Tuesday, July 24, 2012

To all the pets I've loved before...Feline Friends

Right now in my life there are 6am walks in my pajamas, long stares at meal times, eager greetings after time spent away and little minefields in the backyard. A friend's pug, Buster, is staying with us for a couple of weeks. Last night I sat by this well-mannered dog (excepting the puppy eyes during meal times), and I rubbed his ears, his neck and belly for a contented long while as I spoke to him in a ridiculous cartoon voice. It felt familiar and comfortable and how life should be....which of course reminded me of how life was once upon a time.

I speak of Tennessee - I haven't done that for a while. We had more than a few animals over several years who were a big part of our lives at the rural home of my childhood. Recently, anticipating Buster's arrival, my kids allowed me to skip down memory lane of a morning, enthusiastically tugging them behind me as I told tales of four-legged, cherished companions.

Of course, there was Reuben, that great Lab who was my dad's beloved friend. There was his dear and simultaneously annoying friend Mandy, the half-blind, almost deaf mutt, who savaged a man's cowboy boot - while his foot was in it - and drew blood. I'm not ashamed to say I was glad of it. The man - cropped, mousy hair, thick glasses and constant leering grin - was not young, but he was hitting on my teenage sister. He deserved what he got, and I myself, a little girl warily watching this sleazy guy with my arms crossed tightly, was considering sinking my teeth into him if he didn't leave my sister alone. Mandy persuaded him to do that, and to leave our presence altogether and quickly.

There was Pepe Slugeater, a cat. He wasn't anyone's favorite pet, but he was memorable because, as his name implies, he was a devourer of slugs. He'd discover one in the evening and squat over it to have himself a lovely, slimy feast. As his fur became matted about the face, even gluing one eye shut, he only broke his repast to growl madly at every human and animal who ventured near, warning them to go find their own delicious slug and leave him alone.

Very early on in our life on those ninety-eight acres in the country, there were the cat brothers, Tommy and Sammy. We went to a neighbor's house to adopt them. They were half-feral kittens, so we had to chase and corner them before we could take them home. Dad did most of the running. Just as we had the brothers in hand, one would leap loose, and as that one was caught, the other would break free. Though Tommy was the quickest and most elusive, I remember my dad becoming completely exasperated when Sammy escaped my grasp, but after some exhausting exercise, we finally had them both in the car and headed home.

They were polar opposites. Tommy wanted nothing to do with anybody. He'd sit his fluffy black and white body on the windowsill, aching to desert the house for the greater outdoors. And he did leave often for days at a time until we found him and brought him home. That is until the day he left for good and never came back. Months later my sister Vinca, who loved him dearly, thought she saw him on the far side of a pond in Mr. Spann's field. She called Tommy's name, and the cat sat for several minutes and watched at her as she crept nearer, but then he bolted. We never saw him again.

Sammy's fur was not a stark contrast of colors like Tommy's but a smattering of soft shades on white, and he was a complete love bug. He ached not for adventure but for attention. We could put doll dresses on him, and he'd let us shift his head, legs and arms this way and that while doing so without ever extending a claw or baring a tooth. We'd play house, and he was our baby and an easy one, too. I'm afraid we teased Sammy quite alot, something Tommy wouldn't allow without a sharp, in claws, rebuttal. I don't remember what happened to sweet Sammy, though I believe feline leukemia claimed him.

There was our much-loved but crazy Pookie who came to us after, a birthday gift for my sis I think, and she was truly out of her mind, poor creature. Once, she stalked me across my own bedroom with such a sinister look in her eye that I was honestly afraid as I jumped from one piece of furniture to the next until I reached the door and escaped, breathing hard. I locked her in my room until she could regain her senses, what remained of them.

Pookie was a small cat, my sister Vinca's cat, and she lived a hard life. She spent several long evenings when she was a youngster in heat "yowling for mates" as we called it. That was a terrible ruckus, and it happened each night outside our bedroom windows. It seemed that there wasn't a single desperate tomcat within five miles who would court her. We made jokes about it, but it was also a little sad. Finally, there was a big unfamiliar tom loitering about the house, and he must have been a lover; Pookie was soon pregnant.

When she had her first and only litter of kittens, we all watched with proper fascination the machinations of life, but Vinca was especially solicitous of Pookie's comfort. It was soon clear things would not go smoothly. After the first kitten came, tiny Lizzy, Pookie delivered her uterus along with Lizzy's much bigger brother, Leo. A third kitten we could see was dead in the womb. My parents rushed Pookie off to the nearest vet who stitched her up, but when the kittens tried to nurse from their Mama late one night, the stitches popped open. Everything and more was exposed, all purple and rose and moist, and my parents had to make another run to a vet to save her. Unfortunately, the only vet they could find at that late hour was a specialist in large animals, particularly horses. He gave her far too many meds, an overdose really. We were told to keep her on a bed beneath a lamp; I'm not sure why. She lay for at least a couple days beneath the light, her eyes wide but her body unresponsive. We kids came to stare at this strange zombiefied cat every hour or so.

Meanwhile, my mother carefully fed the babies with an eyedropper, and they slept in a tiny cardboard box lined with soft material. On a chilly morning we woke up and went to check the kittens. Leo was snuggled on top of his little sister. Mom lifted him aside quickly, afraid, and found that Lizzy, precious and tiny, was dead. My mother cried for some time, but once we buried little Lizzy, her mothering instincts exerted themselves powerfully for lonely Leo.

When Pookie woke up from those meds, she was not the same. We were told to keep her in a mesh cage for a while, so she couldn't exert herself, but to let the kitten go in to suckle. Pookie wouldn't have anything to do with that. We did try to get her interested in her Leo, but she only hissed violently at him every time he appeared.

A strange enmity had developed between them. He no longer believed she was nor desired her to be his mother, and she no longer believed that she was a mom at all - and certainly not to this obnoxious young cat. That peculiar distrust and dislike continued their whole lives together. Leo used to lay in wait to pounce on her, and not in a playful way. She shrieked and swatted at him. It was odd and sad that they could hate each other so much.

But almost from the moment of his birth, my mom had become Leo's beloved adoptive mother, and he my mother's beloved pet. I'm certain he thought he was human, her fifth and most loved child.

Continued in the next post, Befirrfin the Fierce

Until then, you might enjoy A Dad and His Dog...and Mandy

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