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photo by Sheri Dixon

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

So the Season Turns Once Again and Another Friend Is Shed Like an Autumn Leaf

"Mom- you're really not going to do what you said, are you?"

My daughter looked at me imploringly.

I'd just crawled out from under the house, where I had found her old cat. He'd pushed out the screen window and gained his 'freedom'- which only lasted a few hours before neighborhood dogs chased him under the house and killed him. Oliver was grossly overweight, had no front claws and only one eye- he'd lost the other one to cancer years before. He had a fierce disposition, but he was all bluff and bluff only saves you some of the time.

This disposition was what her comment was about. For years we said when he died, we were gonna have Oliver stuffed with a noisemaker inside, so every time you touched him it would make his signature noise- sort of a dismissive hiss/growl/meow. The noise he made anytime anyone touched him but never accompanied by biting or scratching. It was fun (in an odd way) to gently poke him repeatedly to get different rhythms with the same...monotone...noise.

Of course we didn't do it.

Shortly after we buried Oliver under the giant oak tree and placed a little cement kitty statue over him the kids and I were at the Vet clinic I worked for when someone brought in a litter of kittens. One was yellow and white, just like Oliver had been, with the exact same markings right down to the strange white spot on his back. The only difference was this kitten was fluffy and Oliver had been slick.

Erika named him Oswald.

Oz had a much more social nature than Oliver. Perhaps it was the loss of the eye to cancer, perhaps it was having grown up when we had a mess of big dogs he had to keep in line, perhaps it was some sort of toxin from the green permanent marker that my son Dave (5 years Erika's junior) colored all Oliver's white fur with because he thought the cat would look better Green Bay gold/green. Who knows?

But Oswald was a kinder, gentler cat all around.

When we started the massive renovation of the old house, the cats did what they sometimes do- they showed their displeasure by peeing on and in...everything but their cat box. I showed MY displeasure by unceremoniously dumping them all out on the front porch and closing the door behind them. Guess they showed ME.

One disappeared.

One died of old-age liver failure about 10 years later.

Oz lived on.

He was the best mouser I've ever had. He had been declawed in the front but could run into a tipped feed sack and come out a split second later with TWO mice in his mouth- their tails drooping out either side like rodent-hair mustaches (Mouse-tashes?) We started to worry about him at the old house because he'd lay in the sunny spot...in the middle of the road. More of a driveway and no local traffic, but still he was old and slow and mostly deaf and slept REALLY soundly...

When we moved to the new house we set him up in the barn in a big cage for him to get his bearings for a week or so before letting him loose.

He hung around the barn for a while, then one day was on this side of the creek, sitting on the woodpile staring at the house- "You thought I wouldn't find this? You bastards."

He moved onto the porch.

He had safe sunny spots here- and he enjoyed them without worry from any traffic save dogs and chickens and the occasional squirrel.

He'd wander down the steep creek bank and lap at the creek, on his haunches like a tiger- already thin from age his tail still pluming out behind him. Then he'd just sit there- looking very content and regal even as threadbare as he was.

A King in pauper's cloak, he surveyed his Kingdom and saw that It Was Good.

He sat on the table out on the porch, peer into the open window and announce his obvious and immediate hunger...100 times a day. Not Oliver's crabby rebuke, but a demand for action all the same.

The last few months he'd traveled to the creek less and less and finally stopped going at all.

We started checking under the cars before leaving, to be sure he wasn't asleep under there when we backed out. Sometimes he'd have to be helped up onto the table because he'd miss the first try onto the chair and wasn't up for a second try.

The last time we went to Houston, he wasn't on the porch when we got home.

We looked. We searched. Nothing.

A few days later we suspected he'd crawled up under the bridge and died there.

I shinnied down the steep creek bank and peered up under the bridge- nothing. Where the bridge meets the bank on either side there are maybe a dozen planks "on land" and there's a small space there that can't be seen from above, the sides or below.

This morning I took a flashlight and got on my hands and knees on the bridge. Shining the light between the boards, there it was.

Tawny gold and white fur.

There wasn't much of him- he'd never been a bulky cat and age had eroded most of what was there- he'd become fur and bones and dignified gold eyes and the ever-present-and-persistent feline hunger.

And he made the choice to make his slow unsteady way from the porch to lie down for his final sleep where he could see the creek that welcomed him as a Wild Thing, a Feline, the King.

So there he will stay.

Rest well, Oz.

I will always and forever see your reflection in the water.






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