Saturday, May 20, 2017

So Long, Old Friend

I was never a cat person.  When I was growing up, we had dogs.  When I married, my wife brought a cat, Tigger, to our shared home.  He had been with her for almost a decade and it took him awhile to get used to me being around but, after five or so years, he gradually accepted my presence.  When he died, I surprised myself by wondering if we couldn't find a new cat for the house.

Epic poetry could be written about Tigger's successor, Chester.  I didn't name him, the young women at the rescue center did as he resembled the Chester that adorns the Cheetos packages.  I would have named him "Killer" or "Danger" or "Mike Hammer".  He had been living in a cave he made of garbage in the town dump.  He was very large, had a habit of demanding that, if we walked anywhere, he would be in front, and would loudly hiss if anyone thought otherwise.  He would wander about at night and steal food from neighboring dogs and cats.  When we were living next door to a museum, he once put on a demonstration in that institution's front yard as to how to stalk, charge, and kill an annoying squirrel.  Children nowadays witnessing such a thing would have to be rendered to a safe space and given a personal therapist; back in the 1990's they simply cheered.

When Chet, which is what I came to call him, died, it was a year before we even thought about another cat.

There had been an old barn in town, of nebulous ownership, that had been the source of some controversy as it was decrepit and an eyesore.  When it was finally torn down, polydactyl cats began to show up in the neighborhood.  One of them would adopt us.  He came to be known as Jacob Racket, or Jake, for short.  The exact circumstances of his forename are obtuse; the reason for his surname was, well, if you had ever heard his loud, abrasive, and constant "meowing", it would be obvious.  He never had a pleasant voice.  He loved, more than anything else, to climb trees and would do so when following the dog and I on our daily walks, running up and down each successive tree along the way.  What else do you do when blessed with twenty-four toes?  When he became bored with that, he would wait for our return and then leap, with great drama, through the neighbor's hedgerow in ambush.  Even the dog would be amused by that.  When the dog died, Jake mourned for him, too.

For seventeen years, I rose every morning to feed him and let him loose on the world.  He would never deign to be picked up nor ever sit on a lap, but he kept my wife and I good and gracious company.  He was in good health until the end, for which I'm grateful.

I accept death's inevitability, of course, especially as the bulk of my professional work these days is sitting with the mortal and planning and officiating at their funerals.  I accepted the loss of Jake yesterday afternoon, but felt it acutely this morning when, with automatic gestures, I went to open a can of cat food and place it in his bowl.  That's when the house seemed unusually quiet.  No more Racket.  Ave atqua vale, Jake.