Our story begins on a spring afternoon in 1998. There’s a house with a porch, and a porch with a corner, and a corner with a mewing ball of gray fluff sitting in it, and a bunch of kids all around going “Awww, how cu-u-u-ute!”
My daughter Clare stops awww-ing long enough to ask, “Could we put out some tuna for him?”
“No,” I reply.
“He looks cold.”
“He’s got fur; he’ll be fine.”
“Listen to him mewing. He must be hungry.”
“He’s just exercising his lungs. Kittens do that.”
“You know, St. Francis wouldn’t leave him out there.”
I have to concede this point. St. Francis would have lovingly picked up the kitten, brought it indoors, and given it dibs on the minestrone. Obviously I’ve no choice but to allow the kitten into our home, where the kids proceed to cuddle and coddle it in the Franciscan manner. But the kitten’s arrival is soon followed by a flurry of activity that, to my annoyance, rivals the excitement that until then had been reserved for the birth of a new baby. There is wrangling over who will get to feed The Kitten. There is debate over whether store-bought milk would benefit The Kitten, or give The Kitten worms. There are discussions over whether to collar The Kitten, and whether said collar should be flea-repelling or merely ornamental. There is even a contest to name The Kitten.
And so it comes to be that our family takes in The Kitten, and calls it Fluffy. The name Fluffy, incidentally, wins out over “Socks,” (after the kitten’s white paws), “Boots,” (after the kitten’s white paws), and “Footwear” (the choice of those who can’t pick between “Socks” and “Boots”).
I’m shocked proud embarrassed bewildered to report that, in the thirteen years since Fluffy’s arrival, we have taken in three more cats. I don’t quite know how it happened. One minute my husband Mike was declaring that animals would never enter our house, and the next minute he was wearing a “Real Men Love Cats” T-shirt and clicking his way through http://icanhascheezburger.com/. Still, I guess I’m okay with Mike’s loving the family cats. What bothers me is that the cats love him back.
Fellow cat-owners, you know what it means when a cat wishes to prove its love. It means love-offerings of lifeless mice and petrified pigeons dropped just outside the front door, where you’re most likely to step on them while shooing the kids into the car for morning Mass. Now, delivering carcasses instead of flowers is a behavior common to all cats, but our cat Uh-Oh has so distinguished himself in this area as to have become a veritable Romeo. Over the years he has handed over a menagerie of creatures that Doctor Dollittle himself would have envied. This makes me think that some unrequited love on Mike’s part would be a good thing.
Another reality of cat-keeping is that there are always surprises in store.
Such was the case early Wednesday morning. I was in the kitchen preparing breakfast when I heard an unsettling retching sound coming from upstairs. Since the family had consumed lots of chocolate cake at a birthday party the previous night, my first thought was of someone’s stomach crying “Uncle.” I hurried up the stairs, expecting to find a queasy child dolefully leaning against the bathroom wall, or maybe a woozy teen sheepishly mopping up. Instead I found all the children asleep. The only creature stirring was our cat Scuzzie, who was trying mightily to expel a hairball onto the carpet.
“Not on the rug, not on the rug!” I cried, waving my arms and stamping my foot near the cat’s furry convulsing form. It was no use. A moment later, a relieved Scuzzie was curling up on a soft chair, and I was wadding paper towels and pressing them onto the wet carpet.
Fortunately, I’m not too fussy a housekeeper, so incidents like these, whether perpetrated by children or pets, don’t faze me too much. But I have been pushed to my limits by the antics of…Sammy.
Sammy, the newest member of the clowder, has been featured several times on my blog. He is a sweet-faced creature whom my daughter Helen calls her “angel,” but in my book, Sammy is more like a “destroying angel.” In the three months that he’s been here, Sammy has managed to do real damage to a piece of cast-off dorm furniture that was designed to stand up to frat house abuse. He has shredded a sofa corner and spoiled the wood of a certain dining room chair for which he seems to harbor some sort of animus. And just last night, Sammy worked his way into a bag of party goods that was awaiting storage, and scratched up a vintage New Year noisemaker that I’d saved from my childhood.
Cats can undoubtedly be a nuisance. But they can also add joy to a household. Observes Helen, the foremost feline-fancier of our family, “In order to be happy, you need companionship. That’s why God gave us cats. Cats are calm and warm and they make you feel wanted. They make good friends.”
St. Francis couldn’t have said it better.
Copyright 2011 Celeste Behe