Tuxedo cats   Leave a comment

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Father’s Day was a few months ago, and I had a rather unique gift made for my husband.

Thanks, Dad, from all of us

Thanks, Dad, from all of us

I have a girlfriend, with serious creative leanings, whose latest interest has to do with creating tiny potted cactus gardens with ceramic miniatures.   Shopping online for fun figurines for her, I found some that put an idea in my head for my husband.  I asked her to make him a         planter for Father’s Day, with a scene centering on 4 black-and-white cats and a sign that said, “Thanks, Dad”.

And this is what she came up with.

Cuz, you see, my patient husband, who is not a cat person, has somehow allowed his home, one by one, gradually over the years, to be taken over by a bunch of black and white rescues,  the product of a feral female I’d seen around since before Hurricane Katrina.  No doubt, she herself was the product, born in the wild, of the constant flow of pets abandoned in a nearby park by owners who didn’t want them anymore, often college students who hadn’t thought it through that cute kittens grow into adult responsibilities whose care, starting with getting them spayed, cost more than they were willing to spend.

MamaCat

MamaCat, forever feral, but used to us after almost a decade. She’s the mother of our babies and she’s welcome to make her home in our garden for as long as she lives.

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  She’s trap-savvy and I’ve never been able to catch her to take her in to get fixed, but by strange circumstance in early 2007, we caught a litter of her kittens.  She had found a way to jump up from under our raised house through a plumbing hole in our bathroom floor, into the cavity beneath our jacuzzi tub, and that’s where she had her kittens.  I’d get up every morning and hear inexplicable little mews from within the bathroom walls that got a little stronger as the days progressed.  One of the side panels of the tub enclosure had been left unattached for easy plumbing access, so I opened it a  crack, put a dish of tuna fish at the far end of the bathroom, then hid inside the tub and waited until all of them were out, then reached a hand out and closed the panel.  I raised them in the tub.

Swarmed by kittens after a hard day of post-Katrina repairs to my grandmother's house.

Swarmed by kittens after a hard day of post-Katrina repairs to my grandmother’s house.

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It was my intention to love all the fear out of them and make them tame enough to make good pets, and then find homes for them in Craigslist, but there was a problem.  The contractor who was repairing my grandmother’s house ended up being one of those guys who came flooding into post-Katrina New Orleans to make a buck from people who couldn’t get their local contractors (waiting lists were years-long), but didn’t actually know what they were doing.  Not only did he not grasp the scope of the job required, but he thought that he could speak to his Spanish-speaking crew in English, if he said it in a Jamaican accent, and the intricacies of my directions would magically be understood.  Since I spoke decent Spanish and understood the rudiments of construction, I quickly realized that I had to be onsite and babysit the job every day for months, away from the kittens for those crucial first few weeks.

Squeaker is 2nd from top, facing right, with white chin.

Squeaker is 2nd from top, facing right, with white chin.

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A bouquet of sleeping kitty faces

A bouquet of sleeping kitty faces

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I’d come home at 5 o’clock, exhausted and mind-numbed, and plop down in the tub with a book of sudoku puzzles to unwind.  My husband, who willingly forfeited his tub for the duration, would bring me a cold coke or something, and visit with us.  We couldn’t take them out into the rest of the house, though.   He had a cat, a long-haired grey named Sebastian (the coolest cat there ever was), that had belonged to his kids who were now grown and gone.  He’d survived our 8-week Katrina evacuation, by the hardest, but was never the same cat, becoming fearful and clingy, never wanting us to be out of sight.  When I was little, my parents got two baby kittens when our old cat was about 10, and it broke her heart.  She quit eating and died for no reason the vet could find, and I didn’t want to risk breaking Sebastian’s heart.

Besides, they weren’t yet paper-trained, so they stayed in the bathtub.

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It was Irv who noticed that when I’d first get in the tub and the kittens would rush up to say hi and climb all over me, before going back down to resume their previous play, there was one kitten who was always the last to leave, curling up close to my face and looking at my eyes, sometimes trying to ‘catch’ my blinking eyelashes.  And it was Irv who said one evening, in a mock-fatherly sing-song voice, “If.. you.. want.. one.., you.. can.. keep.. one.”  But I wasn’t going to do it without Sebastian’s permission.   So, as each of these kittens, one by one, found new homes, I started introducing the little guy to Sebastian to see how he would react.  Fascinated by this new ‘elder statesman’, he embarked upon a relentless barrage of antics to get Sebastian’s attention.  Sebastian was curious, and didn’t seem to feel any jealousy, but we could tell the jury was still out.

Sebastian and The Squeak

Sebastian and The Squeak

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We needn’t have worried.

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Turns out, it was the best thing we could have done for Sebastian, who felt like we’d gotten the little guy as a pet for him.  They played together, and played with their toys together, and Sebastian had great patience with the roughhouse fights, like a parent training a youngster how to hold his own.  And when he’d had enough, he had a funny habit of irritably putting one paw on top of the little one’s head that cracked me up.  Irv’s favorite thing was when the baby would go bouncing and pronking up to Sebastian, making weird squeaking noises, trying to goad him into something, and contort himself into such a lather on the approach that he’d end up doing a complete flip on his head before he ever reached Sebastian, who would sit calmly looking at him like he were some strange bug.

Thanks, Dad - #1

Thanks, Dad, from Squeaker Fleabit

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So now the little guy could be out, and Irv could spend a little time with him while I was gone, but then we had a flea problem.  The poor little one was tormented by so many fleas, but was still too young for the harsh chemicals of flea killers.  So this man, whose year entailed reassembling his office in our livingroom after Katrina sent a 13-story crack up the side of his building downtown, trying to keep his business afloat, taking in a disabled sister, and managing the fate of her destroyed home which “fell through the cracks” of every hurricane assistance program – and who, I reiterate is not a cat person -, flea-combed the little guy every day until he was old enough for flea meds.  Eventually, he became Squeaker Fleabit.

attitude

“I’m a little big for that paw-on-the-head thing, now, don’tcha think?”

The Squeak

Attempts to train Mom not to have a fit when I do this have not met with much success.

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Life went on like this for 3 years, through the 2008-2009 construction upheaval of raising our house to a 2-story, all the while living in it, and the escalating hysteria that was the amazing 2009 Saints football season.   Squeak became quite independent and had fun exploring all the daily changes and messes left at the end of a day’s construction, while Sebastian slowly began to show his age.

Demon cat !

Demon cat and the future rumpus room.

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Ladders are such fun.

Ladders are fun, and put Mom in such a tizzy.

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A half-built shower - one of a series of ever-changing spots to take a day's nap in.

Half-built showers make for good insulation storage and kitty nap places.

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I began to mourn in advance for Irv, who was already an unwilling empty-nester, having lost to the evacuation all 3 of his college-age sons who had not only been over all the time for bar-b-cues but had brought their friends, too.  Now he was getting choked up at the thought of Sebastian, his 4th son, nearing the end of his life.

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Thanks, Dad #2

Thanks, Dad, from Bunny Wombat

sound asleep

sound asleep

In May of 2010, along about the same time that Sebastian got sick and started hiding, in obvious pain, I nearly stepped on a 3 week old kitten in the yard who was so startled that she froze for a half-second, long enough for me to scoop her up.  I walked back into the house with this frightened frozen bit of fluff and looked at Irv, who looked back from his seat on the sofa.  Here we go again.

But this time, I had the time to devote to a kitten and raised her in an old shoulder sling around my neck so she would have lots of human contact, even took her to a party.  I was involved in two projects at the time; landscaping a new hill from pieces of the old foundation slab, and painting a shop sign for a friend who was opening up a bakery.  And I did it all with a kitten hanging from my neck.

My painting partner, raised in my old shoulder sling

Wombat in her shoulder sling burrow

The changing of the guard

Wombat and Sebastian: the changing of the guard

  We hadn’t planned on keeping her.  She was a sad little kitten who didn’t play as easily as others.  She certainly knew I was mom and was scared without me, but she never purred for me.  She only purred when she was sucking her toe.  But she purred when Irv rubbed her tummy, which she wouldn’t even let me touch, and the two of them took a shine to each other.   Squeaker, despite all of Irv’s care while I was gone, had grown up to be a one-woman cat, surly with anyone else but me, and I was glad to see little Wombat bonding with Irv.  Raised in a pouch like a marsupial, I started calling her the wombat.  This was a bit too weird for Irv, and since we’d figured out that she had been born over the Easter weekend, he called her Bunny.  And thus, she became Bunny Wombat.

It was more than just a regular bonding, though, between Irv and Wombat.   The timing was weird.    Just before we found Wombat, we found out Sebastian had cancer.   In his last weeks, when we were carrying him around the house with us, he got to meet little Wombat, and liked her.  I certainly can’t say that he sensed that Irv was in good hands, that he could pass the baton and let go of this earth knowing that his Irv would continue to be loved, but I know that’s how Irv took it.   Me too, I guess.  Within a few weeks of finding Wombat, he was gone.

Goodbye, sweet boy

Sebastian

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Sleep well, sweet and faithful boy, ever beneath our pecan tree.   Your memory is kept alive every time Irv and I both, in unison, yell out in a scolding tone of voice, “Kitty!”, whenever your dad “lets wind escape” with particular gusto, lovingly continuing the tradition in death as we did in life.

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Wombat on Irv's desk

Can’t quite fit in Dad’s baseball cap anymore

In July, I went away for a month to recommune with my writing, which Katrina had so abruptly shoved onto the back burner, officially calling a halt to the final stage of what had effectively become an unwanted new ‘career’, working on the hundred little unfinished jobs that our crooked contractor had bailing on, a thing he eventually got arrested for.    When I came back, Wombat was a different cat;  I was a stranger to her.

Wombat on Irv's desk, 4 mos. old

Wombat on Irv’s desk, 4 mos. old

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Irv and Wombat hard at work

Irv and Wombat hard at work

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As if she and Irv weren’t already bonding before I left, she had spent every day that I was gone on Irv’s desk at the computer with him, curled up inside his baseball cap.  They’d become inseparable.  She was Daddy’s girl from then on, though she’s at least friendly to me again.     Ingrate.

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For my birthday shortly after, we spent a weekend at a secluded riverside B&B on the northshore, and my toes located a clay deposit in the river and I brought up a big clump of it to make something with in the leisure of the evening.  And this is what came of it.

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The first half of 2010 must have been quite the fertile time for MamaCat, because about 4 months after Wombat was born, she had another litter, one of which ended up in the trap we routinely set out for opossums.  She was around 5 weeks old.

They're taking over!

“Look at this cool vine Dad found for us!”  Clockwise from top; Wombat, The Squeak, and Ping.  Falafel is under the table by the hammock.

That same week, I was surprised to find a nearly-grown kitten I had never seen before in the trap, and her sister huddled up against the trap too scared to leave her.  They were both tame, but they had starved down to their skeletons and were terrified of their surroundings, and they were inordinately attached to each other.  It was clear that they had been mostly indoor cats with no outdoor skills, whose owner had dumped them in the park.  After a couple months of food and love and play, indoors and out, human and feline, their little wounded spirits had recovered a good bit, and I found a home for “Falafel and Tabouli” with someone who was willing to take them both.  But when they left, the little black and white missed them.  Squeaker was mostly a loner and sad little Wombat, always on Irv’s desk, did not want friends.  But with my resumed writing came a more sedentary lifestyle and an available lap, and she decided that was a perfect place for a lonesome kitten.  One day while watching football on tv, I was searching for a name amongst black and white things… orcas?.. penguins?.., and while scrutinizing a football play on tv, I remembered what a character in a Fellini movie said about what people dressed in tuxedos looked like.  And thus it was that Pinguina Fleaflicker joined the family.

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Sadly, a computer crash erased all her baby pictures.

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The perfect writer's cat

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Ping

The perfect writer’s cat

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For the next addition to the family… (I’ll be crying by the end of this paragraph)… I had to lose one first.  The week before Halloween of 2011, The Squeak disappeared.  He loved our big yard and never wandered, and regardless of everyone kept telling me, I knew he wouldn’t “come sauntering back in a few days”.  To my knowledge, he had never crossed the street, so I knew, even as I went looking for a body in the neighborhood streets, that I wouldn’t find him hit by a car.  He’d been taken.   I did the whole putting-the-signs-up thing, went to the SPCA, etc., and tried to keep the visions at bay of the psychos in the world that set cats on fire on Halloween, or use them as bait in dog fights, stuff like that (Philadelphia has lost me forever for taking Michael Vick back).  Hoping to hear something comforting at the SPCA, I instead was told that SPCAs everywhere routinely put a hold on adoptions of black cats during the last two weeks of October.  My Squeak was gone, and I cried inconsolably for a week every time I thought about what his fate could be, thinking of the terror and the pain, his little cat mind wondering what had happened to the serene, well-loved life he’d inexplicably been plucked from.  Until 2 weeks later after Halloween.

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Hi, Mom.

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A grown cat, a big black and white male, of a completely different body type and demeanor than MamaCat’s bloodline, appeared at our door.  He was bewildered, peering through the French doors at us, mewing.  We’d go out and talk to him; he  was affectionate, well-mannered, obviously somebody’s cat, and when we went back in, he’d put his paw up on the glass pane. He never left that door, never stopped asking us to let him in, and never wandered the neighborhood, as though he’d been dropped off right here and didn’t know what to do after that.

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And that’s what I choose to believe, that someone picked up a bunch of black and mostly black cats for a Halloween party, didn’t hurt them, and when they were done, dropped them back off roughly in the places where they’d gotten them… but hadn’t made a note of which cat came from where.  I choose to believe that in another part of the city, someone has taken Squeak in.   We fed the newcomer, gave him alot of much-needed loving and reassurance out in the yard, and he turned out to be one of the most affectionate, thankful cats I’d ever met.  What a lovebug!  The purring was constant, and the rubbing, and if I were gardening and he could reach my face, he had an endearing fondness for headbutting… bang, nuzzle, nuzzle, rub… BANG, rub, BANG.

Mmm, Dad's clean shirts fresh out the dryer.

Mmm, Dad’s clean shirts fresh out the dryer

Watching his face in the glass at night when we went to bed, after another day without a home and family, made me feel like 10,000 hounds, but Ping was jealous and I didn’t want to jeopardize the bond we’d formed.   When winter set in, though, I tried a few encounters inside with Ping.  She was nasty, but I refused to make him stay out in the cold.  Plus, it was agonizing to put him back out, after finally being let in.  I made sure Ping was the only one allowed in the bedroom with us at night, and never let her see me cuddling the big guy, and grudgingly, Ping relented.  Blackbeard, as we were calling him, for his black chin, was grateful to Wombat and Ping, both, for every bite of food and every minute of time inside they allowed him to have, and he showed it constantly with headbutts and nuzzles, no matter how nasty they were in return.

Thanks, Dad, from Ping and Blackbeard

Thanks, Dad, from Ping and Blackbeard

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Blackbeard in the rumpus room magazine bin

In Daddy’s rumpus room magazine bin

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He was twice as grateful to us, just for being allowed to be with us, and eventually, neither of us could stand keeping someone as wonderful as him an arm’s length anymore, within sight of , but not given, what he so badly wanted, to be part of our family.  The joy he felt when we first patted on the sofa for him to jump up and join us… well, as I’ve said, I’ve never met such a thankful cat.

That was 18 months ago and his joy has yet to be diminished.

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                                                                                                                                  _______________________________________

Goodbye, my sweet boy.  I still cry for you, am tortured by the not knowing, and pray for you every time I think of you.

My Squeak

My Squeak

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Beginning of 2012, I started this blog, and started doing alot of photo shoots.   From Ping’s perspective, I was up and shooting almost as much as I was sitting down with her, writing.  As the year progressed, the photos revealed something I hadn’t noticed, how much Ping was following me around.   I’m fond of the children’s book “Goodnight, Moon”, where you have to look for the mouse hidden in each illustration.  Those of you who have read my story “Goodbye, K-Man” know this.

So I give you a short game of “Where’s Ping?”

from "Mama Sitges"

from “Mama Sitges”

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from "Study in Red and Turquoise"

from “Study in Red and Turquoise”

for future series of construction "before"s and "after"s

for future series of construction “before”s and “after”s

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for future series on my garden

for future series on my garden

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Thanks for letting me share the feline facet of my little world.     ______     © Calhoun Rising – All rights reserved.

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