Thursday, June 26, 2008

For the love of a cat

Warning: This post is massive and full of cat stories. I started it thinking it would just be a simple tribute to Sophie, or an exercise to kick my ass into writing again, but it mutated into an epic tale.

I've had Sophie for almost as long as I can remember. It all started when our previous cat Sheba died. At that time we had another cat, named Sammy, who had run away. By that time Sammy was about 18 years old. Apparently when cats think they are dying, they run to a safe place to pass on. Sammy had been gone a few weeks, and the Martin household was hurting. That two week period was the first and hopefully last time I have ever lived without a cat in my life.

Sammy and Sheba were polar opposites. Sammy was a tough old bird who was insanely smart. She was a hunter who'd look both ways before crossing the road, whereas Sheba would just sprawl on the warm asphalt and not get up until the very last minute a car came whizzing by. I liken Sammy to an old feminist eccentric. She never had kittens, she could absolutely survive on her own, and only came home when it was too cold to stay outside. My earliest memories of Sammy were when she would line up dead, headless dragonflies side by side on our back porch, presenting them as gifts to the family. When I was young I imagined either she ate only the heads so as to not scare Chris and I, (The heads of dragonflies are hideous)or, most likely, the heads were the tastiest part.

Sammy was a drooler, and only when she purred. I can remember being sprawled out on our lawn on Beacon, Sammy sitting on my chest, hunched over getting lovins* as a thin string of drool dripped from her bony face. Sammy rarely meowed, weighed about 3 pounds and was by and large my Dads cat. I would beg my Mom and Dad to tell me about the time Sammy adopted them at the SPCA. They were looking for a kitten and strolling the aisles, when a small black paw came out and caught my Dads shirt with one claw. At that point they knew it was her they needed to bring home.

Sheba was a total different story. My memories present her life as a total blur. She was only a member of our family for about 9 months it seems. My grandma originally adopted her and named her Sunshine. Once my grandma grew ill we took the cat home with us and gave her the title of "Sheba". This name brings up images of a regal, sophisticated and classy cat, but really none of those adjectives described Sheba. She was a clumsy, playful and supremely dumb cat, but really the perfect cat for kids.

She would follow us around the block as we rode bikes and played hide 'n seek. This must have been '88 or '89 because our family borrowed my Nanny's enormous video camera for family movies. My mom would hoist the giant camera on her small frame and tape us kids playing in the yard. One video in particular was Chris, Ashley, Addison and I rapping a song about Sheba, complete with M.C Hammer dance moves, neon clothing and horrible nonsensical rhymes.

"Yo my name is Sheba, I'm here to say,
Being the best cat is the only way."

Within Sheba's 9 month lifespan was a flurry of life events. First she had ear mites which were pretty nasty but fairly harmless so we took her to the vet. We had planned on getting her spayed at the same time. Either she was too young to get spayed at that point, or the vet thought the ear mites medicine would interfere with the operation, I can't remember, but either way we had arranged to have her spayed at a later date. That is until, of course, we discovered she was already pregnant that summer. It seemed like she ballooned overnight, just this tiny teenage kitty with an enormous burgeoning belly. Every picture we have of her at this time is her sprawled on her side, her face peering over her massive gut with an expression of "I'm so over this".

Then came the kittens. I remember when she was going into labor she setup shop under my parents bed (again with the safe place). I have this image of the bottom half of my mom peeking out from under the bed, trying to pull Sheba closer all the while murmuring comforting sounds. Then finally the kittens starting popping out one by one. Chris and I were beyond excited but so scared. My mom was cutting the mucus bubble around each kitten as they came out so they could breathe. My brother took one look at the sticky placenta, went pale and had to leave the room. I was disgusted, but totally engrossed in the procedure. I think there were 10 or 11 kittens, I can't remember the exact number, only that there weren't enough nipples to go around. This posed no problem however; I was more than happy to bottle feed them with my mom.

From there I just remember an army of kittens chasing Chris and I around the house, I don't think the television was ever on that summer because they were endlessly entertaining. Sheba changed once the kittens were born, she matured and hardened a bit, she had responsibility. As stupid as she was when it came to human matters, her kitty instincts kicked in right away and she became a protective mother. We had a cardboard box setup in the bathroom and when you looked down into the box from up high, it just looked like this tabby and calico writhing mass of maggots (in a very cute way of course). Chris and I would pick up a kitten, place it outside of the box and giggle as poor, exhausted Sheba would pick up the kitten in her mouth and bring it right back. This went on for hours, so must have really hated us at that point.

We were encouraged to not give the kittens names, as there was no way we would be keeping all of them, so we weren't supposed to get attached. As a result, most of the names were very generic so we could tell them apart; Mask, Lady, Baby etc. I remembering going to the bathroom and being attacked by 4-5 kittens as they climbed their way up my pant legs, little pin pricks clawing up the flesh of my shins. I never pulled them off though, I had to see if they would make it all the way to my lap. The braver kittens would climb up my Dad while he was shaving.

What felt like a week after having the kittens, Sheba went missing. Ashley and Addison, the boys down the block, spoke to my Mom quietly in the kitchen, and I think I overheard them say they saw a tabby lying on its side in the busy street behind our backyard. This memory was very hazy, but I remember jumping on my bike and hearing my Mom yell at me to come back in the house until she could investigate. But by then I was gone, pedaling faster then I ever thought possible, the wind drying the tears on my face. When I pulled up to Sheba I knew it was a mistake to come alone. She was a mess, innards pouring out of every orifice on her body, flies already circling. I sat and cried until my Mom pulled up. I thought she was going to be mad and lecture me, but instead we just hugged and cried together. To help the grieving we watched the home videos of Sheba dancing in our rap videos and told stories about her stupidity, making all the sad stories into jokes to make each other laugh. Even to this day when I think of Sheba's death I think of my parents cartoon reenactment of Sheba with tire marks across her belly, eyes popped out. I know it sounds cryptic and sort of morbid but that's how we Martins deal with it.

Either right before the birth of the kittens, or right after is when Sammy ran away to die. Life was getting back to normal, and school started. After a few weeks my Mom saw an advertisement in the paper about free kittens in Morinville. We took a ride to check them out and there was a box full of adorable little black and calico kittens. My Mom fell in love with one right away, and I'm sad to say I don't remember seeing Sophie at that time. Mom staked her claim on the cute feisty black one with a skunk tail, and told the owners she would come back for it tomorrow.

The next day I very obviously faked a stomach ache to stay home from school. My mom knew I was faking, and I knew that she knew I was faking but she still let me stay home that day. She went to pick up the kitten and returned with two. One was the healthy black kitten we named Bear, and the other was this sickly runt, scrawny and weak with horrible diarrhea that noone wanted. We decided to name her Sophie, to continue the Martin legacy of female cats with "S" names. I remember my mom bottle feeding Sophie, and what seems like seconds later, running with the cat to the sink, cat in one hand, and cupped palm underneath to catch her drippings.

That same day we got kittens, we also received a phone call from a boy who had found Sammy. He said that he was walking along the Sturgeon river and thought he saw a dead cat. When he came close, the cat stirred and looked up at him. Her collar was still on so he was able to get our phone number. He said she had dug out some kind of den for herself, and she was rail thin and surrounded by a dozen mice skeletons. Sammy was back in our lives. It's still a family joke how Dad left for work that morning with nary a cat in sight, and came home to find three.

After awhile Sophie got better, and latched onto me for life. I think she chose me because I was the youngest in the family, or in her eyes, the runt. My room became hers, and even Bear knew my room was her territory. Sammy lived for another couple years, and died quietly in our basement at 21. Bear died quite a few years later, but that story and pain are too fresh to tell even now that 6-7 years have gone by. Maybe when Sophie passes I'll be able to finish part two of this story, but for now I'm going to enjoy every second I have with my obese and elderly cat. It's just strange how her life has come full circle; now I'm the one chasing her around with a paper towel to catch her drippings.

* "lovins" is the Martin term for cat love. "Lubbins" may also be used. Ex: "Who wants some lubbins?!", followed by a chorus of mews and in Sophies case; fat cat squeaks.


Anonymous said...

What an incredible story of life long feline "lubbins"! I was always told that I was a cat in a former life. Cats were always a part of my life and I made sure that my "2 beans" would always have feline companionship. We had Sammy longer than our kids, she was an amazing cat. Tough as nails, yet tender and gentle as 2 small children were learning the finer points of giving gentle loving scratches and picking her up without breaking bones or tearing fur out. She definitely picked us out by reaching out through the SPCA cage by snagging Dad's arm. After we got her home, she rubbed and meowed for awhile, them promptly threw up chunkage all over the middle of my living room shag carpet...charming! She would catch dragonflies and once caught a very large Magpie, I'm pretty sure she tried to eat the whole thing, feathers and all! She would also catch small birds and leave their innards and beaks on the front step, I guess those just weren't tasty. The dragonfly carcasses were cool though, all lined up like tiny planes ready for take off, with no heads. We were all sad when she passed but knew that she had had a good life with us and knew that she was loved.

"Sheba the Beach", on the other hand was quite a character! She loved the kids, would follow them anywhere and was extremely vocal. I've never heard a cat talk so much. I'd ask her a question and she would always answer with squeaks, clicks, rumbles and chirps, it never failed to make us laugh! Mich would scream "make Sheba talk" and I would, entertaining anyone who was visiting. Getting pregnant at 8 months of age forced her to settle down a bit. She was massive, I've never seen such a big tummers on such a little cat! She had 8 babies and I think they all had different fathers, she should have been named "Sheba the Ho". I remember Dad yelling for me to come get the damn kittens off his pants as he was shaving, they were scaling him like Mt. Everest! Once we had the kittens in our homemade "kitty coral" on the living room rug. One decided to jump on my face and left me with a 2 inch long scratch on my nose. That scratch got infected, took weeks to heal and I was getting very tired of explaining how the scratch got there. She did a ton of living in her short life and it broke our hearts when she was killed.

Sophie and Bear were so small when we brought them home and Sophie had some health issues as Mich explained, lots of "loosie goosies". I would carry her to the sink as she deposited her presents in my hand. She was fascinated with body odor and loved Dad's smelly welder t shirts. She would rub herself on them and would get quite vicious when we tried to take the shirt away. Needless to say, she wasn't the most pleasant cat to be around after that. Bear was my boy, mama's boy, my little chou chou! He would lay on me, all stretched out like he owned me (which he did). He had the most annoying habit of peeing on anything that was left on the floor, especially the kids coats, jackets and homework. Friends would come by after school and if their coats were on the rug, Bear would leave a puddle on them. I remember the kids having to explain to their teachers that their cat peed on their homework, I'm not sure if their teachers believed them but it was true.

We firmly believe (and still do) that pets are a very important life lesson for children and families. Yes, it breaks our hearts when they pass but think of all the joy and comfort they have given us. The pain recedes a bit eventually and we are left with warm and wonderful memories, thanks for sharing yours, Michelle!

Mom =^..^=

Teddy said...

Michelle...what a great story. I may have actually had a tear in my eye. Don't tell anybody! Keep writing are damn good at it!

Life without cats...I don't EVER want to experience it. They enrich my life and make me happy without them even knowing it. *s*