Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Feline Memoriam

She was just an American mutt cat. People hardly noticed at first, but she was a calico. White across most her body, she had a splash of black on the crown of her head, lapping up on one ear, a splash of gold on her cheek and a smudge of gold by her nose and then a beautiful gold and black tail. She had the tiniest, daintiest, and the most beautifully pink paw pads you could imagine.

She joined us as a kitten, in October 1994. At church, a semi-feral mother cat had had a litter of kittens which, for reasons unclear, she had nested in a trellis, twenty feet above ground. Daily, she would, one by one, carry the kittens down to the ground and then back up the trellis. Eventually, the church staff began capturing the kittens as they became old enough and found homes for them among the parishioners. We took one. But still there were more kittens. With a two and a half year old boy and a two month old girl, and two other cats at home, Sally did not feel like there was quite enough going on and thought that if one kitten was good then two would obviously be better.

The call came one week while I was away on business. Sally trekked down to church, children in tow and in hand. Another kitten was available. "She doesn't seem at all friendly, I don't think you will want her with small children in the house" she was told. Sally instructed our boy to sit down against the wall and to be quiet and still. He sat as infinitely flexible children sit: back straight up, legs straight out in front. "Open the cage. Let's see what happens." Bennett jumped out, trotted over to Price, lay down in his lap and started purring loudly. That was all that was required to secure a place in Sally's heart and a new home.

So she joined us. Late Friday, I returned home, digesting the week's events, writing reports in my mind, figuring out how to analyze a client's business problems. Washing up before joining the family for dinner, I registered that there was a cat litter box in our bathroom. Hmmm. Wonder why that's there? But I just registered it. Other more important things to think about.

At dinner, Price could hardly contain himself. Despite coaching from Sally to not say anything and to see how long it would take before I noticed that the cat population of the house had increased by fifty percent, after two or three bites of dinner he burst out, "Daddy, did you see what was in your bathroom?" I could only look at Sally, "You didn't."

But she had. And so Bennett joined us and became a part of our family adventures. Quiet, shy and self-effacing, she was hardly to be seen when visitors were about. But when we were on our own, she would find whoever was still, snuggle up to them and softly purr contentedly. She took to jumping into the crib with baby Sarah, always curling up in the crook of her arm, two little lives bound together from the beginning. It has been one of those cherished small pleasures in my life to come into a room and find one of the kids reading and there, no matter what posture they were in, would be Bennett. Lying in their lap, snuggled up by their face, on their back, crouched on their legs. Somewhere. And purring.

She was a well travelled cat, one of not too many that circumnavigated the globe. She moved with us from Atlanta to Australia. There in that wonderfully strange land, she stalked geckos and huntsman spiders in the house, chased mynah birds out of the kitchen and fended off Australian possums trying to climb through Price's louvered windows.

She came with us from Australia to England where she had to reside in quarantine for two or three months. Fortunately she was relatively close to us and Sally and the kids could visit her periodically. They would be shown down the hall of large cages, somehow squeeze all of themselves into her cage and then be left for an hour to commune and share their ham sandwiches. Never aggressive, Bennett could be forward when there was a whiff of ham in the air.

Then back to Atlanta. Around the globe and with a world full of experiences, she was back where she began, back to the familiar.

The family has grown. The two and a half year old is now sixteen, towering above Bennett's visual horizon. The baby girl is a lovely young woman with a tender heart. Another boy came along, noisy and energetic but capable of gentleness where an aging cat is concerned. There have been other pets, a magnificent Boxer dog, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, frogs, etc. They have come and they have gone but Bennett was the quiet mistress of the pet world in the house.

This last year, age crept up on her. She slowed down. Always petite, she lost weight. Always stalking, this past month, she was now being stalked. In the past week it was clear the time had come. And now she is gone.

She was just an American mutt cat, but she was loved. She was one of those small, gentle, quiet, ornaments of life. She brought her own measure of grace, beauty and contentment. Rest in Peace.

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