THE CAT’S MEOW

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1864

Both my parents and my grandparents believed animals should live outside and had no use for house pets. I desperately wanted a pet, though, and in third grade won a prize for a poem entitled, “My Puppy.” That was remarkable only because I didn’t have a puppy. When my Grandmother Cook found a litter of feral kittens underneath her house, I begged her to let me have one. Thinking she was offering an impossible mission, she said, “If you can catch one, you’re welcome to it.”
Knowing kittens are attracted to anything that moves, I removed my coat belt and dangled it where the kittens could see it. One curious kitten got close enough for me to grab it, and although it objected violently, I managed to get it into my bicycle basket. Holding the kitten down with one hand, I guided the bike home with the other hand. She screeched, scratched, and bit me all the way home.
Seeing what I had suffered to get that kitten, Mother relented and let me keep it, but said when it was gone, there would be no more of them. However, when I was in high school at MHS, Jackie Finlayson’s mother offered to give me a pedigreed Siamese cat that hated car trips. A family member had been driving north with a cat that made guttural screams, and leaped around the car all the way from South Florida to Marianna, and the driver just couldn’t take it anymore. I had once written a paper about cats for an English class, so Jackie must have heard me read it and told his mother that I liked cats. My own mother did not want to seem ungrateful, so she allowed me to keep it.
When Dan proposed, Mother told him that if he wanted me, he would have to take “Sweet Sing,” too. Dan had never had a cat, but accepted the challenge, so that poor animal was forced to endure many more car trips, which was fun for no one. Even so, when a neighbor discovered that Sweet Sing was enamored with their female Siamese, and offered to buy him, neither of us could bear to give him up, even in the name of love. We offered to buy their female instead, but the neighbors were equally attached to their own pet and turned down our offer.
After Sweet Sing died, someone gave us a female cat that fell in love with Dan but hated me. Every time I tried to snuggle up with Dan on the sofa, she would get between us and start biting and scratching me. I had no patience with a jealous cat, so I found her a new home.
We did not remain cat-less for long. Someone dumped a litter of kittens in our yard when we weren’t home, but we were not running a shelter. I was then teaching a Sunday School class of five- year- old’s, so I took the kittens to church with me, knowing the children would beg their parents to let them have one. Somehow, I managed to find homes for all but one kitten, that we named George. George moved with us from California to Georgia, and he behaved as badly as Sweet Sing had for the Finlaysons. We thought that trip would never end and vowed to never put a cat in a car again.
After George died, I made a trip to the Humane Society shelter, planning to get one cat, but made the mistake of bringing two children with me. Each wanted a different cat, so we took both. One was a Siamese cat we named Harriet, for a former near-sighted neighbor. We named the fluffy white cat Albert, for another former, but elderly neighbor, who also had white hair. Albert and Harriet were best friends, but Harriet was also attracted to Jonathan, the male cat who lived across the street. Every morning, the near-sighted Harriet would visit Jonathan while Albert patiently waited at the end of the driveway for her to return. One morning, Harriet did not make it back, because she did not see the car coming her way.
Albert knew he was a beautiful cat, so every Christmas, he settled himself among the other ornaments on our tree and took his naps on one of the lower branches. After his death, I bought a stuffed, white cat and placed it in his spot under the Christmas tree. His death was so hard to take that I vowed I’d never have another cat.
But this year, I found myself wishing I had something to cuddle. I’ve given up hope of having a great-grandchild, so I started talking about how nice it would be to have another cat. Our granddaughter visited a couple of shelters and took pictures, including one photo of a downcast kitten huddled in a corner of a room filled with other happier and playful kittens. The shelter attendant said the kitten was grieving the loss of her siblings, who had already been adopted. I inspected dozens of cats, several more attractive than the sad cat, but after I visited and played with her, she tried to follow me out the door. I didn’t have the heart to leave her in the shelter, so came back for her the next day. She was still sitting in her corner, looking even more downcast than usual.
After being taken home and allowed out of her box, she was no longer a sad cat. She did something like a victory dance, running back and forth on our hardwood floors, slipping and sliding as she ran. She seemed to know she was free at last and was rejoicing in her good fortune.
Our granddaughter told us that people who have pets live longer than people who don’t, but considering how often Miss Kitty gets underfoot, either she or me may have a shorter one. Even so, she keeps us laughing. She gallops at a rapid pace around the house, sounding like a forty-pound cat instead of a four pound one, and ends up sliding across the floor and banging into something. She torments an imaginary prey and gives such a great comic performance that I couldn’t decide whether to name her Miss Kitty, for the actress in the old TV series, “Gunsmoke,” or Lucy for Lucille Ball, the comedian.
She is far too devoted to me, following me like a shadow wherever I go. As I write this, Ms. Kitty is sleeping behind my computer screen. I let Dan feed her, hoping she will transfer some of her excessive attention to him, because this time, he is the jealous one. We’ve stayed married for almost sixty-three years, and it would sound ridiculous to report that our cat broke us up.

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