Thursday, October 12, 2006

The story of Minnie the Church Cat

Minnie came into our lives on Sunday, February 22, 1998. I don't know this date through some amazing feat of memory acrobatics, or because I have it engraved somewhere. I know it because there is a site out there that lists every Third Eye Blind concert by location and date, including the one they played at the Scranton Cultural Center that day.

I didn't go to church with my mom that Sunday. Maybe I had gone the night before as part of a pre-Tink's warmup. Maybe I had gone to mass with my grandmother at the nursing home. Whatever the case, I was home when my mom came back from church.

"Can we take another cat?" she asked. "There's a little cat pacing and crying outside of the church."

This was about six months after our dog Kitty had died. We had Haley the dog, and Josie and Ashes the cats. It was cold outside. The cat was looking for something. It had approached humans and cried for help.

"Yeah," I said. "I hope it's still there."

The cat was still there. It was a Tabby, like Ashes, but not the same color. Where Ashes was the color of coal ashes - gray and silver with touches of pinkish-white and bands of black - this cat was the color of nicotine stains: a yellow-brown with black bands when seen from a distance, but a much more complex color when seen up close. Its coat seemed to have a black base with brown bands and bright hairs that stood out in almost electric contrast with the black. The cat also had what I called a "King Cheetah Stripe" - a line of black that ran along the spine from the top of the head to the base of the tail. The new cat was also much, much smaller than Ashes.

My sister was in town that weekend. She had come up to see the Third Eye Blind concert with me. As we fed and cared for the cat, the question of what to call it came up. Because it was found near the St. John Neumann school, we briefly considered calling it Neuman, with all the unfortunate Seinfeldian connotations that were involved there. A few other names got kicked around. In the end my mom liked Mickey, which seemed like as good a name as any.

I fed Mickey throughout the day, as much as the cat wanted. A morsel here, a morsel there. Not forcing the food, just letting Mickey decide to eat. The poor cat was emaciated and covered with scabs from a hard life on the streets, and was also a bit suspicious of the people who had adopted it. My hands were clawed up pretty severely that day, but as anyone who knows me probably realizes, I have fairly thick skin.

Eventually it was time to head to the concert. My sister and I drove up to the Scranton Cultural Center in my car - the same car I am still driving - and talked about the cat on the way up. On the way back we talked about the concert and didn't think to phone home.

When we got home, well after midnight, my mother was frantic. "I went in the room, and there were little bloody things all over the towel on the bed," she said. "They looked like little fishes. They must be kitten fetuses. Mickey is actually Minnie, and she just spontaneously aborted a litter of kittens."

My mom and my sister ran the cat - whose sex had just been quite positively determined - up to the emergency veterinary clinic about 20 miles away. I stayed to tend to the other animals and to my father, who had been felled by a stroke several years before.

At the emergency vet's things looked pretty good for Minnie. She was not in any immediate danger and was quite healthy. She was also no longer pregnant. There was only one thing that really concerned the vet - a large mass he could feel in her abdomen. He took her away to take X-Rays to try to determine what it was.

A while later he came back. "What in the world have you been feeding her?" he asked. The large mass was actually a solid clump of food that Minnie had been eating all day. She was given a clean bill of health and sent home.

Since that time Minnie took her place in the hierarchy of animals and the feline pecking order. She was Junior Animal, and had no aspirations to be anything more. She was also Junior Feline and deferred to Josie and Ashes. Josie was not especially friendly to her, but was not openly antagonistic. Both Ashes and Haley loved her and played with her as much as they could - which wasn't all that much. Minnie was aloof and highly independent. Where Josie would demand attention and Ashes wanted as much physical contact as he could get, even wrestling with Haley at times, Minnie was content to stay in the background. Her favorite spot was in a corner of the room where I'm writing this, a stack of boxes with some blankets on top.

But she was a Tabby, and she had the Tabby tendency to clear off surfaces. Sometimes, in the middle of the night or even the middle of the day, the sound of toiletries being thrown off the bathroom vanity would echo through the house. We always knew that it was Minnie, "cleaning house."

Even after Nikki joined the group in 1999, Minnie didn't lord her status over the new Junior Animal. Nor did she change her behavior when she moved up two spots in one weekend, the Thanksgiving weekend of 2000 (I believe) when Joey came into the family and Josie died in my arms. She mourned, I think, when Haley died last year, leaving her as Second Animal. When Ashes died six months ago, making Minnie the Senior Animal, her behavior changed only a little. She still played chasing games with Nikki and Joey, but she would also sometimes stay near me while I worked on the computer, in the same spot where Ashes used to lay. But unlike Ashes, she did not want to be brushed, or scratched, or rubbed, or even stroked. She was near me; that was enough.

She didn't have a favorite toy, like Nikki with his beloved stuffed dog Dolly, or a favorite activity like Ashes with his brushing, or even a bundle of personality quirks like Joey. Her one luxury in life was her morning bowl of milk, which she would ask for by name - crying "Meeewk, meeewk" even as she saw me remove the jug from the refrigerator and begin to fill her bowl.

A few months ago she began to sleep with me in bed - not in direct contact, just near me, curled up by my head. That was where I would find her, every morning, right up until this past Monday.

Now it is Thursday, and she is dead.

I miss you, Minnie.


Lisa said...

I'm so sorry to hear about Minnie. I was afraid to come and read your blog because I didn't want to learn bad news about her. I know exactly what you are going through, I went through it a few years ago and I still miss her. Take care of yourself.

Anonymous said...

Sorry about Minnie ... God bless.

Anonymous said...

Oops, that was me, Bill @ IB

anne said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your Minnie.

dee said...

I'm so sorry to hear about Minnie. I like to think that Minnie and Maude are somewhere enjoying a nice, big bed and the occasional spot of cream.

Anonymous said...

I don't know you, but my cat has cancer; I found out in July and have been crying ever since, so I know how you feel.

i am so very very sorry.

D.B. Echo said...

Thank you all so very much.

As I have said before, pets live just long enough to break our hearts.

Ann said...

Knowing that we will probably outlive our beloved pets makes these relationships so bittersweet! When my troublemaking Joxer finally succumbs, I think I'll get a tortoise...