Farewell to Zeno-kitty

Zeno adopted us more than a year before we agreed to be adopted. A stray, he came to our backyard and tried to befriend our two cats, who were not amused.

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He  persevered. Soon he would let me get close, even touch him as I offered an occasional bowl of dry cat food. But no, I said, he was not our cat.

On a cold December day in 2010, a bone-thin Zeno wobbled onto the patio. He was so sick he could hardly see. I surrendered; I took him to the vet and I became his human. He lived with us for five way-too-short years. He died this week because we couldn’t get him to the emergency vet in a blizzard. It’s a painful loss, made worse by frustration.

I miss the sight of him on hind legs by my kitchen chair, one white paw looped over the chair arm, head tilted fetchingly to one side, compelling golden gaze fixed on my face. He was irresistible. “Yes, Zeno, whatever you want, I’ll do it.”

I miss his chirrup of greeting when he emerged from under the azaleas, or wherever he was napping or keeping an eye on things. I miss his complaints as he stalked about the house, looking for me. I miss his soft murmur of pleasure when I scratched exactly the right spot.

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At fourteen pounds, he was not as big as our other two cats. His head and chest were broad, his ears slightly chewed, and his tail short and thick. He walked like a street tough, with a tiger’s deliberate pace.

Because he was feral for years, he insisted on being outside at least part of the time, unlike our other two who are usually inside. If I was gardening, Zeno would follow me, choosing comfortable spots from which to supervise. Paws under chin, he seemed to be marveling at my strange choice of occupation. Why pull up plants? He himself claimed a particular patch of catnip in the garden by our patio and often lay beside it, grooving on its fragrance and protecting it from all comers.

The friendliest of our cats, he was usually the first one visible to visitors, and the only one who could be coaxed into letting a small child pet him. He’s the only cat I ever had who always came when I called him. Even when he was heading down our driveway to the street, I could call him home and pat my leg, and he would turn and run to me.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Like all cats, he preferred to find water for himself rather than drink from his bowl. He stood on hind legs to lap from the birdbath or bustled into the bathroom after my shower to lick the remaining drops from the tub.

 

book stack with cat

 

 

Most of all I miss him in my study. He’d sit by the books, or lie on my desk basking in the warm air flow from the computer’s fan, or keep the big chair warm for me, or lean forward to butt foreheads or rub cheeks, or step down onto my lap, forcing me to type over him. In the late afternoon, we often retreated to our big chair. I miss the warm purr that started as he stepped onto my belly, the confiding warmth of his weight nestling against me, the sense of utter comfort composed of book, tea, and cat in lap.Books study

Rest in peace, sweet boy.

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Patchwork Memories

Quilt big viewI’ve tried twice to throw it away. It’s my last single-bed patchwork quilt that my grandmother made. This time, I wrapped it around a display shelf I was donating to Purple Heart—doing a good deed and de-cluttering at the same time. The old quilt hasn’t been on a bed in years. It’s nearly my age and very worn: in places, the thin material is shredded. I can’t wash it because the fabric is too fragile. Might as well get it out of the closet.

Quilt big circle My thrifty grandmother cut her patches from colorful feed-sacks. This quilt has an interlocking ring pattern and scalloped edges. When I was a kid, this quilt alternated on my bed with a daisy-patterned one (long since gone). I decided that before sending it to Purple Heart, I’d spread it on our bed and take a photo as a keepsake. After all, I thought, I do still have my crib quilt with the kittens on it and my parents’ double-bed quilt. My grandmother made them all.Quilt Blue Ribbon

Grandmother won a blue ribbon at the 1941 Morgan County Fair for one of her quilts. Years ago I framed that blue ribbon and its envelope (mailed with a one-cent stamp). On the envelope was written “For the prettiest quilt.” Maybe my ring quilt was the one.

I think she would like the way her quilts were used and loved. For me and then for my sons, quilts were way more than bed-coverings. They led a rollicking life, turning chairs into rainy-day caves or making pallets for sleepover guests. Tented on a clothesline and weighted at the corners, they gave the backyard an air of Araby.

While I was pondering these memories, Zeno jumped onto the bed. He padded about as if testing the quilt for feline suitability. He couldn’t know that he is merely the last in a long line of family cats to “make up dough” on this quilt, or to pounce on the toes it covered. The quilt, I saw, still has an affinity for cats.Quilt and Zeno (1)

When he looked up at me with question-marks in his eyes, I made a decision. The shelf gets wrapped in something else. The quilt stays in honorable retirement, with me.

Grief and Graduations

Recently, the grief and loss connected with two heart-felt deaths counter-weighted the joy in proud achievement as two grandchildren graduated. Two down, two up. It’s been an emotional roller-coaster time.

The only child of good friends died in an auto accident at 27; his parents were devastated. We went to Delaware to witness the celebration of Scott’s life. Family and friends met at their church, told stories about Scotty, wept with his parents.

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Zack and proud Mom and Dad

Shortly after that funeral, my grandson Zachary graduated from high school. “Pomp and Circumstances” ushered in a teary-eyed proud day, celebrating an important milestone on the road to maturity and independence.Zack a new Grad

 

 

Two weeks later, Lou’s older brother Ed died of congestive heart failure. Amid protestations that he and Ed were never close, being nine years apart in age, Lou remembered so many stories and incidents involving his brother that even he was surprised. Talking with family and friends at the funeral and interment, we heard more stories. Ed was still living in many minds and hearts and would go on being so.

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Lou and Ed

“Ed stories” included the time he loaned a teenaged Lou and his friend Jeff his brand-new Chevy convertible for a double-date (incredible!). Even Ed’s thoughts about space travel resonated with a newspaper article about current NASA plans concerned with Mars. Lou’s first reaction was, “Ed used to tell our mother he firmly believed we would land someone on Mars in his, Ed’s, lifetime.” “When did he say that?” I asked. “I think when Ed was in ROTC in college and I was in middle school.” So maybe 60 years ago, Ed had faith that he’d live to see people traversing space. And now he’s died at 81. And we’re not near Mars yet and won’t get there in Lou’s lifetime, either. Another reason to mourn.

 

Annika and Grandma

Annika and proud Grandma

Three days after Ed’s funeral in Virginia, I flew to California to watch my granddaughter Annika graduate from UC-San Diego. That was another proud day, full of photo ops and friends. That afternoon, we went sailing, with Annika still in the lacy dress she’d worn under her black gown.

Annika steers

 

I’m grateful that our two graduations helped leaven the funerals’ grief and encouraged thinking of all four events as thresholds. For Zachary entering college and Annika entering graduate school, the promise of a new and enlarged life is easy to see. In death, it’s not so obvious, despite religion’s tenets. Many faiths see death as promotion, but I don’t believe in life after death. After death, we exist in the acts and attitudes we’ve left as memories in the minds of others. Like the Scotty stories his photos and friends and parents told. Like the Ed stories we’ve been telling.

There’s a promise inherent in endings that result in new beginnings—if not for the lost one, at least for those left behind.