Being the firstborn amongst your siblings I guess has some advantages. We typically don’t have to wear hand-me-downs, we get the most baby pictures taken of us, we can steal our siblings’ Halloween candy and we tend to be ‘grandma’s boy’ (or girl). There are a few disadvantages documented in the parenting textbooks, but there can be some other lesser-known disadvantages. In my case, I have a much different set of memories of my birth father than my siblings have. Their relationship with my dad was, (I am sure), better than mine was (which I’m glad for).
You might think that it should be the opposite, (firstborn and all), but my siblings were not whipped with a willow switch for feeding a hungry child. They likely don’t have any memory of a dog named Skippy. They didn’t get accused of being “one of them” when my dad figured out I was part of “management” and they didn’t feel their relationship change just because I had acquired a college education. They likely don’t know that I used to ‘babysit’ them when I was only 8 years old while he would step out to go to the bar. And they likely slept through the morning I heard my dad tossing all his drawers empty on the floor to give Mom something to do while he “had to go off and work in the shitty factory”.
I am glad for my siblings, glad that they had a better relationship with dad than I did. I guess I was the ‘learner’, the demo model. But this story’s not about Dad (I think); it’s about a cat named Puff. I love cats. Don’t get me wrong, I love dogs too. Dogs require far more work and attention though than our household can dedicate to them and that just is not fair to the dog. So we own cats and always have. Domesticated cats are interesting in that although they will gladly show attention and affection to multiple members of the household, they typically will become predominantly attached to a single household member.
In my adult household we have owned 5 cats so far. “Precious” was a beautiful and adoring female Himalayan that Kim and I owned during our early part of our marriage. When summer would come, we would get her a shave so she would be more comfortable. Unfortunately, in her third year of life the Veterinarian messed up the administration of anesthesia and she never recovered after bringing her home. Like all losses of adored pets, this hit us hard and we swore we would avoid surgeries and anesthesia in the future unless absolutely necessary.
During our five year stay in Louisiana, we acquired two cats. Killer was not a pure breed, just a run of the mill gray and white mixture of some kind. We named her Killer because she acted tough, but was rather skinny and small. Squeaky was Killer’s buddy. She was a dark brown Himalayan, gentle and a bit shy, one year younger. We named her Squeaky obviously for her meow which sometimes was a little weak or mild. Killer had bonded with our oldest son, Mitch, and Squeaky was Corey’s cat. Cats choose you – you don’t choose the cat.
Killer lived a very long life of almost 21 years before her health deteriorated so much that I had to put her down. Squeaky had died a few years earlier after her 16th full year with us, still a very nice old age for an indoor cat. Putting Squeaky down was sad as we had come home from a short 2-day trip and we found her lying on the floor. She was barely still alive and her jaw appeared to have the early stage of rigor (I’m guessing this makes sense to some medical type people). She would respond to our ‘squeak’ and as I was waiting in a room for the vet to come in, I squeaked at her and she attempted to squeak back. She was nearly dead and she tried to squeak at me. That about tore my heart out. Ah, we do love our pets, don’t we.
The fourth and fifth cats are the two with us currently and of course we love them dearly. Sasha is a beautiful 11 year old Himalayan and Bandit a 7 year old Ragdoll.
Sasha is a rare one as she acts very bonded to everyone in our family. She has her own routine and spends time with each of us on a regular daily basis. Bandit is clearly bonded to me and she is the closest thing to a dog I have owned since Skippy. Bandit follows me everywhere. She speaks to me constantly and she sits at my feet on the ottoman every night.
I now want to shift gears to write about my very first cat. The first cat that chose me did so when I was 5 years old. I named her Puff. Puff was the cat’s name in the Dick and Jane children schoolbook stories we read in school and so that’s where I got the name from, (hey I was 5). My memory of Puff is that of a 5-7 year old boy. The things I remember are small and don’t really mean anything except to a small young boy. I remember she would run across the street in the mornings to play with the cat who belonged to my friend Timmy. I remember Puff would sit on my lap at night before bedtime. That’s about it – all I really remember is that Puff was ‘my’ cat.
One day Puff made the mistake of peeing on a work shirt that belonged to my dad. This I can remember pretty clearly. The shirt was sitting on a chair that was some sort of captain’s chair sitting in the dining room close to the entryway to our kitchen at 1029 Goodman Ave. in Hamilton. It was a weekend day. My dad told me to get Puff and get into the car. He drove towards the public golf course he frequented and turned down a one way street bordered by a small wooded area. There were no cars around. Dad stopped the car, got out and walked to the back doors, reached in for Puff and told me to say goodbye. The image practically emblazoned into my brain, I can yet see as I type this out today. I was looking out the rear window. I saw Puff in the middle of the street. She looked in the direction of our car for a few seconds and then ran off into the woods.
And that was my dad. Dad acted on his emotions and what Dad said was law in our house. There was no debate and no begging would ever change Dad’s mind. Dad would never be sensitive enough to think about my feelings. Dad had to ‘come first’, always. This would ultimately lead to a divorce and it would prevent him from seeing one day that I would want a father/son relationship which he was apparently incapable of understanding.
Two weeks after abandoning Puff, on a Sunday morning, I went onto our front porch and there was Puff in the corner. Somehow she had found her way back home. She was thin and hungry but she had found her way back to me. Thankfully, I heard my mom say to Dad, (and this is verbatim), “Bob, you can’t take her away again – look how pitiful she looks”. And so he didn’t. I like to think Puff was a royal guilt trip – I sure hope so. I don’t care if it’s a turtle. What kind of guy ditches his kid’s pet?
As an adult, I know today where we dropped Puff off and where we lived.
Route 1 in the map pic is about 1.5 miles so ‘as the cat walks’ it must be about a mile. A mile through unknown territory. How does an animal do that? You can find hundreds of these stories on the internet. When I started writing this story, my intention was to write about an amazing journey made by a little female calico cat. I see though that it has turned more into a story about my dad.
Through writing these ‘growing up’ stories, I am learning that my story telling is helping me to find closure against instances in my life that I feel were never fully resolved. This seems to be especially true about my relationships. Whether it be a story about a girlfriend I had before marriage or a neighborhood friend or my dad, they seem to be helping me to tuck memories away and feel they are resolved because they are recorded. So maybe I needed closure about some aspects of my relationship with my dad, (ok readers, all together now – “you think?!”)
One of my largest fears in life used to be that I would end up like my dad. So far it looks like my ‘do the opposite that dad would do’ strategy is helping me to be a better father and a more caring person. I would like to submit Blackey here as further evidence. Blackey is not a true stray – she once belonged to the people who live down the street from us. When we moved into our current home 9 years ago, our house was one among several that she liked to visit. She is a good ‘people cat’ – she seems to love to be around people for more than just a source of food. Here she is lounging with me by our pool.
Outdoor cats live an average of 8 years and indoor cats tend to live twice that figure. I’m guessing at Blackey’s age at about 11 or 12. She seems to adopted us as her primary family. This started perhaps 6 years ago. For the past 3 years I have been putting her in our garage at night. I have a bowl of food and water in the garage, as well as a litter box and a blanket to curl up on. I like to think that I am helping to extend her life by keeping her out of the nighttime coyote hunting grounds. If we are at the house, she spends most of her time here in the back, around us. If we are out of town, I build a food mountain with extra water and litter and just keep her in the garage. She has adopted us and I like providing for her. It’s not a matter of purposefully being different than my dad. I just can’t even imagine ever being cruel to an animal. Hey! I guess I am not like my dad! 🙂
(More comedic relief – video describing where I got ‘food mountain’ from. Short clip from Showtime’s Trailer Park Boys)