As toddlers, both my father and my brother were attacked and bitten by dogs. Neighborhood dogs were no more likely to be “trained” in the 1950s then they were in the 1920s. As a result of these two frightening experiences, my family never considered dogs to be pets. They were viewed as dangerous animals and were, under all circumstances, to be avoided.
Cats, on the other hand, were considered the perfect pet. My mother especially loved cats as they were small, detached, independent, amusing and didn’t need to be walked. By the time I’d left home at the age of eighteen, my family had had a total of thirteen, black and white, “Tuxedo” cats. They were all named Mitten.
Mother was particularly fond of Mittens 11. He was a tall, regal cat with smooth glossy fur and a long sinewy tail. This tomcat was obsessed with Mother. Mittens 11 became her constant companion whether she was gardening in the yard or doing the laundry in the cellar. The cat quietly followed her everywhere, purring against her legs when she stood still long enough for him to pet and love her. Whether he was lying at her feet on the chaise in our sunny side yard, while Mother read, or was sprawled on the couch next to her while she embroidered, Mitten 11 was content to spend his days at her side.
Normally calm, cool and collected, Mittens would become visibly distressed if Mother left in the car. All pretense of regality was forgotten as he cried and cried at the bay window until finally falling into an exhausted stupor. He always remained distraught until she returned. Once she had returned to his realm, this stately feline would happily “dig” alongside Mother in the garden and “leap” at the chance to help her make the beds. On one sunny summer day, to Mother’s shock and dismay, he leapt so high at her billowing sheet, that he flung himself out the second story bedroom window. Fearing what she might find, Mother hesitatingly looked out the window into her garden below. To her amazement, the little acrobat was dazed but unhurt. Relieved, Mother watched as he disjointedly crawled away for a much-needed nap under her prized rhododendron.
Mittens 11’s dignity would also slip away when my parents were preparing to travel. This husky tomcat would routinely climb into Mother’s suitcase, just as she’d opened it to pack. Trying to coax the poor animal out of the suitcase never worked. As Father would forcibly removing the cat from the suitcase, this all male feline would suddenly be transformed into a distraught kitten, spitting and hissing, in vivid protest. Whatever the cost, this ball of flailing fur was determined to accompany Mother on her trip. Didn’t we understand? Mother belonged to him and he had not given her permission to leave!
When her constant companion died, Mother uncharacteristically wept. Mittens 11 was buried alongside the remaining ten cats in Mother’s garden, but unlike the others, this very special cat was given a headstone.
Nearly four decades later, my Mother continues to fondly reminisce about her “regal” cat. Now in her eighties, Mother still misses her dear friend’s devotion and his entertaining antics but, more importantly, she misses his constant and comforting companionship. And, all these many years later, he remains sorely missed.