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My siblings are bonkers about cats. I’m used to that. I’ve borne years of anthropomorphic fantasies about a line of household pets that included a sensitive and gorgeous special breed, country cross-varieties vaguely named after T.S. Eliot characters, and a few city “patio cats.” I’ve witnessed naming deliberations for new kitties that drag on for weeks, with “Pockets” being a near winner and a friend begging them not to saddle it with a noun handle for life. They eventually settled on human names for their animals, which pleased everyone: Eleanor, Titus. Titus, nearly two decades old, is still with us, and shows up occasionally in pictures, like the time he was sporting a small wide tie that my brother said made him think of “a night manager at Denny’s.”
What has just dawned on me, however, is that another family member has been something of a dark horse when it comes to passion for felines. I mean, I knew my dad liked cats, but I finally realized the degree of this affinity today when my mom texted us with a charming innovation my dad used to solve a problem with their old cat.
The realization that Dad is a true cat lover crept up on me because my dad is not one to keep things to himself. He is 100% extrovert, outgoing and outspoken. So one would expect that if he loved something, we would hear all about it. But the fact that these sleek and purry animals turn his heart to warm butter went under the radar. It was all in the actions, the quiet asides, and the creativity invested when his cat needs something.
Upon reflection, his connection started when he was a kid in the ’40s and ’50s, doing chores on a farm in New York. We only get the barest patchwork of stories from his youth–non-linear, episodic–but cats seem to crop up frequently, for both good and ill. His favorite cat liked to ride on his shoulders as he went about his work. By his expression, I can see he’s recalling its lovely, soft warmth against the nape of its neck, the contentment of companionship. However, his story ends with the animal’s untimely, most unlovely demise, not surprising on a farm, but certainly bringing the tale to a jolting, unpleasant conclusion. Thanks a lot, Dad! We’ll say. I was having a nice evening until just now.
Perhaps my dad connects with cats because they share a few traits with him–just a few, but enough to bring overlap in significant ways. For example, their nighttime sleeping patterns are similar. My dad doesn’t really retire to bed like most people I know. Well, in a way he does, but he falls asleep for a random period of time, often in a random location, and then he’s up and active around the house–snacking, doing little chores, working on the computer. When he gets sufficiently tired, he again slumbers indefinitely. I remember that on a visit home, I was awakened at 5 a.m. with the smell of toast and coffee wafting under the crack of the bedroom door. No, it wasn’t a tough work regimen summoning him from his bed–he was just awake and decided to have an early breakfast.
And guess whose schedule syncs with that pattern perfectly? Who is alert and ready for anything at 3 a.m.? Any of a series of cats we’ve had. I remember now passing his office during regular hours, seeing on his desk a smooth, erect feline presence that bent its neck and shut its eyes to receive a finger stroking between its ears, while a voice in the higher register reserved for these animals murmured queries about its well-being. Surely with this reinforcement, the animal continued its companionable visits at all hours while my dad, otherwise alone in the glow of the computer screen, typed a letter or worked on a deadline.
And now I’m remembering Sparkles. My brother and sister came up with the glittery name for the long-haired grey and white kitten when they were still living at home, delighted with the hilarious product of their collaboration, I’m sure. He and my dad became attached when my siblings grew up and moved out. Sparkles followed my parents through more than one move, and I distinctly remember him posed like a soft statue next to my dad’s computer, as well as the lilting way my dad said his name. Sparkles developed some kind of problem that he wouldn’t leave alone, so my dad devised a short-term arrangement to keep the cat from messing with the wound, a kind of splint. The cat hated being trussed up in that contrivance. He stared straight ahead miserable, sitting perfectly still. He was still on my dad’s desk, though.
My parents weren’t a whole lot more mature in the naming department than their children had been. Sad at Sparkles’ disappearance, to our surprise, they adopted a pretty white kitty who was in that frantic, wild playful stage. They called her “Princess.” I witnessed Princess jumping into my mom’s suitcase for a revelry of wide-eyed twisting and clawing amongst the clothes, something our cats would never have been allowed to do in the old days. My mom, through her mirth, called my dad: Come look at what Princess is doing! He appeared immediately to enjoy the scene, and they laughed at her together. What was happening to my parents?
Unfortunately, restless Princess tended to dash outside at every opportunity, and when she escaped from an open garage door one day, she never came back. That was years ago, and until recently, my mom and dad lived catless, free of the chores and the odors that are associated with these animals, in spite of their attractions. But now they’ve adopted old Titus, my brother’s cat. He came with some problems, and my mother quickly got fed up with dealing with the litter box, soiled rugs, vet’s bills, and special food. However, it became evident that my dad adores Titus. Oh, he doesn’t say it out loud, not like that. It’s in the little things. He talks to him, gladly buys the food to save Titus’s ailing kidneys and bring him from the brink of death. On vacation, he makes meticulous arrangements for the kennel’s care and feeding of the creature.
The news from my mom is that often Titus likes to be let outside, and when he does, although he’s usually pretty good about responding to calls, he sometimes wanders off. They can’t have their animal lost on the streets during this uncertain time, when moving about is limited. My mom texted today to explain my dad’s solution. A few years ago, I had bought a system for my dad to make sure he could always find important items. Translation projects and such are so engrossing that his passport or wallet might get lost when urgently needed. Today, he attached a “tile” from that system to the cat, which would allow my dad to track its location via his smartphone–problem neatly solved.
If the subject of Titus comes up, my dad might say something offhand, like He’s actually a pretty good cat. But we all know better.Published in