Remembering the Handsome

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Last night, my dear friend, Judy, saw a streak of white in the lower periphery of her left eye. She glanced down, thinking it was Eddy.

“I know,” I said. “He’s still here.”

Most times I come through the front door, I hear him land on the floor from bed or sofa and wait for him to stroll into the entry and stretch, toes spread, before me.  A bow of acknowledgement, one would think, except, of course, he was a cat. More likely, he was continually attempting to teach me how I should greet him.

He was once, you may remember, my dad’s cat. But I often wondered, after he came to live with me, if he hadn’t just tolerated the long haul from his beginnings in the Carolinas and his nearly 14-year tenancy in Dad’s household, in order to come to me. He was a very patient feline.

The first time we met, he was sitting under a shrub near the stoop to Dad’s front door. I gasped. At his beauty, his presence. His green eyes met mine and seemed to say, “Where have you been?” Then he disappeared.

The night Dad breathed his last, Ed lay curled by Dad’s left hip, purring. I knelt on the floor, placed my hands on Dad’s and remembered all the words to “Over the Rainbow.” Together, we sang him home.

In the little house in the Gardenhood, Ed was courteous (never scratched the furniture, always used his box) and a very good trainer. Despite my staunch opinion that he would be safer indoors, he made it abundantly clear that he should be allowed access to and from the flat corner lot via the huge dog door. Even so, to assuage my fears and prove how wise he was about traffic and the ways of the human world, he often elected to stay behind the fence and watch as I tended the garden in the danger zone of the parking median. Well, not always, of course. Once he discovered catmint, he might follow me out there if the gate was open, just for a nibble. Oh, and fresh catmint aside, he wasn’t going to eat “health food,” thank you very much. Give me Friskies from a can, from a variety of different cans, in no particular order, and don’t for a minute assume you know which one is my favorite.

He showed his great intelligence in other ways, too. After all, how many cats do you know who watched Downton Abbey?

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At first wary of visitors, he soon began granting us audience, allowing perfect strangers to run their hands down the wedding gown satin of his fur. He gained the admiration and following he knew all along he deserved.

If I was outside, then he followed. I might dash out to the compost between breakfast and leaving for work, and when I’d return, there he was, waiting on the back walk. I’d croon at him, and he’d stretch is full length and roll from side to side. Times like that, I’d stroke him wildly and set free clouds of kitty down. He’d wet the sidewalk with drool, then suddenly take a powerfully playful bat at my hands and prance off to be coy.

When he didn’t think I was watching, I’d see him on patrol, pussy-footing through unmowed grass out to the yard’s shrubby perimeter. There, without provocation, he’d dash pall-mall back through the dog door and go skidding over all the floors before leaping up to his station in the front window, the same place where, before him, Willie watched the world.

In winter, he preferred the warmth provided by interiors. Still, he needed thrills. So, he taught me to play. He must have been sure no one else was watching, otherwise, how else would he have lowered his dignity and chase or be chased by a dot of red light? Or heavens, to spend 20 minutes stalking and pouncing on the end of a string. How ridiculous.

Eightteen, I’d say to friends, and he still loves to play. His blood work results would be great for a cat half his age.

Then, suddenly, he was off his Friskies. Only three months had passed since his wellness visit to the vet, but his new blood work now pointed to cancer. Unknown variety, probably blood.

It was a swift decline, and he bore it with majesty.

I gave him what my friend, Nancy, calls an Egyptian burial. His grave was lined with sacred herbs and a swath of scarlet cloth. By his head, I placed photos of me and Dad. Under his nose, a can of tuna fish (dolphin-safe, of course), a bag of kibble, and a handful of fresh catmint. Around his paws, his toys. There’s a big slab of flagstone over the top. I’d have built a pyramid, if I’d known how.

The first nights, I couldn’t sleep. So, I dropped a pillow on top of the bed. Something to curve myself around, to avoid kicking, to warm the small of my back. A weight, heavier than gravity, anchoring the bed and me to it, just off geographic center. Eddy’s spot.

Two new moons have come and gone since he made his dignified departure. Now, looking at all the photos I took of him, only makes me smile. I’ve started singing in the shower, again, too. When I push aside the curtain, it’s easy to see him, sitting on the rug, like he used to, listening. “Where have you been, Handsome?” I want to ask him. “Where have you been?”

What She’s Been Up To

I can only tell you what I’ve watched her do around here. That is, when she’s here, which is less and less, these days.

She makes me dizzy.

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She pulls the head of a very long snake, runs back to the house, turns a knob, and makes it rain at the head of the snake. Then, she runs back through the house (tracking in lots of stuff, let me tell you), drags another huge snake, turns another knob, and makes it rain there. This goes on and on. I have a very hard time keeping track of her.

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When she does sit down, it’s for a very short time. This morning she came out on the porch, turns to me, and says, “Well, Mr. Cat, we have purrzactly 10 minutes to drink this cup of coffee. So, if you want some lap time, you better come on up.” I thought about it for a while, thinking maybe she was kidding, maybe she’d settle in, and I could knead her thigh.

No such luck.

A buzzery bell went off, and so did she.

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Yesterday, she walked all over the place with a big, broom-looking thing, sweeping the grass. The floor in the house is dirty, and she sweeps the grass. Then she’d pick up the piles she made (before I even got a chance to check them out), and tossed them in the back of her truck. I followed her out there, too, but she always tells me to stay away from trucks and cars and the street.

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Then she took a little broom and did the same thing to the place where all the prickery things grow. One of the prickery things bit her. She said the plant was an agave, and it was just protecting her pups.

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What? That’s the craziest thing I’ve heard since the time she said tulips come from turkeys. Really?

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Where she goes the rest of the time, I don’t know. By the smells on her knees and shoes, though, I’d say she’s up to more of the same, where ever she is.

One day, when it was kind of cold outside, she stayed inside and worked here, where I’m sending you this message. I’d sit and stare at her to get her to feed me or let me outside. “What is it, Ed?” she’d say. “Can’t you see I’m bizzy? I have to get this done for a talk I’m giving next Wednesday.”

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Whatever.

I tried stting in her lap when she’s like this, but something just doesn’t feel right.

I’ve heard you gardener types just can’t wait for spring. Must be true. There’s sure no waiting going on around here.

Can anyone out there tell me what she’s really been up to?

Becoming

When I started Gardenhood, a little over fifteen months ago, I asked the question, “When does a patch of earth become a garden?”

Well, it’s May, the month of garden riots, the month of dawn to dusk labor for those of us nuts enough to have chosen gardening as a profession, the month when all the thinking space in my brain is taken up with what plants to get for which gardens and how to get all the annuals planted before June. So, I don’t feel capable of answering the question.

Even so, as the weeks of spring fold into those of summer, each time I go out and arrive back at the flat corner lot, I have a good feeling and recurring thought, “It’s starting to look like a gardener lives here.”

It was spring of 2010 that I began reclaiming the 900 square foot parking median from years of total neglect, and I smothered another 900 square feet of front lawn.

The median has come alive.

And inside the chain-link fence, much has changed.

Tree and herbaceous peonies have just gone to their first prom.

The smoke bush will soon be smokin’.

Nearly every day, there is something new to see.

And Edward the Handsome approves most of it. (To approve everything would be to deny his cathood).

I think, just maybe, this patch of earth is becoming a garden.

The Other Purrson in the Garden

It’s time you heard directly from me how life goes around here.

She calls me “Ed”. More than once I’ve heard other furless purrsons laugh when she introduces me. Purrhaps if she used my full title, Edward the Handsome, they would show a little more respect.

In the moment, I’m sitting in her lap, dictating this report. You can see I’m a patient and intelligent feline.

She, on the other hand, moves around so much, that I can only surmise she is restless. Isn’t that the opposite of patient? My old purrson was very patient. He stayed in one place for so many hours, I could come and go from his lap as I pleased. She doesn’t watch TV or take naps in the afternoon. Pity.

When she works at the computer, she jumps up to answer that ringing, or dash outside, or bang around in the kitchen. I curl up in the warm, black chair when she leaves. Who wouldn’t? She’s out of luck when she comes back and pulls up the hard chair with the small blue pillow.

As for intelligence, she speaks only one language, and I’m here to tell you, it isn’t Cat.  She repeats everything I say, but I can’t allow as she actually understands. Maybe if I say things louder….

It seems to work better if I use nonverbal approaches. When I first came here, I went on a hunger strike to protest the health food diet she had in mind for me. Now, she feeds me what my old purrson did, and I’m glad.

Also, I had to scratch at the door and run around the house like a crazy purrson, before she realized that after 15 years, I wasn’t about to  convert to indoor kittyism.

She shows promise. If I walk to one of the doors, she usually follows me and opens it. That part she gets right. However, she seems to think just because I got her to open the door, it means I want to go out right then. What if I only want to smell the air? Then she makes speeches.

“I know you had an open pet door at your old house, Buddy.”

That’s her favorite. By the tone of her voice, I’d say she’s sorry, but she hasn’t done a thing to correct the situation.

If I do go out the door, she always says, “Come back safe.” That’s kind of nice.

She took down the bird feeders. Oh, except when there’s snow or rain. I don’t DO wet.

Another thing: As far as I’m concerned, grass is a waste of real estate. It’s only good for chewing on once in a while. Sometimes, I high step across a stretch of it in order to sharpen my claws on some good, rough bark, but walking on it is one of those necessary evils. So, I keep it to a minimum. It’s a good thing she has provided me with sidewalks.

Ah, yes, and the front porch. It’s a great place to sit and stare.

I’ll check back in with you from time to time. I think she’ll be pretty good about it, even times like now when there’s a lot happening outside, because I’m polite when I ask.

Edward the Handsome

Edward the Handsome, though snow-white, hasn’t an arctic bone in his feline body. It was officially cold in the gardenhood earlier this week, minus ten one morning. He asked politely to be let out the back door. Each time he stepped head and shoulders onto the stoop, lifted his nose for scents, and curled back around to the kitchen.

I had my suspicions, but never knew this about Ed. You see, he lived for 13 or so years with my dad. There, until last March, he played second, third, or fourth fiddle to the dogs. I didn’t see much of him when I visited. Since then we’ve had the chance to learn a lot about each other.

He had access to the outside world whenever he wanted it, through a pet door which Dad, stubborn spoiler of animals, duct taped open day and night. Pokey, the last of Dad’s canine companions, wouldn’t press through the plexiglass flaps. With the doors permanently open, Pokey could run out and bark at crows or squirrels whenever he pleased, and mice, racoons, and skunks found their way in to bowls of food and a litter of untouched treats and chews. What a nightmare.

Yet despite his low ranking, intruders to his safe place, and constant access to a world of other possibilities, Edward the Faithful stuck around. When Pokey departed, Ed lent Dad his furry and lanky self for petting, warmth, and comfort. Dad was mighty grateful. Later, when incontinence got the better of him, Dad would say he was wet and stinky because Eddy jumped on his tummy, releasing his bladder. It might have been a feeble story, but it was the only face-saving logic Dad had. Ed didn’t seem to take it personally.

Later, when Dad no longer had the wherewithal to object, the pet door was shut. Edward the Remaining learned to use it. That was my first witness to just how smart, or at least adaptable, Ed the cat is.

By then, sundowning syndrome disrupted what was left of Dad’s daily routine. In a large shaky script, Dad wrote “6:30 CHORES” on a sheet of paper and left it on the stove. These chores were feeding the birds and squirrels, taking a walk, and feeding Ed. Sadly, predictably, the note to self didn’t help. Ed got used to asking sweetly and getting fed by whichever child was on hand. And when he wasn’t out for a bit of sun and a roll in the dirt, Ed coiled and stretched next to Dad, in the double recliner in the TV room or on his bed. Then, only on his bed.

Ed snuggled next to Dad’s left hip through the wee hours of the Wednesday morning when a thundering wind helped Dad fly home.

The moon-white cat has lived in this tiny, flat-roofed house for a month now. He’s been a good sport, considering. He’s had to teach me a few things, too. For starters, the expensive good-for-the-senior-kitty food – both kibble and canned – simply won’t do. “Give me what Ol’ Merlie gave me, or I won’t eat.” The message was clear. Secondly, all the enrichment in the world doesn’t equal the thrill of being terrified by a flock of geese chatting as they wing over. “Trust me. I’ll be careful. But unless I go outside, I will refuse to thrive.” Not at all last is this: “Petting is done on my time. I initiate.”

He’s made a few concessions and even some pleasant discoveries. He accepts that canned food comes twice a day and kibble is nibbled in between. He watches the cursor dash about the computer screen. Toys are actually fun. Catnip rocks. In his old house, the curtains were always drawn and the windows high and practically without sills. Here, windows are better than TV for entertainment, and the sun comes through them, too.

Edward the Comfortable has found every sunny spot and moves from one to the next as they change. He has also discovered my lap. Although his new and oddly familiar person doesn’t sit still nearly as long nor as regularly as Ol’ Merlie, which is somewhat annoying to the boy, he often prefers my lap to sofas, chairs, or the bed.

This morning before sunrise, Ed and I both stepped onto the back stoop. He jumped down for his morning roll, and I wondered at the moon being bitten into a crescent by the shadow of the earth. What glow remained reflected the early evening light half-way around the world. I marveled at the dance of orbs, of light chasing dark chasing light, the wholeness and perfection of it all. The urge rose to run back in and call Dad to have him step outside and share the eclipse. I don’t imagine that urge will ever go away.

Instead, after his promised careful perusal of the back yard, Edward the Handsome ran up the straight walk from the shed to the stoop. We both went inside to warm up and welcome the dawn.