Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Puff, Malek, and Etcetera

~~The title says it all--at least to someone who knows about my first three cats. I received permission to get a cat when I was eight. I never looked back and thought about what that really meant until much later. What I received was permission to love a being outside of myself on the level I could understand at the time. It was my duty and privilege to care for my cats. No one else would except my mother. My daddy and siblings were dog people. I think all children need this responsibility to learn how to give love, but they also have to have been taught that little animals deserve our best love. They are not toys nor are they ways to express rage. Unfortunately, many never learn this basic truth.
~~My first cat was Puff, a large tuxedo tom in the classic markings. His white, dipped-in-cream feet and white chest were perfect. But why would a tom cat be named such a frilly name? I didn't remember for years until someone reminded me that our first Dick and Jane readers had more than one pet. The cat's name was Puff. That tells me more about myself than the cat. ; ) I loved to read and my cat bore the name with dignity. We lost him to a mouse or rat that had been poisoned with strychnine. I didn't immediately add another cat. Daddy didn't let me. But another cat thought differently about the situation.
~~When a full-grown, plush-coated tom took up with us, I fed him. His smoky gray fur was soft and thick. Pale green eyes watched everything carefully. He had survived without help and he didn't relinquish control of his life. He came and went as he wished and lived with me for several years. I named him Malek after a wolf-human hybrid character in an Andre Norton book. As you can see, I was still reading. Malek was a comfort and a hunter. His skill at catching squirrels from what looked like a deep sleep never ceased to amaze me. He wandered off one day and didn't return, always the independent operator who allowed me to share his life for a while.
~~When I reached ninth grade, my piano teacher raised Siamese cats. She had several and offered to give me a tom from a litter of chocolate points. Daddy agreed and that is why my last cat before graduating from high school and college was named Etcetera. My sister Thea suggested it because the king of Siam always loved saying "et cetera, et cetera" in the "The King and I". And it fit. The long, sleek, sophisticated cat clearly knew he was special. Daddy even allowed him to live inside for a few years. In that time, I became very accomplished at meowing in Siamese. It has a distinctive sound all its own. Etcetera was my confidant when teen-aged angst hit and even took revenge for me when my siblings teased me too much. Have you ever had a large cat pounce into the back of your knees and make you nearly fall? That might be why Daddy decided that in the house was just too close for comfort. Etcetera had a room in the garage with the freezer to keep him warm in the winter. He continued to be my listener as I grew up.
~~All these cats hold special places in my life. That might be why, when John and I moved to a place that would allow us to have pets after three years of marriage, our next cat was home within a week of our move. I'll tell you about Darkness next time. ; )