pull up a chair

where wisdom gathers, poetry unfolds and divine light is sparked…

Category: critters

epiphany’s eve: the midnight whispers

img_8865

legends enchant me. stories passed from generation to generation. stories passed from village to village, hearth to hearth. legends are the stuff of story and wisdom. one part enticement and charm, along with a dollop of take-away.

img_8844and so i found myself enchanted when i tumbled upon a legend i’d not heard before. it popped from the pages of strega nona’s gift, a storybook my faraway forever best friend mailed me this week.

as i learned while turning the pages, the month of december is one filled with feasts, all of which insist on stirrings in the kitchen. it begins with st. nick (dec. 6), flows to santa lucia (dec. 13), then it’s Christmas eve’s feast of the seven fishes (dec. 24), followed swiftly by the midnight feast of Christmas (dec. 25), and new year’s eve’s feast of san silvestro (dec. 31) when red underwear, for unknown reasons, is required (note to self: go shopping).

it seems those italians do not stop: they roll the feasting straight into january, which is where this story picks up. according to strega nona, my new guide to january feasting, the eve of epifiana — that’s epiphany, from the greek, “to appear” — once again finds everyone cooking. but this time it’s for the beasts and birds, the wee scamperers and the lumbering furry fellows.

img_8846

“there was a legend that at midnight on the eve of epiphany all the animals could speak to each other. it was because the ox and the donkey kept the baby Jesus warm with their breath in the manger.

“so the villagers wanted to give their animals a feast…”

and that’s all the prompt i needed. (although if you read along, you find the motivation is merely to squelch the chance of midnight gossip among the animals, lest they peg you as a stingy old cheapskate who feeds them not. which i’d say squeezes some of the charm out of the equation.)

for years now, my annual feast for the birds is a ritual of the longest night, the winter solstice. i make suet cakes, string cranberries, heap a mound of seed into the feeders. as darkness blankets the hours, i make certain my flocks are fed, and fed amply.

so now i’ve another excuse. and in honor of the ox and the donkey who bowed down, who warmed the newborn babe with their breath (as exquisite a furnace as i’ve ever imagined), i baked more cakes, melted more suet, stirred in plump raisins and nuts and seeds. i tossed with abandon last night, the eve of today’s epiphany. i filled the old bird bath that now serves as my trough. scattered cakes and crumbs near the french doors, so i could peek at the merriment come morning.

and sure enough. not long after dawn, as i wandered out to refill the terra cotta saucer that serves as my birds’ winter bath, there before me was one big fat mama raccoon, holding a cake in both of her nimble long-fingered fists.

img_8859

breakfast, interrupted

she glanced up but didn’t flinch. she seemed not to mind that i was trespassing quite near to her breakfast. nor that i was offering a warm drink besides. (alas, she didn’t mutter a single word, nothing close to a thanks for the chow; so much for the midnight whispers. although she might insist i’d missed the chatter by a good six hours.)

and now i’ve a new excuse for spoiling my herds and my flocks (i like to think of them in masses, as it makes me feel like the shepherd i long to be). there is something deeply comforting in imagining that i’m the guardian of my critters, in hoping they can depend on me to keep their bellies full.

it’s a simple notion indeed. but it charms me to no end, and satisfies the tug to be God’s caretaker of all creatures, great and small and in between. in a world that sometimes leaves me gasping for breath, making a feast for my wild things is balm. especially on a morning when it’s 15 below. and the ‘coon at my door comes knocking.

what are the feasts that prompt you to stir in the kitchen? and is epiphany, the feast of the three kings, or wise fellows, among the ones that stir you?

sometimes it’s called little christmas, and for me it’s a quiet pause, the last inhale of merriment, before we return to so-called “ordinary time.” may your epiphany be filled with quiet and wonder, and a bright star in your night sky.

one last legend, in short form: the italians also celebrate epiphany with the story of befana, a soot-splattered old woman, sometimes called “the christmas witch.” in the version i love best, a few days before baby Jesus was born, the wise men stopped to ask befana for directions to the manger where Mary and Joseph and the newborn babe would be found. she hadn’t a clue, but offered the travelers a room for the night. come morning, the trio invited her to come along, to meet the Christ child. she declined, saying she had too much housework (therein lies the learning that one oughtn’t be waylaid by mopping; you never know what you’ll miss). once the kings had gone on their way, the old lady had a change of heart. covered in soot, cloaked in a deep-black shawl, carrying her broomstick, she set out in search for baby Jesus. to this day, the story goes, she’s still searching. and as she travels from house to house, on epiphany, she leaves behind fruits and sweets for the good children, and coal, onions, and garlic for the ones who are naughty.

merry blessed epiphany.

when the gentlest, dearest sounds of your day are gone

DSCF2348_2

some days when i write, it feels like i need a crane to hoist my heart out of the deep-down depths, to vault to the heights where the words deserve to be. this is one of those days….

it’s been five days now. five days without the sound of his front right paw rubbing against the back-door glass, when every morning at dawn, his shadow etched against the fading darkness of night, he’d be waiting for me, waiting for me to let him back in, our night-prowling cat, to let him get back to the business of roaming this creaky old house as if it all belonged to him, his acreage to do as he pleased, to rustle under the covers here, to climb into the laundry basket, the shopping bag, the shoe box we accidentally forgot to put away. to plop himself squarely onto whatever book or newspaper we were reading, whatever keyboard upon which we were trying to type, shoving aside all distraction with his furry insistence, as if to say, forget that, pay attention to me.

it’s been five days since i’ve heard the faintest trot-trot-trot of his little cat paws, descending the stairs, coming round the bend to where he knew he’d find me, letting out one of his signature meows, the ones we’d learned to read as if particular declarations, and so we’d do as he ordered every time: feed him, scoop him into our arms, open the door to let him out into the garden he guarded so well and so long.

tiger boy and his tiger cat

tiger boy and his tiger cat

it’s been five days since we’ve heard the lap-lap-lapping of his tiny sandpaper tongue, scooping up the droplets of cream with which we indulged him (or, truth be told, the water from the bowl of the toilet he considered his own private pond). and it’s been five days since i’ve heard the sound of his four-pawed leap to the hardwood floor from the very high bed of the boy who’s never known a day without him, the old striped cat, the cat who came from the farm, the cat with more adventures than a conquistador or even huck finn. the cat we called “turkey” for short, the cat whose very long name — turkey baby-meow-meow-choo-choo-hi-cat-bye-cat — won him a contest just this year at a faraway vet school, where the vet students (one of whom used to work at our long-ago animal hospital) were asked to submit the best pet name they’d ever heard — well, sadly, finally, after nearly 19 years, our sweet little cat is no longer.

turkey baby meow-meow etcetera lay down and died on pi day, monday, the 14th of march, 03.14.16. curled up in a ball, face turned to the stars, he quietly softly slipped away, a dignified death for a most dignified fellow.

and it’s the absence of sound — those soft, barely-perceptible sounds, the ones that beg your keenest attention — that is so deafening, that amplifies the ache in all our chests, that defines — at least in small measure — the volume of the hollowed-out hole in each of our hearts.

in the blur that this week has been, here’s what happened: sunday afternoon i found out my dear, dear friend had died, and because i’d been asked to write her obituary, i slipped into that writing zone where i lost focus on nearly everything that wasn’t the words i needed to type to tell the world who she was. i do remember that later that night i scooped up the cat as he meowed at the bottom of the very steep stairs, and i carried him up to the bed of the boy doing homework beside the bedside lamp. as i walked in the room, the boy scooted over, away from the light, clearing a space on the sheets and the pillow. i asked what he was doing, and he matter-of-factly told me, “oh, that’s the side that turkey likes, so i’m getting out of his way.” when i countered that, actually, he — the boy with the hours of homework — was the one who needed the lamplight, he shrugged it off, said, “nope, turkey gets the side he wants.”

that’s the last that anyone remembers.

and then, monday, not long after dinner, when i bent down to scoop up my backpack, to head out the door to drive a carpool to soccer, i eyed the little cat bowl still piled with bits of the food that he crunched whenever he needed a nibble. and that’s when it hit me: i hadn’t seen him all day, or at least i suddenly didn’t think i had, though i couldn’t clearly remember. delaying carpool departure, i zipped through the house, spot-checking each of his usual places, an itinerary i knew by heart: atop the sleeping bag in one bedroom closet, under the bed blankets in the other boy’s bedroom, curled on the heated bathroom floor, snuggled on the bean bag by the back door from which he surveyed his lair. one by one, the spots came up blank. our cat was not in the house. so we took to the alleys, combed them up and down, back and forth till close to midnight. (i managed to squeeze in my carpool duties, worried the whole way, resumed my search with headlights on high beam once back home.)

and then, the next morning, in an early morning volley of email about wholly other matters, i mentioned to my across-the-street guardian angel of a neighbor that “on top of everything, we can’t find turkey.” and that’s when she shot back the news that felt surely heaven-sent: that reminded her, she wrote, that a friend of hers had mentioned seeing a cat who looked sick the day before, and it was somewhere down our very block. i had hardly finished sweeping my eyes across the words when i was out of my seat, and halfway across the room to the old tin bucket where we kept the cat’s mud towel, the one we’ve used a hundred thousand times to wipe off the rain or the snow or the puddles of goop he padded through, on his way to the door where he waited, always waited.

i ran out the door, and down the sidewalk, eyes trained on the distance, murmuring — almost a prayer — no, no, no! and then the lump i’d passed the night before, the lump that in the dark had appeared to be a pile of leaves, it wasn’t leaves in the early morning light; it was dear sweet turkey, curled in a little cat comma, his paw up and over his eyes, his face pointed up toward the half-moon, still fading against the early morning’s soft sunrise.

a whole 18.5 years after he trotted into our lives, he was gone. i wrapped him, and carried him home. my arms shook the whole way. we all huddled in the front hall, at the foot of the steps, and we cried. the little one’s knees went out, as he crumpled onto the stairs, and his face contorted in grief.

not one of us didn’t cry, and cry hard.

and just like that this old house is missing some of its most essential sounds. and surely an immeasurable chunk of its heart.

i heard the boys shouldering each other’s heartache. i heard one say to the other, “he was like our third brother.” they both said, in unison, as i carried him, stiff, into the house, “he was my best friend.” a cat can do that — a cat can be so loyal, so loving, so there when you need him, everyone thinks he or she is his favorite. DSCF6964

the older one, the one who rode out to the farm with me back in october of 1997, back when we were convinced there’d never be another babe in the family, he’s been around for every one of ol’ turk’s big adventures: the time he got stuck in the drug-dealer’s den just down the alley; the time he leapt and then tumbled from the third-floor skylight, and lived to tell about it, staggering along the gangway, dizzied but unharmed except for a droplet of blood that dribbled down his little cat chin; the time he was missing in action for six unbearable days, and then, minutes before the very-sad firstborn was supposed to shuffle off to his very first day of kindergarten, that old cat came bounding up the back steps like he was the hero in a hollywood western, the sheriff who rides to the crest of the hill, bringing on the cavalry, just in time to kill the villain, just before the credits roll and the sun sets on the five-hanky movie.

the little one — only 14 to turkey’s 18 years, six months and 21 days — he had never known a day without that old cat. when we moved to cambridge, mass., for a year, the little one said he was happy to tag along, but he had one non-negotiable caveat: “i’m not going unless turkey comes too.” and so, we tucked that old cat in a nifty little carrier, slid him under the airplane seat, and made him an apartment cat for one (rather miserable, far as he was concerned) year of his long and storied life.

so here we are: bereft beyond words. the reminders are tucked in a thousand places — the cat toy peeking out from the basket, the stacks of cat-food cans on the shelves of the pantry, the old navy bean bag still streaked with clumps of his fur. bit by slow bit, i’ve been subtracting, cleaning the shelf of the cat food, washing out his bowls one last time. i’m trying to think of these awful days as lessons in grief, and the insolubility of death. no matter how hard you wish, you can’t bring back the pit-a-pat paw sounds. can’t muster his face, with the ears perked just so, there at the glass still streaked with his mud prints.

it’s the valley of mirage and phantom echo, the raw and early hours of grief, as you imagine, make-believe — for an instant — you’ve just caught a glimpse, or just heard the sound.

it’s deafening. and deadening.

and i know that time, the sacred balm of all of life’s deepest heartaches, i know time will bring healing. i know the day will come when the thought of that old cat won’t sting quite so piercingly, the way it does now.

and so, for the second time this week, i am writing an obituary. and while the loss of a most blessed friend and the loss of a furry one are in no way comparable, i’ve realized this week that death is death. and “little deaths,” too, loom large, and they hurt sometimes in ways that riddle each hour with excruciating moments of missing.

and, yes, it’s only a cat, but a cat over time, a cat you’ve known and nuzzled and loved across the arc of your entire childhood — across the days when no one else understood your sorrows, and no one else curled across your chest, or slipped warm against your pjs quite the way your cat did — it makes it achingly hard to catch your breath, to steady your knees, to find your way forward without him.

our garden will be so empty this spring. the whole landscape is so empty right now. and it will take a good dose of time till we’re breathing deeply again.

i was thinking i’d write an “ode to one exemplary cat,” but for now i might simply point you toward posts from the past: in chronological order (he’s been a recurring character here at the chair over the years) the hunter (2007); starting the goodbye (2010); when the cat comes limping home (2011); and “will he make it home?” (2013).

if you’ve a furry or a feathered or a slippery or a hard-shelled friend, give him or her an extra squeeze today. and listen close to those sounds that animate your day. the silence will break your heart when those blessed little friends are no longer…..

IMG_5233

dear turk, we loved you dearly. as sweet will said when he kissed you goodbye, “thank you.” thank you so very very much. xoxox happy hunting wherever you are. love, all of us.

and to louisey who insisted we needed the little striped farm kitten so willie wouldn’t grow up alone, and to dr. jane whom we adored and who tried to convince us a roaming cat wasn’t such a good idea in the bustling big city but fixed him every time he got into a fix, and to all the friends who’ve loved him, and not minded — alicia! — when he ambled in your back door, and made himself quite at home, despite your trembling fear of all things furry, thank you and thank you for ever and ever amen.

the blessings of geography

accident of geography

this is the world as i see it out my front door. across the way, perched on a mound of earth (what passes for a hill in these glacier-flattened middlelands), there’s a house of gray, and when the lights are on the whole face glows. sort of like the great good souls who live inside.

some say neighbors are an accident of geography. i say not so. i say they’re a blessing. i say especially now, when so much of how we spend our lives is tucked inside, nose pressed to screen, fingers on keyboards instead of reaching out and lifting a spoon from someone else’s hand, instead of seeing the tear in someone’s eye, instead of softly brushing it away. and, swiftly, pushing away the chair to reach into the pantry to get the box of endless kleenex that we might just use up, on any given morning.

sometimes whole spans of time go by, and you know nothing of your neighbors’ lives except the lights go on at 6 a.m. and flicker off at midnight. you’ve no clue, often, of the fine grain whorl of their lives, of their heartaches. you might not know that someone’s mama is suffering. that there’s a kid who lies awake, unable to forget, afraid to meet the dawn.

but sometimes, some rare and rarer times, by virtue of years lived across the way, and unexpected discoveries — that you bristle at the same world news, that you find depths to mine in the pages of the same poets and thinkers — sometimes, because you’ve learned that there’s one someone who will show up at the ICU when your kid is lying there, or because you’ve had to throw your little ones into that neighbor’s arms when you were speeding to the ER, or because that very someone is the one who showed up on the frigid winter’s night, with hot-from-the-oven chicken pot pie, as you were stumbling in the door from a long day beside your mama’s hospital bed and your kid was hungry and you were tired, sometimes you find yourself slipping inside the fine grain whorl of that someone’s life.

you know, because you spy her sitting on the bench beside her front walk, with her shiny-maned sheepherding pup cradled in her arms, listless, barely breathing, you know that all week long the ones who live in that house are suffering. they are watching their beloved four-legged heartmate die. the pup’s name is edison, “because she lights up the world,” is how they first and always put it.

and because this blessing of geography allows you, sometimes, to sync your day’s rhythms with the ones across the way, you’ve had a chance this week to sit beside your beloved friend, and beloved edison, in the patch of late-september sunshine that, for one glorious interlude, shone down, set the amber-and-snow-white fur of eddie (that’s what they call her) to glow. i might remember that moment as the one when i saw eddie’s halo. and my across-the-way friend’s too.

death claims its own diminuendo. does not abide by any clock that might shed mercy. it can feel cruel in its legato, its slow dripping dying. when all you want is for suffering to end, while at the same time you’re holding on, unwilling to surrender, to let go. to let the moment slip away.

it’s the tug of heart that i’ve been witness to this week. as my blessed beloved friend has shoved aside her crowded list of things she must get done, and devoted her days and nights, long nights, to the midwifery of dying.

it all makes me wonder, makes me think, how much of life do we miss, do we drive by, as we scurry here and there and attend to a zillion things that, in the end, don’t so much matter. will anyone really wobble if the milk goes missing from the fridge? will the kid get kicked off the soccer team if he’s not wearing the right jersey? if it’s streaked with grass stains?

and so, by blessing of geography, this week and all these years, the interstices of parallel lives — mine rooted on my side of the lane, hers across the way — have become not just cross points on the map, but doorways into sacred, blessed interiors, into the light and shadow that fall across the unspooling hours of a life, of any life.

and we’ve chosen to tiptoe in. not to fix or cure or raise the dying (oh, though, if only we could!). but simply to spend a fraction of an hour sitting side by side, stroking the flesh of one fine companion’s final hours. bolstering the weary on a dark cold winter’s night. showing up with steaming platter. offering a seat on the rumpled couch.

exulting in the light and dark that is the script of any life. and which we’re blessed to witness, to enter into, by sheer and infinite blessing of contingent points on the map of life.

who do you count among your blessings of geography? and how, over the years, have you entered into each other’s joys and sufferings? and do you too wonder sometimes how much of life unfolds beyond our reach, and how much we miss in our hurry-scurry to everywhere and nowhere?

please whisper a little prayer for my beloved across-the-ways. they could use a fat dollop of grace right in here….

home. amid a host of tugs and pulls and squeaks from far corners.

moving boxes...

dispatch from 60091 (in which, except for invasion of colonies of critters with matchstick-sized legs, i attempt to nest in solitude, with a few elephant-sized distractions…)

i’ve waited 18 months for this. to have unpacked the mountain of moving boxes. to have tiptoed room-to-room, inhaling the musty scent of home. to be tucked up against my old maple table, with the morning sun draped across the slabs. my old chipped coffee mug at the ready, inches from the keyboard.

i’ve waited for the tick and tock of our grandpa’s clock. to hear the morning song of birds, my birds, my flocks, rising up and rolling in from the jungle that is my overgrown garden. i’ve waited and waited.

to be home, and going nowhere.

alas, it hasn’t exactly been a week of lolligagging and tossing back bonbons in a tub of bubbles.

the night before i zipped the last of the home-bound suitcases, back in 02139, i got word — make that, news flash — from my hilarious friend who spent the year here holding down the fort. she’d ducked into the wee bathroom off my writing room (the old garage, long ago turned into maid’s quarters, how apt that i now dwell there…), and there, dozing atop a feather bed of nibbled toilet paper bits, a nice fat chipmunk. only it wasn’t sleeping. it was, um, dead. and had chosen a basket filled with toilet paper rolls to be his final resting place.

she spared me pix of the kerplunked critter, and instead sent me a dramatic close-up of just how adept chipmunks are at making bedclothes out of the tissue paper with a purpose.

i considered myself fair-warned.

which is why, once half across the country, once the cat, the boy, the three fat suitcases and i were greeted at the baggage depot by my fair mama and ferried home, i tiptoed with trepidation into that wee room. i scanned for paw prints, wee paw prints, everywhere a furry thing might scamper. i scanned, too, for the caraway-seed-sized deposits they always leave behind.

i found them.

abundantly.

piled high and thick atop the baby blankets i had so neatly folded and tucked into a basket back in the corner. must have seemed the perfect lullaby land for all the baby chipmunks (and judging from the pile, there was a bumper crop of baby chipmunks). i did not scream. i merely long-jumped from the room, slammed the door, and decided to deal with it in the morning.

long story, short: $500 later, my new best friend joe, the jesus-believing critter control apostle, arrived on the scene, armed with coyote urine, ammonia crystals and wheelbarrows of cement. not a poison to be found, bless his benevolent heart. just some serious deterrents for re-entry to the chipmunks’ underground metropolis, the one they dug in vast array beneath the concrete slab upon which the old garage was built.

that’s the story of the first-floor critters. upstairs, in all the drawers where soaps and cottonballs were stored (note the past tense), another branch of the Rodentia family (the ones with long skinny tails and appetite, apparently, for european scrubs) had made themselves quite at home. why, it was a veritable carnival of critters, all with matchstick legs and the itty-bittiest pit-a-pats the world has ever known. they’d run amok undetected for lord knows how many months. (they don’t exactly blow trumpets announcing their arrival.)

and, oh, they served as such a rousing welcome committee. (i was roused, all right!)

but all that, truly, fades in the narrative arc of this long week.

the heart of the matter is that one long dark night this week i sat alone in my long-awaited bed fielding phone calls from my firstborn who was spending the night in an ER 1,000 miles away, getting IV painkillers pumped into his veins (neck and head pains, all tied back to a broken neck in the eighth grade, when he somersaulted over his handlebars swerving from — get this — a chipmunk who’d dashed across his bike trail).

and that’s only the half of it. my little one, the brave one who boarded a plane to germany a mere 48 hours after whirling in the door, a trip he’d long awaited, a trip for which he’d spent the year studying with his german tutor, he’d gotten sick as a dog on the flight across the atlantic, and 24 hours after de-boarding the plane was still upchucking in his new german bathroom. i was getting emails from the teacher, updating me on just what shade of green he was sporting, hour by hour.

when you are 11, and 4,538 miles from home, and you’ve been tummy-rumbling in volcanic proportions for a good 36 hours, you really truly desperately deeply through-and-through want one of two things: a.) to catch the next plane home, or b.) to have your mama sky-dive from the clouds.

thus, you do what any thinking person would do: you pick up the phone, and dial in your request.

and your mother, on the far side of the globe, hearing the whimper in your voice, imagining just how wretched it must feel to have wretched straight across the ocean, she kicks into high mama gear: she drops to her knees, points eyes heavenward, and unfurls the litanies of prayer reserved for just such moments.

she smacks herself upside the head for letting such a little guy go in the first place. she calls on angels, saints, random trumpet players, anyone and anything who might come charging to the rescue, to barrel up the hill and storm the ramparts.

she tries everything she can humanly think of. she pounds out “this i believe” treatises, reminding the little fellow just how brave he is, and just how valiantly he has conquered a host of uphill battles: the sleepover on wrigley field, the two-week summer camp in the deep dark mosquito-infested woods of michigan, the whole dang city of cambridge, massachusetts. heck, he even weathered a whomping case of scarlet fever and pneumonia when he was just a wee young thing.

the boy can do it.

he is, i often remind him, the egg that wouldn’t take no for an answer. while all the other eggs could not make it out of the roundhouse and chug up the mountain, that little guy was the one egg who made the climb, who was born in a shaft of pure white light at 3:22 one hot august morning, to a mother who defied logic and medical tomes, clocking into the maternity ward at 44 years, eight months and five days old.

on the off-chance that my sweet boy is tucked under the puffy covers in munster, reading these words from glowing screen, i have five words and a comma for you: you can do it, sweetie.

i love you higher than the moon and wider than the oceans. you have angels, saints, mamas, papas, grandmas and grandpas, uncles, aunts and a big brother all pulling for you. we’ll make sure you are pumped up with dramamine for the swift ride home. and we’ll be waiting at the airport with double-time hearts and wide-open arms. we’ll pull you to our thumping hearts, and keep you home all summer. we’ll even ply you with fresh-squeezed lemonade and oatmeal-raisin cookies. we’ll let you stay up late and sleep till lunchtime, if that’s the way you like it. we’ll whip up a welcome home parade, and make you grand marshal and chief potentate. i won’t even make you pluck your dirty socks off the floor. (not for the first hour, anyway….)

you will have triumphed over the latest in your long litany of championship makers. you are some boy, you glorious sweet soul, you who always says, “yes! i want to see the world!”

it’s right before your eyes. take it in, sweetheart. then hurry home. so we can all chase chipmunks hither and yon and all around the garden, one big happy reunited family. home sweet home, at last. oh, sweet lord, at last.

so that’s the news from the homecoming committee. shoulda known that you can’t go away for 10 long months and not expect a bump or grind upon return. 

question of the week: what words of wisdom would you impart to a wee lad far from home, and weathering a whopper case of travel bugs…..

“will he make it home?”

will he make it home

dispatch from 02139 (in which the furriest member of our traveling troupe seems to be fading before our eyes, and we all wonder — silently — if we can please, please get him home to the garden he believes is his own personal stalking ground…)

from the start, there was one condition to the then-fifth-grader’s willingness to up and plant himself anew in the cobbled city by the river charles: “i’m not going without turkey baby. either turkey baby comes or i don’t. period, the end,” the adamant one declared.

and so it was.

(turkey baby, for the uninitiated, is our long-beloved cat; TB, short for the breathlessly hyphenated moniker: turkey-baby-meow-meow-choo-choo-hi-cat-bye-cat-space-ship-baseball-hockey cat, a name acquired by an imaginative young lad’s stringing together of his serial obsessions. that lad, now a college kid, long ago — when he was four and the cat was but six weeks — carried home the mewing ball of black-and-gray striped fur in the cardboard hollows of an otherwise vacated six-pack of icehouse beer. so begin legends, right?)

back to cat tale:

yes, on that pre-cambridgian day when cat allegiance was proclaimed and etched in promise, so ended any scattered thoughts of whom we might appoint custodian of cat whilst we ditched east to 02139. no foster dwellings for Le Fat Cat.

he was stickin’ with his People.

alas, unbeknownst to the four-pawed fellow, he was — for 11 months — leaving behind his leafy life along lake michigan, trading it for what would amount to third-floor incarceration, with nary a skittering critter to pounce, and no patch of grass in which to writhe ecstatic.

wasting little time, we began to explore the myriad modes of transport. or rather, I — being the sole coordinator of these nitty grits of daily life — began exploring how to shlep fat cat 1,000 miles from where he’d   long and blissfully roamed.

transport, mind you, is a daunting thing for a cat who’d not do well with sitting tight (say, confined to the airline regulation 18-by-11-inch satchel), a cat who had not spent a single day of his existence bound beneath a roof.

our fat ol’ cat, you see, was the original ramblin’ man. from farm fields he did come, and unto farm fields he would forever roam (admittedly, our cat has vivid imagination and must have imagined hydrangea bush to be his rows of corn, prickly rambling rose to be his blackberry brambles, etcetera, etcetera…i wonder if he imagined me his scarecrow?).

didn’t take more than a minute to rule out packing ol’ TB in the back of the little black sedan for two days, interrupted — somewhere deep in pennsylvania — for one mere night’s respite, with unbound motel acreage.

so it fell to me, thank you, to swoop him through o’hare international airport, no longer the world’s busiest, perhaps, but busy enough for me, honestly, when weaving through its landscape with my not-so-cheery cat. (remind me to retell some day how he nearly leapt from my arms in Terminal 1 when the nice TSA fellow musta figured it’d be funny to have me unzip the unsuspecting traveler’s little travel bag and mr. cat clambered, trembling, into the crook of my arm before spying — and nearly ejecting onto — his escape route.)

stuffed under the airplane seat in front of me, in a jazzy little black zipper bag profoundly doused in oil of lavender (prescribed for calming powers — for me? for him? what really does it matter?), there he mewed, until the mews turned into MEOOOOOWs that, if not for the deafening decibels of airbus turbines, might have prompted the vast population of flight 1477 to turn and clobber me for disturbing their celestial peace. (and never mind the eyerolls from the chick two seats away on the aisle, the chick with low-rider jeans that rode so low my once-innocent fifth-grader quickly grasped all there is to know about the rise and fall of the female derriere.)

suffice it to say, as i’ve said here before, that the short flight from chicago to boston was a messy one, one that i sported billboard-like across my chest as i de-boarded said plane. and let me add that it’ll be a cold day in hades before i ever again skitter onto a plane with scaredy cat in tow (snazzy black cat sack or not).

for all the troubles getting here, though, there’ve been umpteen-million times when that ol’ cat did just what the doctor ordered: in his own furry way, he made the young boy feel like his whole world had not turned tipsy topsy.

that fine old cat curls on the boy’s bottom bunk by the hour. snuggles beside the kid as they both soak up the $159-a-month cable-sports package. rubs his little head against our shins when it’s vittles time again, and always seems to thank us when we oblige.

but, slowly, and incessantly, signs of trouble cropped up here and there. most often in the deep dark of night, with a howl to wake the block. i’ve come to know the guttural bellow as the uh-oh-move-now-or-else-you’ll-spend-the-wee-hours-scrubbing-the-landlord’s-rug meow.

i’ll spare you details other than to mention that, these days, we could probably count the poor guy’s ribs, and any minute now we’re heading to a vet on the far side of the city, just to figure out what lurks within.

the other night, stroking not-so-fat cat’s stripes, the boy who loves his cat, the boy who’s known the cat — called him “my little brother” — his entire living breathing days (the cat’s been around going on 16 years, the sixth grader, a mere 11), looked up and put words to what i’d been wondering of late:

“will he make it home?” he wanted to know.

and so do i.

the sadness of that question hung in the air, unanswered but a minute before i bumbled into some half-wit band-aid of, “oh, i think so….”

i sure hope so.

i can’t quite figure out how we’d do it any other way. i could not leave that cat, not in any form, here where we won’t be for too much longer. i can only imagine him forever residing in our garden. even if that means, yes, a few feet down.

why, back home, we’ve a whole cemetery for the critters we have known and loved, if only for a few days or even a few hours, in the case of one rather mangled baby bunny we tried to rescue. (p.s. to wordsmiths, i know that’s redundant but i am making the point that the wee bunny was maybe three inches long, new of fur, and new to the world at the moment when we found him, panting, breathing, barely holding on to life. but we nursed him still on that tried-and-true formula of pipettes of carnation condensed milk from the little red-and-white can that all but promises curative powers.)

i’m sure most minds wouldn’t leap to the task of trying to figure out such things, but i’ve been strapped with the sort of brain that never sits still in the moment, and always leaps round the bend and four mountain climbs ahead. and so i think too many things, untangle knots before they’re noosed.

we’ll see what light the vet can shed. and believe me, it’s a might load of worry that gets me to dial up a slew of strangers, searching for a D.V.M. with appointment slot and inclination to take on a sad new case. for the first time since that messy flight back in august, i will stuff mr. TB cat back into snazzy bag, head out into the howling winds (for spring has temporarily ditched these parts and we’re back to winter once again), and await the diagnosis.

could just be old age, in which case i’ll hedge my bets and wager that i’ll get the old cat back to the haunting ground he knows and surely searches for in his purr-stoked dreams.

or else it’ll be something more nettlesome, and hard to cure.

these are the sad truths of making room in your traveling troupe for furry, purring heartmates. we would not leave home without our trusty cat, and by hook or by crook, we’ll not go back without him.

there is only one true answer to my sweet boy’s question: you betcha, he’ll make it home.

has there been a long loved furry (or hard-shelled) friend you count among your dearest inner circle? has he or she or it (for hermaphrodite worms might be your choice in pet) stuck with you for the long haul, and could you imagine your days without the fine one’s ways? 

calming potions and the art of leave-taking

at first, we were passing the bottle equitably. one by one, we each took a whiff. but then, oddly, inexplicably, i became the one, more than anyone, whose nose most regularly passed above the open vial.

it went something like this: inhale, deep breathe, and then as they say each year at the squeeze-me mammogram, “hold it! hold it!” now, resume the tasks of leaving.

we have a veritable pharmacopeia of soothers on the kitchen counter these days. we’ve catnip for a little charge. we have pheromones of cat elixir. and we have stress relief and, best of all, lavender oil for calming. says so right there on the label.

never mind that all these potions and concoctions were prescribed for the little kitty, the one who any day now will be tucked into his handy-dandy over-the-shoulder (mine, not his) travel bag, and marched straight into the belly of a boston-bound aeroplane, where he’ll cower under the seat, and i’ll do my darnedest to dodge the withering glances and full-on glares of all my cabin mates.

while the little fellow yowls and makes me long for the days when all i had on my lap was a screaming babe (who could be quieted at the mere suggestion of a nipple), i am told to dab dab dab the oil of lavender onto a cotton ball, and waft it just beneath his kitty nose. all the while taking spins past my own personal intake valve, where i too shall inhale mightily of the calming essence.

whatever it takes to hurdle me over this grand departure.

i promise you i did not set out to steal my kitty’s ticket to la-la land. it’s just that, well, we took one whiff and all at once everyone in the house realized ol’ mama might be the one who could profit most fruitfully from the stuff. even if the calm comes at intervals no longer than the dot-dot-dash of samuel morse’s code, it’s a calm that might not be present otherwise.

not that i’m a bag of jittery ol’ nerves or anything. not that i wake up 85 times a night, thinking of this, that and the other thing that must get done before the wagon train rolls east.

no, not at all.

“liar, liar pants on fire,” i can hear you singing now.

why, yes, i’ll admit, you’re onto something here. fact is, i have never ever, not in all my life, been so good at the fine art of leaving.

i trace it back to when i was five. every single sunday night for the better part of a year, my beloved papa shlepped his suitcase to the little turquoise ford falcon tucked in the garage. he slid behind the steering wheel, and waved b-bye! i sat wilted on the concrete step there in the garage, and cried and cried. he’d be gone till friday night. and when you are five, friday from sunday is a world and a half away, might as well be up to mars and back.

i never did get used to the belly ache of watching him pull down the drive, turn and disappear, the red tail lights my last trace of a papa i could not keep.

and ever since, goodbyes are my own personal castor oil. a bitter taste that must be swallowed, might even be good for you, but, oh, do i have to really?

so comes a long weekend of last goodbyes. goodbye to this old house i love so deeply, achingly. goodbye to the garden that blooms for me, delights me season after season. goodbye to the mama i hate to leave, even though it will only be for one short fine year. goodbye to lanes and trees that harbor me, anchor me, keep me feeling safe, secure, certain of my place on the map.

oh, i know i’ll tumble headfirst into this adventure up ahead. i’ve friends already, from the lovely woman who’s renting us a mere slip of parking space on her driveway, to the extraordinary fellow whose third-floor aerie will be our home away from home.

why, i imagine all of cambridge will hold me and enchant me, will peel back undiscovered nooks and crannies deep inside my soul.

i’ve no doubt that what lies ahead will be nectar from the gods.

but before i get there, i need to leave. and leaving wrenches me, rips me wide open, and stings mightily.

which is why it’s a fine thing this ol’ cat is tagging along. while i pretend to be soothing him at 30,000 feet above the finger lakes and all of pennsylvania, it’ll be me who’s taking all the whiffs of all the potions in the kitty bag.

catnip, anyone? or perhaps a lavender cocktail, served up with soggy cotton ball.

so it goes, chair friends. this i do believe is the last missive from here at the old table, at least for the next 11 months. we’re moving east for the year, and you’re coming along. soon, a big ol’ doberman hound will move into this ol’ house with a dear friend and her battalion of safe-keepers. they’ll rule this roost, love it, stoke it, make sure no leaks threaten to take it down. and turkey baby, the cat, takes a 1,000-mile journey along with the rest of my little clan, where for the next school year, we’ll turn pages, take notes, and get another crack at being college kids. 

one question before i shove off: anyone else find leaving hard to do? or do you leap at the uncharted adventures of whatever lies ahead, knowing full well all will be well upon return? 

page 1: creatures stir, and that’s just the start

so, yes, we bid our farewells, we wiped away tears, and we slid out of bed that first monday morn. it was a whole new page, a whole new chapter, and we made the mistake of yanking open the old soap drawer.

all we’d intended to do was tuck away a brand new bar that had arrived over the weekend.

but then, what to our wondering eyes should appear, but the sight of deeply nibbled soap bars. bars of lavender. bars of rosemary. bars upon bars, nibbled and GONE!

why, there was nothing left behind but some newfangled confetti, the sort one scatters at a parade. or perhaps, when one exits a newsroom only to face an anxious typewriter.

as often happens when these sorts of mysteries plop down onto the paths of our lives, it took a minute or two to catch onto the drift.

ah, but we scanned the scene before us. we noticed the telltale deliverance of a mouse on the run. or, make that some sort of rodent — we were placing no bets on the particular species.

in fact, once we noticed the chewed-through metal tube of rear-end-repair ointment, we started to wonder if maybe a long-tailed sewer-slithering r-a-t had moved into this leafy old town where lawns are mowed, manicured and tied up in ribbons.

sniffing the hot trail of trouble, we opened drawers no. 2, 3 and — for good measure — 4.

and what to our wondering eyes appeared there, there, and there?

you got it: a bumper harvest of some-sort-of-rodent droppings.

yippee! this valiant new chapter opened not with a whimper, and not with a bang, but with the sound of drawers being swiftly and certainly dumped of their half-eaten goods.

egad.

it took the better part of two hours to clear the decks, haul out the vacuum and make like a madwoman charging the enemy.

all those lovely soaps carefully tucked into suitcases over the years, hauled-home memories of some faraway place’s luxury bathrooms? gone.

all those well-intended gifts, from folks who figured a bar of herby soap was just the thing to soothe my oft-jangled self? KAPUT!

more than likely, the better part of two decades of toiletries, tossed into the monday-morning garbage pickup, flung from the house with emphatic abandon.

and then it was onto the rest of the week, the rest of the all-new adventures in sentence making, as one of my brothers so perfectly put it.

but then, something happened. lights started to flicker near the computer. then lights went out. blank. zero. zippo. for three days and three nights, our new best friends were the gaggle of folks who stand by to help in mumbai and hyderabad, and even one fellow in san francisco whose english i could make out without repeating every other syllable.

by the time i fired up the new router, that fine black box that sends signals (or maybe it’s morse code) to this here keyboard and far into the vapors, it was time for the seeds of a high-raging fever to plant themselves deep in the chest of my littlest angel, the one who hasn’t slept now for two long nights, which means, neither have i.

and so goes the prologue to whatever comes next.

and herein are the lessons:

1.) don’t think mice stick to the cheese drawer.

2.) don’t be afraid to unplug and re-plug 1,000 cables, whatever it takes on the long tangled road to internet connection.

and, finally, 3.) never underestimate the power of a cool wet washcloth applied to the head of a burning-up child. you might hear a sizzle when 103-degree skin meets squeezed-out rag, but press on anyway.

eventually, the mice will move on, the computer will glow, and the fever will crumble into last week’s news.
so much for adventures in big-league journalism.

and how was your week, dear friends? and by the way, late but insistently, happy day of ever-pumping hearts. xoxo

when the cat comes limping home

our sweet old cat is a wounded soldier. one who all week has needed me to be his nursemaid, his nanny, and his doting ambulator.

the old fella has had many a page-turner in his time.

the spell, long ago, when he was holed up in the down-the-alley gang-bangers’ drug-dealin’ den, and, in search of him, i tiptoed through the pitch-black cellar with the dealer himself, who lit my way with his bic-flick lighter. (it wasn’t till i’d safely rescued the rascal that i realized i’d been alone in a dark place with a dude with a penchant for trouble, although during my time with him he was a downright gentleman; i baked him brownies, dropped them on his doorstep later that day.)

or the time that ol’ cat took a stroll out the third-story skylight and lived to tell about it, after a rather bumpy ride down to the sidewalk.

he’s been caught and wedged and upside down aplenty. he’s come home with a nip to the ear, and minus a few tufts of fur.

but, until last week, he’d never come home limping.

and he’d never ever needed me so very much.

i fell swiftly into the role of nursemaid; after all, far as he’s concerned, i am his not-so-furry mama.

once i realized he couldn’t even step down from his padded orvis bed, why i concocted a pillow staircase, one that led gently up or down, depending on where he was headed.

soon, he was headed nowhere. just lay there curled up like the cutest old cat that ever there was.

i bought him cream. opened cans of albacore tuna. he lapped up that cream like any kitten would. he turned up his nose at the tuna.

and that’s when we knew we were sinking deep into trouble.

all week i carried him wherever i deduced he wanted to be: the litter box, the outside bird bath where he insists on drinking (i know, it’s gross to think about, and i pour him fresh pure water twice a day, swirl it around the shiny silver dish, but he refuses. apparently he likes his water murky. and so it is. i try not to think about it).

i ferried him up and down the stairs to all of his favorite curled-up places, the rug by the bathtub, the blanket on the window seat, the old chair by the furnace down in the basement.

i was quickly becoming a cat whisperer.

at last, the vet, whom i’d been talking to every coupla days, thought it was time for a look-see. i got up at the crack of dawn, drove darn near to the edge of creation.

but the vet, you see, is an old, old friend. a wonderful fellow. one you’d drive to see, too, if you had a cat with a limp, and no clue what might have happened out there in the jungle that is our leafy backyard.

seems the old tabby got a few nips to the shoulder. nothing huge. but enough little bite marks to make it all swollen and quite a bit sore. (now if that cat could talk, and i sure was wishing he could these past few days, he might tell you and me that “sore” didn’t begin to tell the story, more like the biggest pain in the arm he’d ever imagined.)

old guy had a fever, too. which accounted for all of that snoozing and the two pounds he’s lost in the course of a week.

he’s on the mend, we now hope. though i still get to play nursemaid, for as long as he needs me.

i’ve been told to put warm moist packs to his sore little shoulder, at least twice a day. and that’s where the hot water bottle comes in. just like a baby whose tummy is achy, our sweet little cat is purring under the spell of the oldest trick in the doctor bag.

it’s an uncanny thing how deeply we fall for the sweet little critters who call our haunts home. one night i barely slept a wink, so worried was i ’bout the cat curled up beside me. i kept peeking to make sure i detected some sort of twitch and knew he was still among us, alive.

two days i stayed home from the office, worked here in the typing room, just in case he needed me. just in case.
we humans, i hope, employ our hearts rambunctiously. pay heed to the call to tend to all creatures great and small.
that ol’ cat has given us chapters and verse, whole yarns of adventure and mirth. we owe it to him, to the universe, to give it all back, whatever he needs.

if only these seeds of pure love and devotion would catch and grow into a world-wide bumper crop….

if only….

in the meantime, i’ve a new jug of cream in the fridge, and a whole stack of tuna tins there on the shelf.

whatever that ol’ cat desires, we’re here to attend to his every last whim. so long as he sticks around, and gives us reason to purr.

i happen to know for a fact that we’ve got some of the most dedicated creature keepers here at the table. i bump into one nearly each week at the farmers’ market, weighed down with her bushels of leafy greens. she has hardshells aplenty, some who are nearly 100 years old (and i am not kidding). the stories she tells about her deeply devoted ways nearly always have me in tears. maybe she’ll share a few here. you’ll be inspired. i promise. and anyone else with a story to tell about a sweet creature you love, and nursed back to vim and vigor, we’re listening…..

mr. mousey’s snow picnic

of all the mounds and miles of snow, of all the ice rivers and hurling winds, of all the times i thought my front door might blow wide open, off the hinge and dangling in a tunnel of arctic gusts, of all the jaw-dropping majesty that whirled and swept and fell and blew, the moment that caught me most stilled this blizzard-piled week, most falling-to-my-knees, was when i discovered the fat gray lump in the snow mound just outside the kitchen door.

it was not at all what i’d expected when i first eyed it from across the room, what i’d thought i’d seen a hundred times before. no, it was not a junco, one of those gray-topped snow birds with the pure-white waistcoat, the darlings who romp in the snow as if dressed for a mid-winter ball.

no, what it was was something i’d never before been invited to watch from a front-row bleacher seat, to share a long winter’s afternoon, enchanted.

it was a fat little mouse, soon addressed by the surname mousey, as in mr. mousey, with the biggest roundest ears i ever knew a mouse could have, and the busiest itty-bitty teeth as he chewed and chewed through the cornmeal mush i’d tossed out for whomever was hungry after the storm. er, blizzard. make that, blizzard-of-the-decade.

for the better part of an afternoon, i watched the little fellow, watched him up close like he had walked into my unwitting science experiment: mouse tunnels 101.

why, that hungry boy, he’d dug gazillions of labyrinths in and through and under the snow. what i’d mistaken for a hole put there by a falling clump of ice, was in fact mr. mousey’s grandest opening, the launch to all his under-snow festivities.

he showed me how it worked: he’d nibble a while, and then when his belly was full, or perhaps digesting an especially granular cornmeal chunk, he’d take to the entertainment part of the show, and wiggle his little self up and down and sideways through all of his underground pathways, punctuating every passage with the POP! of his sweet little head (and ears) out through the peek hole. why, he showed me just how industrious he’d been since the snows started falling–or perhaps once they’d stopped.

there must be a good half dozen crisses and crosses in that undersnow highway of his. and every last one leads back to the prize: the wide swath of cornmeal i tossed to the winds.

and somehow, despite the fact that the backyard was aswirl with all of my flocks, despite the fact that i’d stood there among them one cold afternoon, shortly after pouring a bucket of seed, and felt the flap of their wings, so close to my head did they swoop and chatter and make like noisy carousers at a mid-winter’s feast, it was one wee mouse who most captured my heart.

i’ve not seen a mouse in such close action, not outside of a cage. oh, i’ve seen swishes of tails now and then, heard the scampering of little mouse feets, but a mouse out in daylight, a mouse undeterred by the gaze of a curly-haired person, a mouse willing to show off his tunnels, why that was a mouse who got me to thinking.

it was as if the blessed cloak of nature—sacred wrap that it is, stitched with spools of mystery and wonder–had been pulled back, amid the extremes of snow and cold, and allowed me a rare peek inside, into all the ways the little critters stay alive, fend for themselves, ingeniously employ the snow to their advantage. and rely, on occasion, on the whims of souls who consider it among their holiest duties to scatter seed and oats and grains, and plumped-up dried fruits when cupboards allow, to nudge them along through the cold hard winter.

it’s a holy equation indeed, a sublime one. for the cost of a few cups of seed, of cornmeal, of suet cut from the beast, we offer feed to the flocks, the winged ones, the long-tailed-big-eared, the soft and the fluffy. and they, in return, throw caution to the wind, they seek out sustenance even if it means baring their ways to the humans.

one wee mouse, now claimed by my little one as his very own mascot and pet (and thus the name), brought me to my knees yesterday, and i watch for him again this morning.

he reminds me, without words, how very much we are all a tethered web. and how we need each other, mouse or bird or human, to weather all the storms that blow and hurl through the thick of our lives.

what little miracles did you witness this week?
and, out into the vast whiteness, i send the deepest birthday wishes to my brother who will always be my little one, the one whose birth felt so much like a dream come true. a miracle every soul should get a chance to brush up against. and lucky me, i did……

starting the goodbye

that old cat, a country cat, has been a feisty cat since the day he sprang forth from the icehouse beer cardboard six-pack in which he’d mewed the whole way home.

he was a kitten then, a wee striped thing, and he’d come to fill a gaping hole in our little family.

you see, we’d had our hearts broken time and time again back in the baby-hoping years, wishing and praying for a someone to carry home someday for our little one, who’d turned from 1 to 2 to 3 to 4, and still was all alone, without a someone to share a room, to fight over books in the back seat, to venture off into our tiny back yard and spend the afternoon making like it was the amazon jungle, or the dark side of the moon. or, heck, looking down the road (and that’s what mamas do), there was no one yet whose hand he’d hold on the someday when i die.

fact was, there’s only so much breaking a heart can do, and then it’s time to wipe away the tears, make peace with what you’ve got rather than long for what you’ve not, and, well, when talking to a friend, a friend with many cats, and more on the way, you nod and murmur, “hmm, maybe…..”

and then you rejoice at the news that your kitten has been born. you wait six weeks, and when the father of your four-year-old is out of the country, for heaven’s sake, you drive out to the farm to meet the furry little fellow.

and, oh, you feel your heart go thwallop. and you see your little boy melt down onto the floor to meet what will pass for, um, a brother.

and you tuck the little ball of stripes into the nearest carry-all you can find, in this case the cardboard six-pack left from someone’s weekend beers.

and home you drive.

and out you let those stripes.

and he hightails it straight for your toes.

so many toes he charges for, he nibbles, he pierces with his razor kitten teeth, you hear these actual words come from the mouth of the father of your child, once he’s back from faraway country: “either he goes, or i go,” you hear him say. (and deep inside you snicker because you know forever more you’ve got one fine yarn to tell.)

and of course neither the ferocious toe-smitten kitten nor your mate heads for any door.

and you grow to love said cat. you catch your little one curled up with him, stroking him, making houses for him, trying to coax him into his kindergarten backpack.

you screech when said kitten leaps from tree limbs onto rooftops and when, uh oh, he can’t get down. and you hold your breath as the one who issued he-goes-or-i-go declaration hauls out the ladder and climbs precariously to the little rascal’s rescue. again and again and again.

and you walk through city alleys, crying, calling his name, every time he goes and gets lost for days on end, stuck in tight spots and dark cellars where, egad, drugs are sold. (you discover the latter after you’ve tiptoed through the labyrinthine basement blackness with the helpful chap who gangbangs on the side.)

oh, lord, that cat puts you through the wringer. and you love him more with every cock-eyed hair-raising chapter.
and then, some 13 years pass, and the cat you never could contain, the cat that roams all night, and leaves body parts on your doorstep, he slows down one summer. loses weight. is hardly his feisty self.

you fear he’s slurped too many murky waters from the birdbath, darn it. or perhaps he swallowed one too many critters from the tall-grass jungle.

and the boy who once carried him home, who stroked him, and cooed to him the whole long way, the boy who loved to tell the story of his name, how he came to be turkey baby choo-choo hi cat bye cat, the boy whose legs are now so long they spill beyond the borders of the bed (though the cat finds room to curl there, each and every morning), he is the first one to crumble when you point out the cat’s all bony just beneath his fur.

when you point out how he barely leaves the hollowed-out spot beneath the old roses in the garden, where he now spends hours napping. or is it that he’s feeling rather ill, and just can’t muster what it takes to up and stumble toward the house?

all at once, you all realize how time has passed and this chapter might be coming toward a close. how this cat that carried you from all alone and four to seventeen and very much a real-live brother has shared some fine adventures, stories to be told forevermore. and how, along the way, you’ve come to count on that rare breed of loyalty a boy and cat can surely share.

and you realize that even if it’s not the very end, the goodbyes begin in measured spoonfuls.

and so for a whole hour one summer morning, you sit on bricks, beside the spot where he’s gone limp, you stroke your blessed furry cat, you honor him with gratitude that’s deep, will last forever. you whisper words to him, tell him he was mighty in his glory days, showed what cats are made of, hauling home whole herds of chipmunk parts, and mice tails too, fierce hunter.

you consider the gentle side of that ol’ cat, how he climbed upon you in the morn, pushed his paws into your chest, as if kneading breadloaves, one paw after another, sure sign of cat love.

you think back on all the times when that cat, he leapt to your rescue. how when you were sick or sad, he always had a knack for climbing in your lap, for licking you with that scratchy sand-paper tongue of his. uncanny, how the cats smell hurt rising from the ones they love.

and with a cat–or any creature, after all, maybe even with a caterpillar if you name it, feed it, let it out for so-called walks (though more likely bends-and-stretches)–love’s a two-way street.

and, oh, what with college round the bend, and all this slo-mo cat decline, it seems we’ve come to the part of the story where the grace-filled parting starts unspooling.

where we gather up all the hours and the days of our entwined lives, where we sift through the parts that make us laugh out loud, and the ones where we held our breath and begged the heavens for his safe return.

love is like that towards the end. if you’re blessed to see it coming. if you’re given long slow mornings where you have a chance to look into each other’s eyes and hearts, say thank you for the bond that will not break, the bond that got us through a dark place, the pawing at the door so many times, when in on cat feet crept the next best thing to a little brother, one who never fought for books, but did play along in the amazon jungle.

that old cat is moving slow now. and we are mustering the start of our holy blessed vespers, the sacred rites of thank you and thank you before the last goodbye.

not always do we get the chance to tell the stories one more time, to whisper thank you and good bye. i know too well how suddenly sometimes death can come, and we’re left gasping. without goodbye. i know too that cat or dog or bird love is real. and its loss leaves a gaping wound. hopefully that old cat has a few romps left. he’s the cat my boys grew up with, he’s the cat who’s made us laugh and cry. and one thing’s certain, there’ll be more of both. have you been blessed to whisper long goodbyes? or were you too cut short?