet I saw the runt, who had been in a home, but was brought back. Not a mewing kitten but an older-young cat (three months, for sure). A female? The eyes got to me. The paws on the cage, she on her hind legs begging to take her with us.
“She’s such a PRISS.” And Priscilla Elizabeth, who was Miss Princess of Everything. Ah, alone. In her own cat-dom. Unconditional love. She was the It-Cat. Until, “Grampa,…” Along came Emma Louise, the white Turkish Van kitten.
And Brewster Robert? A.k.a. Sylvester, the Lover, the Clown, the Acrobat. He was the cat on loan, the one we were going to take care of for two years. “Two years? Sure, that’s all right.” Twelve years later….
And Kitty? “Miss Kitty”? Raised with a dog, she became our orphan-resident, another furball-pooper-crier-sleeper to feed and clean up after, but who wiggled her arthritic paws into my heart.
So there we all were. All comfortable, “three meals a day, anytime, day or night.” And I was ok, for feline-inity had found its way into my being, easily seen by the number of cat toys lying about, the number of cat books in our library, the amounts of the veterinarian bills, the softness and the fun I had learned of cat-dom since I crossed over.
Now we longer have any cats, after nearly forty years of being a feline household. Old age and illness. Old age or illness took each one.
No matter how many times we had to perform the Right-to-Die Ceremony, it never got “easier.”
Sometimes cats act dumb, or like little children; or behave as babies, or as cunning plotters–or show elation over a simple sound made by the Human Can Openers. Quiet most of the day, they are easily spooked by strange sounds at night. And are Fraidy-Cats. Really. They do not listen, do not behave, do whatever-damn-well-pleases them.
So, about Cat-dom: it has its shortcomings: piles of ant-covered throw-up–and those hairballs! And the crying-mewing-meowing, and growling fights with fur-a-flyin’.
It took others to bring me to this place, to become a Cat-Lover. A Softy for Felines. And I loved it–despite the litter between my toes or in my socks–or the catnip-covered toy mice hidden inside my shoe.
And that is that. We are now too old “to start another family.” The house is quiet. Yet every once in a while…a shadow…. A ghost? A spirit?
Sometimes these moments of cat make me happy-sad.
Oh, but such good memories remain. For all this, I really like cats.
© James F. O’Neil 2014