The mother of all cats
The ancient Egyptians worshiped cats, or rather as an intelligence housed in a body, a familiar of sorts. Most notably, the goddess Bastet, who evolved from a lion-goddess to a cat-goddess, protector of the pharaohs. Cats’ inscrutable gaze, wisdom glowing brightly in their eyes, combined with stately poses and gleaming fur all played into this image of feline serenity and omniscience, ferocity under complete control.
Having owned cats for my whole life, I am under no such illusions.
Living with us now are my 15th and 16th cats. Before I was born, my parents had 2 cats, Noopy and Tuffy. Noopy was very nosy and got into everything. Tuffy was, well, tough. I didn’t say they were named well. Since my parents had a tough time having kids, these 2 felines were their first babies. My paternal grandmother even stitched chair cushions with their pictures on them. So you can see, the foundation of my life as a cat lover was laid before I was ever born. But for those who tolerate cats like some of us tolerate broccoli, I will only share the most memorable ones.
The first cat I remember being mine was a kitten we got from the Humane Society. My mom, single by then, decided we all needed our own. Okay,maybe Carter and I pressured her a bit. We each got orange cats. Mom’s was a tabby blend she named Big Boy for obvious reasons. Carter’s was more yellow and a runt. He got the moniker Tiny. My cat, fluffy and sweet, Mom named Gandalf. Gandalf, probably mortified at his name, ran away. Big Boy and Tiny stayed. Tiny became huge, and mean. He liked to stick his claws into you while you minded your own business. He also took walks with us and sometimes walked us to school. Big Boy liked cantaloupe and peanut butter, but not together.
Dad’s second wife agreed they could have a cat. She, however, was no rescue cat person. We had silk drapes and brocade couches. Only a purebred cat would do. They purchased an Abyssinian. The cat was all muscle and sinew, tawny like the savannah his ancestors roamed. He was beautiful and wild, golden eyes never still. Dad named him Wellington, after a British general in the Napoleonic wars. Wellington liked his new environment so much, he explored all of it. He could jump from the floor to the top of the fridge. He hid in cabinets. He, after closely observing us, learned to pee in the toilet. The bad part is that he also climbed the drapes like a wild monkey, giving them fringe the manufacturer never intended. Stepmother exiled him.
Once we started living with Dad out in Clackamas, we wanted cats there, too. We lived out in the country in a rural subdivision. Our yards all backed onto a “green”, which wound around into a small woods with a creek and a pond. For my 11th birthday, I got a an all black kitten. I named him Bubba. Lest you think me racist, the expression going around my grade school at the time was, “What do you say, Bubba Jay?” Yeah. I didn’t get it either.
Bubba was very affectionate. He would sort of trot after you, rubbing his short black fur all over you, purring loudly. Then, if you didn’t pet him fast enough, he’d bite you. Just little nips at first. Then the pouting would start. He also would talk to you, little “Ows” escaping his body like puffs of exclamation. Bubba lasted a long time, all the way to when my Dad & Patty moved to Shelton. He lost an eye along the way but was as sweet as ever. He was also only an outdoor cat by then. We never knew when he died. He just left one day and never returned.
Teddy found us. Dad rescued him from the side of the road. A lanky tabby cat, he fit right in with the great outdoors. He hunted a lot, birds, rodents, bugs; nothing escaped his tong-like grasp. He was very fast, too. Once he caught and killed a jack-rabbit.
Patty brought her own cat when she married Dad. Tigger, a female patches Calico cat, lived indoors only. She had the master bedroom as her sole domain but also roamed the rest of the house. Tigger did not appreciate being relocated yet adored being queen of the manor. The other cats were shunted outside. She often deigned to remind us to pick up our rooms by peeing on whatever items of clothing one left on the floor, thereby earning her the nickname Weemaster. Once she even peed on Jonathon’s Ambassador blazer. But that’s another story.
Crystal belonged to our neighbors across the street. Crystal was a tabby with a pushed in face, like she had Persian roots. Crystal belonged to a boy who liked to use her as a basketball. Crystal decided she’d had enough and showed up in our backyard one day, eating food with our cats. She never left. We talked to her owners who didn’t mind losing her. Of indeterminate age, she ruled the outdoor cats. She popped other cats on the nose when they got out of line, sort of like a granny cat. Her favorite thing to do was get into a box, sit down and squish out the sides. She also chirped when you pet her. She became my cat, over time, and when Jonathon and I married, she was our first pet. During the Clinton administration, I used to ask her what she thought of our president. She always had a ready answer.When we relocated to a nicer duplex which clearly stipulated no pets, she moved to a friend of mine. She died of a tumor soon after.
It was several years before we got another cat. Jonathon wanted to wait until he was done with his teaching credential and got his first job. I reluctantly agreed. There was a certain freedom in being able to take off and leave whenever you wanted and not have to find someone to feed your cat or scoop the litter box.
Enter Rita. Rita we picked up in Coquille. We lived in Reedsport at the time. I was home, no job, no transportation, living in a new town hundreds of miles from home. I was lonely. We found an ad for free kittens, finally found Coquille and looked the litter over. There were a couple of black ones, and Rita, a tortoiseshell calico. I loved her. She was feisty and tiny. She had just a bit of orange showing at that time but it sealed the deal. We took her home.
We got to spend a lot of time together. Our duplex in Reedsport was upstairs from our landlord. It had pink carpet, high beamed sort of Scandinavian ceilings, and a wood stove. Oh, and 80s floral drapes. She loved them all. Well, not the wood stove. She hopped on that once and was off it , climbing the walls, very quickly. She walked the wood beams near the ceiling. She climbed the drapes only a couple of times before I stopped her and she scratched her claws and raced around on the pink carpet.
Rita loved to play hide and seek with toys. She loved walnuts, just batting them around. She would routinely lose them in the couch cushions and mew piteously for me to dig them out. We played chase the ball or ribbon all around the house. When Jonathon brought me roses, she thought they were catnip and delicately scalloped the edges of the petals with her razor-sharp teeth. She burrowed under the covers of our bed and napped. When I practiced my flute, she rolled around on the music, biting the instrument and the paper, all the while purring loudly. Once I realized she was gettting no bigger and I let her outside, she climbed on the roof. That was at our second rental in Reedsport, a house built int he late 1920s. It had a steep roofline. She went up there to catch a bird and got stuck. She would not come down for yogurt or tuna. I had to put on my fleece pullover, a fuchsia number I later would name “the magic sweater”. Cats are color blind, but she knew that sweater and would come to me whenever I wore it. She caught and killed rodents, leaving them on the front step. Sometimes all that would remain was the spleen or liver, a bitsy offering of sorts. Rita relocated with us 3 times and survived the birth of our children, though she didn’t have much use for them. She was my first baby and she could never understand why I would replace her with “them”. Ruby could not say “Rita” so she was “Pita”. Actually, all furry animals were “Pita” for at least a year. Zac was heartbroken when we put her to sleep. She had renal failure. He wondered if she went to heaven. Oh, I do hope so. I really do.
Enter Rex and Chloe. Rex was another Craigslist find. He still lives with us, his sleek royal blackness and golden eyes making him the most handsome cat we’ve ever owned. He didn’t reach full maturity until he was 2 years old. Every meow with a hint of a whine, and there are a lot of them, he appears to have American Bombay in him. He is now about 20 lbs, all muscle yet dainty paws, a dense heat-seeking anvil. Chloe was given to us by a local bank teller whose cat had unwanted kittens. Chloe was a bit of a thing, longhaired and also black. Chloe is boneless and very relaxed, the original jello cat. She’s allowed herself to be carried, lower body dangling. She’s ridden in Ruby’s stroller. She sleeps in Ruby’s room when Ruby’s sad or scared.
To this day, I’m not really sure if I’ve owned these cats or if they’ve owned me. They lived in my home and will live in my heart. I am…a cat lover. But not a crazy cat lady. Yet.