The recent untimely death of our beloved cat Sophie sent me on a trip down memory lane as I recalled the various cats that have been part of my life. For almost as long as I can remember, I’ve loved cats. On the mission stations in Zimbabwe and Zambia, there were always cats running around. Sometimes they were treated as family pets, and other times they were just part of the scenery or made themselves useful as mouse-hunters. One assignment when I was in primary school was to write an essay titled either “I Love Cats” or “I Hate Cats.” Can you guess which title I chose?! My dad, also a cat-lover, who was not one to dish out praise gratuitously, complimented me on my essay. I’ve never forgotten his praise!
I don’t remember the cats featured in these two photos. I was probably about 4-5 years old, and clearly infatuated with these kitties who had free run of Wanezi Mission (Zimbabwe) and showed up at our house for food – and perhaps for the brand of tender-loving care that 4-5 year-olds could give. One specific cat-related story I do remember from Wanezi (from accounts my parents shared) involves another missionary kid, Janet Musser (Kipe). During a missionary gathering in her parents’ house, she couldn’t find her kitten. One missionary auntie, of somewhat sizable girth, kept “meowing” until Janet was convinced the auntie was sitting on the poor kitten.
Some years later, when we were living at Sikalongo Mission in Zambia, my dad brought two kitten siblings from Macha Mission. I named them Ginger (orange) and Tabby (grey striped). When they arrived, they were “wild,” and we kept them in a chicken-coop-style cage in an out-building. Multiple times each day I would go to the cage and talk to them soothingly until gradually they allowed me to pet them and hold them. Even though they were outdoor cats, I took them in the house to play with them. To their great chagrin and kitty embarrassment, I’m sure, I would dress them up in doll clothes. One time, one of them got away from me while clothed in a doll dress and bonnet. He ran out into a nearby cornfield. I called and called for him, but no kitty. However, some hours later he returned, with the dress and bonnet still hanging from him.
I was away at boarding school when we moved from Sikalongo to Macha, and so learned from my parents that they put both kitties in a burlap sack to transport them. Apparently, they didn’t appreciate being confined together in that sack for several hours, because from then on they were mortal enemies. They continued to be my pets at Macha, and both allowed me to play with them, but never together! They fought with each other and other cats (often loudly at night), and had scars on their ears from wounds sustained in those fights. They stayed at Macha when we left for the U.S.
The next cat I remember lived with my family in Grantham after we returned from Africa. I think his name was Pawtucket (no idea where that came from). He would periodically disappear only to show up again not too much worse for the wear. I also don’t remember what caused his demise.
After Dale and I were married, knowing we would be moving to a rural log house in the country from our suburban apartment, we acquired a kitten. We named her Katanya, which was just an “official” name because we always called her “Kitty.” She was an indoor-outdoor cat and ended up pregnant. When her first litter was born, we kept one (a male named Tosh) and gave the rest away. After not quite two years in that house, we moved again and took Kitty and Tosh with us. Kitty disappeared, and we assumed she had tried to find her way back to the log house. Tosh stuck around, but eventually met an untimely death on the highway. Soon after, we acquired another set of sibling kittens – names forgotten. They too met early deaths.
Kitty “helped” me with my home-based writing and editorial work.
Dana with Tigger
For several years after we moved to Harrisburg, we resisted getting another cat. Then one day Dale unexpectedly came home with an adult orange tabby cat from a shelter who may have had a real name, but we also called her Kitty (we weren’t too creative with our pet names!). She settled in and became a member of the family. Along the way, Dana acquired a long-haired orange kitten she named Tigger. Unfortunately, Tigger was killed by a dog in our backyard. Some years later, we got a puppy – a mix, but mostly golden lab. Kitty wasn’t amused, but she adjusted to Sandy’s exuberant presence. Eventually, Kitty became ill and started having litter box problems. We took her to the vet, but I don’t remember the diagnosis. However, at some point, she disappeared and never returned.
We moved to our current home with our dog Sandy. We sometimes thought about getting another cat, but decided we would wait until Sandy went to doggy heaven. Then early one morning while Sandy was still with us, I was alone at work in our third floor offices on Front Street in Harrisburg and found a young calico cat. Who knows how she ended up on the third floor; she must have snuck in with the cleaning crew the evening before. She was obviously well cared for, because she was clean, sociable, and had a bell on a red collar around her neck. We put up signs in the neighborhood and I called the Humane Society, but no one claimed her. She and I bonded in the office, and after a couple days, she came home to stay. We named her Callie (creative name for a calico cat, huh?!), and she became a much-loved member of our family.
Aside: When I was growing up in Africa, our cats were always outdoor cats (kind of like farm cats), and Dale remembers the same thing from his childhood. So it was natural for us to allow our cats to come and go from the house at will. After several experiences of losing cats to accidents or “disappearances,” added to the growing societal expectation that cats not be allowed to roam the neighborhood, we decided that Callie and then Sophie would be indoor cats only. Callie often tried to sneak out (and succeeded a few times), but Sophie never did.
Our two oldest grandchildren remember Callie fondly because she was sociable, and allowed them to pet and play with her. My brother memorialized her in a beautiful and realistic stained glass creation he gave me for my 60th birthday.
Callie was a large cat – and I do mean large, like 19 pounds at her heaviest. When she started having some urinary problems and we took her to the vet, we discovered she had feline diabetes. We tried to control the diabetes with a change in diet, hoping to avoid daily insulin shots or other intrusive and expensive treatment, and she had started to lose some weight. But in March 2010, when we returned in the middle of the night from a vacation in Costa Rica, we found her lying dead in our bedroom. So sad. She was less than 10 years old.
Later that year, we started looking for another kitty and found Sophie. She was about four months old when she came to live with us. We felt like we had to sign our lives away to adopt her from PAWs (even listing references who could affirm that we would provide her with a good home), but she was worth it. When we first adopted her, we had no idea she would turn into a semi-long-haired cat with the softest and silkiest fur you can imagine. She always carried her fluffy tail as if she knew it was her best feature. We often referred to her as “Her Royal Furriness.” She was not particularly sociable, however, and hid behind the sofa when the grandchildren came (or anyone, for that matter). They loved shining a flashlight to see her staring at them from her place of safety. Occasionally, she would come out when they were here and try to be sociable, but she was always a little on edge. She was the quintessential “scaredy cat.”
Even with Dale and me, she was not really a lap cat (something I frequently lamented). When she did come to us, it was always on her terms, and the slightest move on our part would send her running away. But when she was in the mood, she could be very affectionate, purring loudly and rubbing against us. She would often wave her voluminous tail across my face or the screen as I worked at the computer. Earlier on the day she died, I was out in the sunroom with her, and she settled herself on the chair beside me, purring all the while. That evening, she died – way too young (not even eight years old), suddenly, and of an unknown cause. We miss her a lot; it’s just not the same in the house without Sophie!
Will we get another cat? I don’t know. I’d love another one, of course, but there are other considerations. In the meantime, I remember fondly a lifetime of loving my feline furry friends.