Judith Nakken 


        Copyright 2018 by Judith Nakken     

Photo of Catalina.

Pandemonium was two years old. Booger and Diogenes, much older brothers, thought they all needed a new baby brother. Pandemonium had already learned all the racing games and let-me-in, let-me-out cat tricks they had to offer. Besides, that little stubby-tailed guy played a go-get-the-ball game with the woman. And took it back to her every time! Unheard of, to the erstwhile tomcats’ ways of thinking.

 So, I trekked east of the mountains to the daughter’s stronghold, where a litter of kittens had emerged when I visited six weeks before. Their nameless mama, of nondescript origin, must have practiced monogamy, for all six babies were mottled black, brown and orange, and long-haired. I had selected a little male with a half orange, half black jester’s face at the time of their birth.

I made the usual preparations before I began the 5-hour trip. The canopied truck held water and a tiny sandbox. A new food dish with water bottle attachment was ready for moistened kitty-o’s in the alcove by my office, a small sandbox directly across on the other wall. I couldn’t wait to get home with my strangely marked little boy cat and introduce him to everything.

The weekend visit on the shores of Silver Lake ended, and I went out back to get my kitten. Five were still in a tiny cage with a half-shoebox sized box in one corner, overflowing with tumbling kittens. Four tumbling kittens. Standing silently outside the box was a little female, at least twenty-six miles away from the action, in her own dream world. All desire for little Jester-Face disappeared. I was, of course, hers from that moment on. Catalina.

My first little girl cat was a big hit with her two oldest brothers. They groomed her and taught her their racing games. Not so with the last baby, the little orange Manx with the perfect ‘M’ on his forehead and circle targets on each side. Pandemonium was jealous with a capital J. He hissed at her and refused to play our morning ball game for weeks, giving me the leg instead. (If you don’t understand the giving of the leg, you’ve never seen a cat wash its nether regions.) He was my favorite, and I missed our every-morning togetherness.

Catalina discovered Outside when she hadn’t been in residence for two weeks. Tulalip Reservation abounds with eagles, coyotes, really big raccoons and the occasional cougar, and it’s wise to keep only indoor pets. But the old song prevails: “How do you keep ‘em down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paree?” She was no exception, and was indoor-outdoor almost from her first introduction to our family.

Pandemonium finally forgave me. (Do you wonder about the name? Actually, the Manx breeder told me he was a female Rumpy-Riser, and I named him Pandora and imprinted it on his little brain in a couple of days of rocking, petting and crooning the name. “The testicles were my first clue,” the veterinarian joked at the free well-baby checkup, “and he’s a Stumpy, not a Rumpy-Riser.” I had to quickly change his name. Pandemic was not a good choice, so … Pandemonium he became.) He begged for the tinsel ball one morning and we played several rounds of our version of Fetch. He stuck close to me after their evening treat, and slept on my chest that night. The next day, my little Manx didn’t come home from the woods.

How I mourned. I grumped around the house, couldn’t eat, couldn’t write, couldn’t stop going to the door and calling the name he always responded to. After a week of fruitless calling, one morning I slumped in my chair and sucked at a cup of lukewarm coffee. Half-grown Catalina came and rubbed at my legs. Moving them didn’t dislodge her, and I crumpled a piece of paper and tossed it across the room to distract her. She trotted after it, picked it up carefully, trotted back and lay it at my feet. Stood there. I took the paper and tossed it even further. She returned it in exactly the same manner.

We played the game, with one of the small cat toys, half the morning and would do so for the next year or so. That night she slept on my chest. Even without voice her message was clear: I love you, too. Don’t be sad anymore.

I still wanted a Manx and could no longer pay the spendy price for a kitten. One of the Jones boys told me he had a Manx tomcat, and I decided not to have Catalina spayed until after a litter of Manx kittens. My first experience with a growing girl cat came when she was nine months old. (We had decided we’d wait until her year birthday before we introduced her to Mr. Tom Manx!) Oh, the howls and yowls when she came into season. Booger, who’d been a wild cat we rescued from the pound and not neutered until he was seven, tried to ease her pain by assuming the loving-her-up position, but he wasn’t much help. And we went through this another time. At the time of her third heat, when she was 11 months old, I gave in and prepared the honeymoon suite (a chain link dog run at the guest house below) and called Cliffy Jones. “Oh, Judith, sorry,” was his reply. “That old boy disappeared about six weeks ago!” What to do, what to do?

Only one thing to do. Every tomcat on the reservation was on our deck, and I just turned her loose and closed the drapes. She came in for her treat at supper time, no longer yowling.

We consulted the cat book and son Jack built her a just-what-the-cat-doctor-ordered birthing box. Filled it with torn up newspaper as prescribed, and introduced her to it well in advance of the birth date, as also instructed in the know-it-all cat book. She looked exactly like she had when I first brought her home and sat her in her private sandbox. “Don’t worry,” her demeanor said. “I know what it’s for.”

She may have known, but she paid no attention. She birthed her four kittens exactly where more experienced cat lovers warned us: next to Dale, in our bed, in the middle of the night. Spike, black and white and first out, was twice the size of any one of the other three and snapped up by daughter-in-law the minute he was weaned. Two little grey striped twins went as a pair to a friend and his wife, and coal black Meteor (first named Medea and had a quick name change when she sprouted testicles as Pandora had done a couple of years before!) stayed home with us. Catalina didn’t seem to mourn them when they left home, perhaps since she still had Meteor, and submitted stoically to spaying as soon as the babes were weaned.

Only one thing changed: we’d played our Fetch game right up to the birthing. After the kitten was on solid food, I tossed the tinsel ball in the same place as on previous mornings. She trotted after it, then stood over it and stared at me. There was no mistaking that look. It said “I’m not a kid any more. I’m a mother, and I don’t play games.”

While she was a loving companion for another nearly dozen years, there was no more morning ball game. Once in a while I’d toss the toy and once in a while she’d trot after it, but never to return it to me. When she was in the house of an evening, she always slept with us but in the last half dozen years she seemed to prefer to be outside at night, hunting in the woods that adjoin our place. Booger died happy and is buried under a giant cedar in our back yard, Diogenes was lost to the reservation as was Meteor and a little white crooky-tail we called Pinky Floyd. In 2015 I nurtured a 3-4 week old feral kitten with no mama to kittenhood and self sufficiency, and named her Lucinda. That name was soon forgotten as she became the Cat from Hell. Feral must be inbred in them, I decided, and stayed away from her teeth and claws. She became an indoor-outdoor cat, also, but came home every evening. Ten-year-old Catalina hated her, and the hissing matches were comical.

She had missed an evening treat 3 or 4 times before, so it wasn’t until the third day we began to worry, opened and called into every building on the properties and spoke to all the neighbors and workmen. Catalina was gone. I wept for the better part of a day.

Yes, the Cat from Hell came and slept on my chest. She submits to a short minute of petting and bounds away without biting. She needs her flea medicine today and I am certain I will escape without bloody scratches. Dear Catalina, I miss you, but I am, once again, comforted.

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