Guest Post by Ruth Dewey
His beginning was unremarkable if not horrifying. We found him at a farm in Ohio along with his brother one summer. He was a scraggly, underfed, adolescent grey tabby cat. His brother was of the same vintage only he was pumpkin orange. They were “housed” in a dilapidated barn with perhaps a hundred or so other barn cats. Most of them were in terrible health with runny eyes and and/or sores on them from fighting. Bob chose the grey one and I chose the orange one. The grey one was dubbed “Tabby” by Bob while I named mine “Roper.”
We brought them home and made a vet appointment to get their ailments addressed. Surprisingly, they were given a bill of good health. We got them their shots and took them home. They ate incessantly as neglected cats are wont to do. I did not think that they would ever get enough to eat but once they did, they turned their attention from the food bowl to each other and to us. Their coats lost their blotchy, matted appearances as they matured into adult cats, fat and sleek. They became lap cats whose purring was pure poetry as they forced their heads beneath our palms. It always amazed me how forgiving neglected cats were. Once their basic needs were met, the two bonded with us and with each other in bonds that lasted until death.
They played in the summer kitchen that became their stomping ground. “Hide-and-seek” was their favorite. They were the hiders and I was the seeker, usually when I came in to feed them or turn on the heater in the winter. During their fifth winter we made an out-of-state move to Tennessee. They, of course, were to make the move with us. They fit quite well in the foothold on the passenger side of the car. In fact, they became so attached to their space that when we finally arrived at our home, they balked at getting out of the car where they
had slept most of the time. For them it had become home. They fared well in the 600-mile move, getting out of the car only to eat and do their business and eat. Then it was back into the car where they slept most of the time.
When we finally arrived at our new destination and they were finally coaxed out of their conveyance, they warily explored their new surroundings. As our new home had not yet been set up, we took up residence in a Quonset hut for a month. Our new apartment was makeshift but it did not seem to bother them as long as they could find the litter box, the food bowl and a warm spot by the wood heater. So the month of February passed. The arrival of spring brought the budding of the redbud trees and the set-up of our new home, chicken coop and goat barn and the digging of a garden space. When introduced to their new home, they promptly went back to the Quonset hut. This was going to take some time. In time they did accept their new digs and settled in without further fuss. Cats were quite malleable in that respect. They just fit in wherever they were supposed to fit in. The fireplace was a favorite spot at once since it was still quite cool outside.
So their lives went until one fateful Halloween night. Roper did not return the morning after and I became alarmed. He always came inside for his breakfast about seven o’clock. When he still hadn’t returned by suppertime, I knew that something was amiss. Bob contacted the neigbors to see if they had seen him. The neighbors replied only that they had shot a cat the night before as it had been tormenting their cat. Roper was quite playful but I guess that one man’s playful is another
man’s torment. Bob did not relay the information to me but mumbled something about a cat in a drainage ditch that might be him. Unfortunately, it was. I was devastated. Bob went out to dig a grave and the chagrined neighbors helped him bury it. I was unconsolable. The only thing that salvaged the disaster was the neighbor’s offer to replace Roper. I finally agreed, knowing the only way to recover was to get another cat. Tabby was already moping over the loss of his brother. So with money in hand, I ventured into the animal shelter where I was introduced to an albino tabby cat that was pure white with sapphire blue eyes. He was a sight! Roper got his wings and “Corky” got a new home. At first he and Tabby were wary of one another but eventually they bonded well. So the equilibrium of life in the Dewey household was restored at least momentarily.
Twelve winters had passed. I began to notice a weight change in Tabby when he jumped into my lap in the evening. At first I chalked it up to the hot weather. No one had been eating much in the hot weather. But then it seemed as if he were vanishing before my very eyes. Bob took him to the vet, who ran some tests on him.
“I don’t like what I am seeing,” she told Bob somberly.
“Neither do I,” Bob replied.
She went on to explain that Tabby had a complicated rare red blood cell disorder. It wasn’t leukemia but it was just as fatal. We took him home and administered the meds to keep him comfortable. When they ran out, I fed him minerals, egg and goat milk until it just became too apparent that Tabby was leaving us. By refusing to eat he was telling us that he no longer wanted to stay. It was hard to let go but finally I told Bob that it was time. I kissed him on the top of his bony little head and he purred. Bob slipped him into the carrier and whisked him off to the vet where he was administered the shot that let him go in peace. Bob held him until the end and brought him home. I helped Bob lift his lifeless body into a bag and we buried him. As we did so, I recalled the fable of the “M” marking on the tabby cat’s forehead. Legend has it that the “M” stood for Mary, the mother of Jesus. The tabby cat was one of the animals that stood in the manger that cold night and wrapped himself around the baby Jesus to keep him warm. To honor him for his service to the newborn King, Mary bestowed a special blessing on the creature’s forehead and “M” appeared and remains to this day.
Several days later a card came form the vet that read:
“If tears could build a stairway and memories a lane, I’d walk right up to heaven and bring you back again.”
Inside were the signatures of all of the vet’s staff with handwritten messages telling us what a special cat Tabby was. Would I, if I could, bring him back again? Perhaps if I were younger. But now that I am older, I look at death differently. Now I would prefer him to stay in heaven and be waiting there for me when I hopefully arrive. To pull him back into a chaotic, unpredictable world once he had tasted the sweetness of heaven does not seem as charitable as it once did when I was younger and had my whole life before me. We want them here and they want us there — and so as this bittersweet season of Christmas and its tension surrounds us, let us remember that He came that the separation of death is but temporary. His birth, death and subsequent resurrection shattered death’s hold on us. That is His gift to us. We need only to accept it.
Ruth D. Dewey is a former English teacher turned gentleman farmer’s wife. Her first book is SPRINGBORN, (Dorrance Publishing Co. 2009) a poetic chronicle of a calico kitten’s life employing the Old English kenning. She is also a contributor to ANGELS magazine. Her current work-in-progress concerns her recent experience with Dorrance Publishing Company.