My first memory of a pet was a grey cat that showed up on our back porch one spring morning. She was beautiful. She was a soft, cloudy-foggy grey with dark stripes running through her coat like a tiger. Her huge, pale green eyes were rimmed in black as if someone had put eyeliner on her. She also had stripes that looked like an ‘M’ on her forehead which made me think of a crown. (It was many years later that I learned the ‘M’ meant she was a tabby cat. That’s not a breed, but a description of her coat.) She had the palest pink nose, shaped like a triangle, and pinkish lips that were so pale they were almost white. Her darker pink tongue was very rough feeling when she licked me. She was also my introduction into what very sharp, very white teeth looked like.
She always moved slowly and gracefully as if time didn’t matter to her at all. She was elegant in her movements and I felt certain that in some other life she surely must have been a queen. Regal. That’s how she moved…as if she were royalty. I believe ballerinas could learn a lot by watching her move. My grandmother came up with several names, but they were cute, not regal. It took a few weeks, but I finally came up with a name as regal as she was…a little drumroll please…Penelope!
Penelope answered when I called her name so I’m pretty sure either it was her name, or she liked it better than whatever her real name was. Even though she could be rather aloof at times she rapidly became my best friend. When I was sad, I could scoop her up and bury my face in her fur while I cried. She never complained. When I was happy, I could scoop her up and dance her around and around. She only threw up the first time. After that, I made fewer circles and in return she held her food down. This new understanding worked quite well for both of us.
For all the in-between times, I could just sit, and she would crawl into my lap, curl up and begin purring. Or I could lay in the grass or in the hammock and she would crawl onto my tummy and begin purring. Purring is such a cool thing. I tried for years to duplicate purring to no avail. I’ve always wished I could purr, but never found a way to do so and eventually, being a wife, mom and working took care of my purr-practice time. Now that I’m retired, I no longer have a desire to purr. I guess that’s another perk to being old. 😉
Penelope grew over the course of summer, and got quite jolly looking … until one day, she began making strange noises, not purring at all, and she left me and didn’t come when I called her. I looked everywhere for her. All around the house, in her favorite trees where she would perch and surveil her domain. I looked in the white barn where crates were stored. I even went downhill to the cold-apple-storage which was off-limits to me. I couldn’t find Penelope anywhere. I was so very sad. I cried copious tears believing she had gone away to die.
The next morning, grandpa came in and said he’d found Penelope and he took me out to visit her. She was in the white barn, but she was so well hidden I don’t know how my grandpa ever found her. She wasn’t alone. She had seven beautiful, tiny kittens with her. One was a calico and one was a reddish-orange tiger stripe. I don’t remember what colors the others were because those two had captured my heart. I was told not to handle the kittens, but since Penelope didn’t seem to mind, I handled them every chance I got. Not all of them, of course, just the two that I was claiming. The calico was mostly white, but she had reddish tiger striped patches and a few small, grey, tiger-striped patches. Since most calico’s are female, I named her Penny Red after her mom and her red patches. The red, tiger-striped one I named Tiger Red after my favorite soda pop.
Those three females had kittens twice a year. Sometimes I could find their kitten hideouts, sometimes not and then I wouldn’t see the kittens until they brought them up to the back porch for food and a dish of milk. I named my favorites but kind of ignored the rest. I spent many hours with bloodied hands from grabbing wild kittens and hanging on no matter how they fought until they grew used to my touch and would allow me to pet them without complaint.
One morning in late spring I heard the screen door being slammed repeatedly and my grandpa cursing loudly. I jumped out of bed and flew down the stairs to see what on earth was going on. As I rounded the corner into the kitchen, I could see him looking out the screen door and banging it. When I asked what was going on, he growled that we had the only fur-covered porch in the entire state!
I immediately thought about mink fur and figured we must be rich! I know, but I was only 11 or so and raised during the Beverly Hillbilly’s era. It only took me half-a-minute to realize he meant ‘cat-fur covered’. Over the following year, cats disappeared gradually, except for my favorite three. By the time I was 16, all the cats were gone. I mourned my three who were buried on the property as they found their demise at the hands of cars on the road . in front of the house
As an adult, I developed allergies to cats and haven’t been able to have a cat for a very, very long time. I still remember those three after all these years…and two others that were special in my life – Pyewacket and Whisper. They are both deserving of their own stories.
Now, before you feel sorry for my children, let me say that while I didn’t have cats anymore, they did. The rule was that they had to rinse them in the tub once a week and keep them upstairs. My hubby and I took a bedroom downstairs, just off the stairway door so the cats wouldn’t make my allergy flare up. While I can’t remember the names of my kids cats, I think they might remember once they read this post.