Friday, January 5, 2007

I’ve Never Been a Cat Lover

Needless to say my experience with cats while growing up in my grandmother’s house was generally not a good one. They were outside cats for the most part, doing their thing catching mice in and around the barn, outside cellar and finding their way into the house more often than not. I don’t think they had a name and believe there were two (or it may have been the neighbor's cat who got ours impregnated), but nonetheless, I do recall one in particular.

She was a grey and black striped tabby cat with a touch of brown and a white underbelly, a mixed-breed of sorts. Besides catching mice and a few birds on occasion, another claim to fame was her irritating habit of being under foot and winding through and around each of my legs and crying while I tried to work in the kitchen. Any attempt to walk could definitely lead to a stumble.

My grandmother had an old overstuffed burgundy mohair sofa and chair in the living room, 1920’s furniture with carved wooden trim. . . charming pieces. She did not own a sweeper (vacuum), so when we were to clean the living room it was all done by hand and that included using a slightly damp lint free cloth to wipe the dust from the mohair surface of each of the cushions, arms, and back. It seemed to take forever to complete that process, but once it was done, what a fine sense of accomplishment for a young person to show her mother.

OH NO! As I re-entered the living room, there she was, that big fur ball curled up on one of the cushions and leaning into the side and back of the sofa that I had just - what seemed like hours - cleaned! She was seldom on the sofa, but invariably always following a cleaning.

And Now There Is the Neighbor’s Cat

When we purchased our current home over 13 years ago, my husband said, “No pool, no grass, and no animals”, as we had had our fill of that. Our children were grown and on there own, and at this point in our lives we wanted to be less encumbered.

The location, privacy and magnificent views are what attracted us to the property. The house had been custom built some 10 years prior and was in need of some updating. There was little or no landscaping, but we knew we could make the house what we wanted (that was cosmetic), but the likelihood of finding a similar property was unlikely. Our immediate focus was on the interior and exterior of the house and with that out of the way, began outside projects, and THAT is an entirely different story for another time.

It did not take us long to meet our neighbors and occasionally spend time with them. We would generally invite them up to have a glass of wine, walk in the garden, and then have dinner. One evening we had a couple from the adjoining property arrive, and as they walked up the driveway we saw a rather large strapping black and white creature along side, and to that we paid little interest. As I think of it now, the animal didn’t pay much attention to us either.

The four of us took our ritualistic stroll in the garden, glass of wine in hand, and talked about a variety of things, including the collection of plants and the house, and thoroughly enjoyed one anothers company. We returned to the front of the house and sat at the table by the pond, had hors d’oeuvres and continued our conversation.

As we sat I noticed the cat walking around us, keeping a fair distance, encircling, as though he was scoping us out. One of the neighbors (I’ll call him Julio) sitting to my right, said “This is Figaro”, as he pointed to the cat. “He came out of the woods as a kitten and has been with us ever since. You can call him Figgie. Here, give him a piece of cheese.”

Immediately I was obedient. (pause) Did I not know that once you feed an animal, they are your friend for life? Where was my brain?

Years have come and gone and Figgie thinks he lives and rules at our home. He chases any other cat who attempts to come inside our fenced property. We cannot walk in the garden without having to stop and pet him numerous times. He anticipates where we will walk next, runs ahead and jumps upon a table or a bench and stretches out his long body as if to say, “You can’t pass me by without touching me.” If I am at the other end of the house working in my studio, he will come to the storm door and either bang on the window or climb the tri-colored beech and look in at me as I work at my computer. When we are working in the garden and all is quiet except for the chirping of the birds, from the distance comes a soft “rrrow”, to which I obediently return the cry “rrrow”, and he runs right over to lean against me as I try to weed the garden. At times he has more of a dog’s behavior. He runs along side of me if I’m in a hurry, and when we don’t pay enough attention to him, he slowly traverses in front of us. My husband, who also has never liked cats, buys the cat food (and not at my direction), and each morning when we awake and go to the kitchen for coffee, Figgie hears us stirring, is already on top of the grill outside the kitchen window, staring at us as soon as we approach, and he does his normal, “rrrow”. My husband immediately opens the garage door and feeds him. Then I get my coffee.

So prior to leaving on vacation, we walk him back to his "other" home. My husband tells me ‘Figgie can find his way home’, but I must admit having become a little silly about this cat. This last time we had to carry him because he wouldn’t follow us. When we returned last week we didn’t see Figgie, but this morning, there he was, on the grill, just like we never left.

My husband brought a bag of cat food home today, and I told him, “Well, I don’t want to rush out and feed him every morning”, to which he laughed and loudly replied, “… not unless you want to look at him staring at you!” And we laughed out loud! What is it they say? Dogs have masters, but cats have staff.

No, I’ve never been a cat lover.