August 21, 2007
On a summer day ten years ago, my daughter and her friend came running excitedly into the house: "We found a mother cat! And her kittens! Three kittens! Can we adopt them? Please?"
We didn't have any pets at the time. Even though I loved cats, I wanted to wait until I knew that none of my kids were allergic before bringing an animal into my home. So up to then, I had resisted the kids' pleas every time someone found some abandoned kittens.
But this time was different. My youngest child was two, and none of the kids were allergic. They'd slept at my parents' house with no effects.
I walked down with my kids to see the cats, who were living near Obnoxious Fast Food Place That Sells Mostly Meat. The mother cat was black and white, and she had three kittens who seemed very lively and playful. One of the teenagers who worked at the Burger Place That Smells Like French Fries said that the cats had been there for weeks. The mother cat was living off the leftover burgers the teenagers fed her.
My husband was out of town so I decided to call and see what he thought about taking in a cat family. He was half-asleep and puzzled by the phone call.
Him: Cats? The kids want to adopt four cats?
Me: Oh, just three, really. We can probably get Blonde Sister to take one of the kittens.
Him: I thought we were waiting. Because of the allergies in my family.
Me: Well, none of the kids are allergic.
Me: And With-a-Why is two.
Him: Are we done having kids?
Me: Well, I guess we have a choice. Do you want to have another baby or take in some cats?
Him: Let's take the cats.
The next day, while my oldest two kids were in school, I enlisted my mother's help. With the two youngest kids strapped in the car and my mother's cat carrier in the back, we drove into the parking lot of Hamburger Place. The mother cat seemed skittish as we approached, but my mother just picked her up quickly and put her in the cat carrier. Then it was easy to get the kittens.
At first the cats were shy. They disappeared beneath the kids' bunkbed. When Beautiful Smart Wonderful Daughter and Boy in Black came home, they burst in the door, still saying, in that persistent way of small children: "Can we adopt the cats?"
"Go look under the bed," I told them. I remember how excited their faces were as they peered under and saw the cats all cuddled up against the wall.
Mama Cat has lived with us ever since. She was never an affectionate cat – in fact, she would sometimes sit on the edge of the kitchen counter and swipe anyone who walked past. It was my husband who figured out Mama Cat's twelve second rule: you could pet her for ten seconds or eleven. But linger any longer, and she'd reach out a paw. I used to get scratches on my arms all the time before we figured that out. But she'd had a rough life, raising kittens on the street, and we never held her attitude against her.
This summer, Mama Cat's health began to fail. During hot spells especially, she'd look thin and frail, with little energy. She stopped hissing and scratching; she started acting mellow. Her beautiful black and white fur sometimes looked dirty. I knew she was dying.
The kids asked me to take her to the vet. The vet went through a list of diseases she could have. I listened carefully, but then shook my head. "No, none of those make sense. I think she's just old and dying."
"Maybe it's something we can cure," the young vet said. He seemed so hopeful that I let him take a blood sample and run a bunch of expensive tests. They all came back negative.
Mama Cat was comfortable most of the summer. She'd sleep on the couch near the kids or under the keyboard, at Shaggy Hair's feet. When we were on vacation, FilmGuy came over and took care of her, trying to get her to eat some soft food. On cool days, she would perk up and walk around the yard or sit on the front porch to watch the wild turkeys go buy.
Today, she went out to hide herself in a drainage pipe, a shady spot filled with soft mud. Like most cats, she chose a quiet, dark place, a comfortable spot where death could find her. The neighbor across the street saw her and came to tell me. I wrapped her in a towel and carried her home. In the woods behind our house on this overcast day at the end of summer, we said our goodbyes and buried Mama Cat.
Posted by jo(e)