Home Again

For the past 18 years there have been cats in my life. The first cat was Phred. Phred came with my now husband so I got to know both of them in good time before we married. Phred was wise, good and a mighty hunter. Phred was an amazing boy who could sit in porcelain kitty pose on the window box and just be the most precious welcoming cat in the universe. This doesn’t describe him perfectly but it is a start. For me Phred was my son. Yes, a child. The one outstanding thing I must mention is his addiction to fishy flakes. IF we let him have some of those things he would go on a hunger fast and demand MORE. Never feed a cat something they can become addicted to.

Next came the princess and her name was ‘Roo, as in Kangaroo, due to her early kitty behavior. ‘Roo, like Phred, lived on two continents but had the distinction of living in three countries. The princess was an international kitty. ‘Roo had the most amazing quality of not only being beautiful on the outside but glowed from within. Quite frankly I’ve never met another cat that I could say that about. ‘Roo had so many good qualities and like Phred had a nice furry life.

When Phred departed in April of 1999 we decided to wait to see what happened before we became kitty parents yet again.

Barney came to us as a farm cat. He just wandered into our tiny house on the mountain and made friends with ‘Roo and by the end of the fall of 1999 we asked our landlord to take him in permanently. No problem.

Barney moved with us from southern Germany to eastern Netherlands. We lived in an upstairs apartment. There was a landing that had a narrow banister. Barney could hold his ground on that space…even when the fierce wind was present. He scared us when he did it. Barney was stronger than any kitty we’ve known. Hubby and I would have to restrain him if medication was needed and we lost more than one battle with him. Barney was also very territorial squirting up a storm in my new blue kitchen. He almost lost his life several times…cuteness saved him.

Barney loved yogurt and had a “yogurt voice” I think he had a sixth sense for when the stuff was to be served. His little furry life was cut short due to heat stroke during the heat wave of 2003. We were devastated. It was then that I said “I don’t think I can do this again. My heart is being pulled and my feelings for our kitty children are so strong.” I was learning something powerful about what our cats could do.

‘Roo and Barney had been true friends. They would adventure together; cause us to wake in the middle of the night as they ran from one end of the house to the other. Barney became the defender of the territory and ‘Roo, while senior, let him do so. She kept dominance in a laughable means and when she disciplined the boy for crossing her it was more comical relief than anything else. Barney got the message and fell into line as a good submissive should. The night that ‘Roo was first without Barney a cat entered our yard as if to take up the place. All holy hell broke out. We looked out to see our princess running the little twerp off of her land. She still had it out there. ‘Roo held the dominant place her entire life but you would have never guessed it at first glance.

Hubby and I let ‘Roo do her thing for several months. I wasn’t ready for a new cat. Barneys’ death was so unexpected and my heart was being pulled in new forms of growth.

At the end of 2003 I began to talk about getting a Russian Blue. I had always wanted a Blue. We started to research them in more detail. I also knew a couple with a Blue and knew her to be skittish. This would not do in a cat. It was then that we stumbled on to the Britt. This was it!!!! During the holiday season we connected with breeders. The wait was shorter than I had planned for and I wasn’t certain if I could “mommie another kitty.”

We met Penelope and her sister Tweety on a cold January day in 2004 and we both feel in love instantly. What was not to love? She was perfect: designed just for me.

‘Roo had had periods in her little furry life where she had been alone and had matured and gained a sense of self. She was confident and able to share her life. This was healthy for ‘Roo.

When we carried Penelope home with us for her first night away from her sister we were concerned about how both would accept each other. We isolated Penelope and she cried. By midnight ‘Roo was upset and wanting to help so we decided that we’d try it another way. We let ‘Roo into Penelopes’ space. They bonded instantly. ‘Roo mothered the child and Penelope grew into a sweet beautiful kitty daughter. All was well. My days were filled with loving our two kitty daughters and life was happy with them. Both were adorable and wonderful to have.

Just as bringing a child into the world should take two agreed upon yes votes so should bringing a kitty child into the home. We had talked about a third kitty and finally being in agreement it was time for action.

Hubby was smitten by Tweety,Penelopes’ sister, I called the breeder to let her know that when Tweety got pregnant and if there was a blue and white male we wanted him. “Funny you should call” was the reply “because she is giving birth tonight.” And in the morning the call came: JRA Bob had arrived. And it was a good thing I had called because several other calls came asking for Bob. We felt blessed.

That year for Christmas I gave JRA Bob to my husband.

Now, all we do know is that Bob ate through some hot computer cable tore up some curtains and was a general trouble maker as a wee kitty. He was the ring leader who looked as innocent as could be but there was always something brewing inside. This was while he was still with his mother!!!!! To this day we are certain there was brain damage. He never quite managed to grow up.

When we carried Bob home we decided to let the boy out and do it naturally. Once again all holy hell broke out!!!! We thought Penelope would kill him. This was not good at all. Long story short we put Penelope on Prozac. ‘Roo, while irritated at times, was for the most part fine with the newbie.

Bob was the craziest most curious and all around kitty to be had. There was never a dull moment with him.

When they were passing out kitty personalities we figure Bob kept returning for yet another and another and the conversation had to have sounded something like this:

Bob: I want more personality.
Giver: You have a personality that is all you get. Now go away!!!
Bob: But this isn’t enough. I can’t be as happy, bouncy and lively and beamie as I’m meant to be. I need more personality and I just know I’ll burst out if I don’t have enough. I need so much MORE!!!! Please.

This must have gone on for several rounds with the giver relenting and giving into Bob. Bob was right. Bob was loaded with love, affectionate beyond belief and sorry folks Bob was Gorgeous. Beautiful, in my mind, just doesn’t do him justice. Bob was the most beautiful of all of our cats and therefore he must have a different adjective. (I know males aren’t supposed to be gorgeous)

We were forced to say our goodbyes to Bob in the last week of April of this year. It was a sunny day and a day that was meant for Bob to be outside in the world. Keeping him any longer would have been cruel. We miss him so much. There is a huge emptiness here that will never be replaced by another kitty. Bob was unique in the cosmos.

As I write this Penelope is alone and bored. She too misses the pest. (Her thoughts not ours) She is alone for the first time in her little furry life. It has just been a month. We hope that she will discover a new self and become a new Cat. Penelope is a Cats’ cat. She is independent and does it all on her terms. She too is beautiful and sweet and learning to become secure in her new environment.

Our kitty tapestry has been filled with the rich warmth of individual cats who we will always cherish and from whom we have learned so many lessons about life. 18 years ago I did not understand the power that an animal could have to shape a human life and accent it in beautiful ways. The loss is real.

As I write this I am transported back in my life to when I was 18 and preparing to leave for the university. I was going away on my own and had little idea of what would lie ahead for me.

It was July 27 1977 and that day would change my life forever. That is what death and trauma do to people.
I was sitting in the back seat of the car playing the guitar and singing. My mother and younger sister were up front.

Two years previously Joyce, four years my junior, had undergone surgery to have a pacemaker implanted. This surgery had changed much with Joyce and the family. We weren’t so concerned about her having a health crisis. We were coasting.

That July day as we drove closer to my aunt and family Joyce wanted to prank my aunt with a phone call. My mother and I thought that was a great idea….wouldn’t it be funny!!!! So we found (and here I’m dating myself) a pay phone and Joyce proceeded to dial the number and speak to my aunt. She didn’t get to pull the prank…she screamed and dropped to the ground. She was dead. Our lives were forever changed.

So goes the cycle of life and death. It enters snatching souls of all types. Those we love pass on and we are faced with the loneliness of not having them on a daily basis. Time and soul searching can heal many things but you can never go back.

With the death of a human the impact is radically different. I watched my parents make burial arrangements, plan a funeral, a family gathering, and finally my mother and I cleaned out her room. We sent her things to some of her friends for them to cherish. I’m glad we did.
All things yellow were gone and we had to move forward.

I move forward and can only resolve to make for Penelope the best kitty life possible. I move forward and remember Joyce on her birthdays and on the anniversary of her death. I ask myself what she would have done with her life. Would she have pursued nursing? Would she have married, had children, impacted others and caused them to grow and change?

In thinking about all of this I must admit that I believe that there is a time and a season for all whether natural or unnatural. I believe that we create a future based on possibility. We can either choose to create a shrine to the dead or move on to a future with them in a place of acceptance.

Because we knew that Bob was destined to live an un-naturally short life I created a mosaic of him that hangs where we can see him and be reminded of just how beamie he was.

Recently two of my nieces went through the process of creating and publishing a book about Joyce. They never knew her. It has interviews with plenty of stories and pictures. The memories have come flooding back. Joyce reaches out to me and I can remember the happiness in her loud voice saying “I’m home!!” And in my heart all those who have affected me are in the proper place. They too are home.

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About Gail Nicolaysen-Shurtleff

I am an American who is living in The Netherlands. I am a Marriage and Family Therapist with a license to practice in California. Music has been a huge part of my life. Singing is something you can find me doing at any time and anywhere. I have to admit that I try to not sing while out in public though. You can also find me in the kitchen cooking up wonderful things. cooking is something that I have just recently (in the last ten years) discovered that I'm talented at doing, and it is really fun. The best way to know me is to read my blog.
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2 Responses to Home Again

  1. Ton says:

    Contemplative and loving thoughts, wel put into words. I love your style. Ton

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