Remembering Kitties Past

SMOKEY When I was born, Smokey was already four or five years old. She immediately became my new mother, sleeping with me in my crib and watching over me. A stray my mother adopted, Smokey was run over by a bus when she was very young. My mother took her to the vet, and they gave her 24 hours to live. My mother brought her home, placed her in a box with a towel, and force-fed her oatmeal. She lived to the ripe old age of 18. She was misshapen from the accident, but that didn't slow her down one bit. A fierce huntress, she brought home prey as big as her—and neatly lined them all up along the back porch steps. Smokey was all black with tiny flecks of gold; a petite cat, she was shaped like a greyhound dog owing to her accident. Pet her head all you want, but touch her back and risk getting shredded.

MUFFIN This big dumb marmalade stray was part of the family only briefly. When my folks decided it was time to have him altered, they drove him to the vets. Thinking he had to pee, my brothers told my folks to stop the car. They opened the door, Muffin dashed out, and was never seen again. There was a farm nearby, and we imagine him finding a good life among the barn cats one would presume were there.

CINDY A calico, Cindy was a quiet, introverted little cat. Although affectionate, she mostly kept to herself. One day my mother noticed a smudge on her face next to her nose, and took a wet sponge to it. She scrubbed and scrubbed but it never came off. Turns out it was a tiny dark patch of fur growing in. She passed at 16 or 17, choosing for her spot to die her favorite hiding place: the neighbor's flower garden, unfortunately.

BUTTON was a diminutive calico with a white face and a tiny black nose, which inspired her name. She had incredible jumping ability: she could make it to the top of the refrigerator (her favorite napping spot) in a single bound. She also had a health issue. My mother always insisted on putting milk down for our cats, and unbeknownst to us, Button was lactose intolerant; consequently, the litter box was always a gruesome thing to clean. One summer, while my folks were away on vacation, I ran out of milk, so I put down water. That afternoon, Button enjoyed her first "normal" litter box experience. She was already 17. She lived to 19 or 20.

BITSY the kitten was with us less than a month, as she died of distemper. Her name came from the fact that my mother paid 50 cents for her—two bits.

BUFFY Another rescue, Buffy was a gorgeous shade of pale tan with subtle, almost invisible stripes. Sadly he was with us only for about a year. He came home one day with blood on his paws—they were badly cut, and it was clearly done to him by someone. After we got him patched up and back on his feet, he went out one day and never returned. We suspect he was maimed and then killed by the neighborhood kids, who all had a grudge against my mother, their schoolteacher.

CLARENCE A  beefy-looking grey tiger, Clarence was a feral stray who took an interest in my father while he was tending his vegetable garden. Although my father preferred dogs, it turns out he had a way with cats. One day he let Clarence in the back door, just to see what the cat would do. Clarence never left; he knew a good thing when he saw it. Strangely, I don't remember how he got his name, or the circumstances of his departure; perhaps just as well.

CLARICE was a female clone of Clarence, a grey tiger stray who wandered into the house and stayed. Only a few years later, my folks were getting ready to retire, so my mother found someone to take her. He was a farmer, and I suspect he wanted a mouser.

CHARLIE After my first wife and I bought our first house, we didn't waste any time getting some furballs. Charlie was a calico kitten I picked up from a rescue. On the way home, she was crawling all over me as I drove, and I just blurted out, "What are you up to, Charlie?" The name stuck. As a kitten she was fearlessly adventurous. One evening we were eating roasted chicken in front of the TV, and when she discovered it, she became obsessed with it; while my wife held her up in the air, she growled (a hysterical tiny "growl") and and flailed her paws frantically. It was a riot. Unfortunately, the circumstances of her passing were ugly and painful, and best left forgotten. I'll simply say it was due to divorce.

SAMANTHA was our second rescue. All black save for a white bikini—two small patches of white under her front legs, and a triangle on her tummy—she was named after my wife's best friend's cat, so she was technically Samantha II. While growing up, she often pushed Charlie away from her food so she could have seconds. We used a water pistol to try and stop her, but she strangely enjoyed it.

TABATHA Shortly before my folks moved to Florida, a stray showed up in their garage with two kittens in tow. A day or two later, the mom disappeared, leaving her kittens abandoned. My mother asked if we'd take them (like we wouldn't!). They hadn't even been weaned, so we had our work cut out for us. Tabatha was part Maine Coon—she looked like a princess cloaked in a grey fur coat. When we acquired yet another furry family member, she took exception to it and began using our sofa as her litter box. We could find no way to stop it, so we gave her away, regrettably.

EMILIO was Tabitha's sister, albeit a shorthair. Yes, that was her name (after a character from our favorite movie). She was a wild and crazy little thing, a tiny grey ball racing about like a maniac. She liked to play fetch, especially with foil balls—the smaller, the better. She could pick up a foil ball the size of a grain of rice and return it to your feet. M-cat, as she was nicknamed, also liked wine. In the evenings, I'd often sit at the breakfast bar with a glass of wine doing paperwork. Occasionally M would sit on the counter lapping at the wine. One night she seemed to have had quite a lot, and after sitting a bit with a slightly blurry look in her eyes, she laid down next to the glass and fell fast asleep. My furry alcoholic also loved eating flies, and was exceptional at catching them. I would hold her by her butt in my hand—she would fit in my palm—up near the ceiling, and follow a fly around the room for her to catch. The strangest part was how riding in my hand was a completely natural thing for her to do. Wish I had videos—perfect YouTube fodder.

THEODOR Checking in at close to 30 pounds, Theo was an enormous blob of marmalade. All he wanted in life was to sit on your lap—and put your legs to sleep. He'd wander into a room where the other kitties were (all girls), and they'd freak out; he'd calmly sit and watch them with an expression of, "Girls. They're so emotional." We acquired him from a friend who could no longer keep him, and he was the reason Tabatha had to go. Despite his great girth, Theo was a good jumper, and could manage a five-foot fence; unfortunately, he did this often since he was using our neighbor's kids' sandbox for guess what, and thus had to move on to another family. His claim to fame was appearing in a pet calendar done by a professional photographer friend.

NONAME This one was really just a visitor, not around long enough even to photograph. As I recall, we gave her a name, but I've since forgotten it. Around 2010 my significant other at the time and I heard a ruckus out on the deck, and saw a stray cat being confronted aggressively by a neighbor's dog—out without a leash. We brought the freaked-out kitty inside, and did the best we could to find the owner. Meanwhile, she was causing the rest of the furry family a significant amount of grief, so we locked her away in the family room. It was not a sustainable arrangement, so we quickly found a new home for her.

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