03 July 2006

Saying goodbye to a special feline friend...

Today, as I mentioned recently, was my parents 60th wedding anniversary. My parents did nothing out of the ordinary in terms of celebrating this milestone because, truth be told, I think they have found every day they are together, the best present possible.

Many times I have written of my home and spoke of it in terms of a zoo because, well, with one large dog, several finches and four cats, there's a lot of wildlife in this place, and that's not even factoring in the humans who call this place home.

I am ever so heartbroken to report that today, we lost one of our cats - not the oldest three, but the youngest, wildest, craziest, most mischievous baby who also happened to be my Daddy's best buddy. How many times I have watched him walking to the shed in my back yard, Tabitha walking right on his heels, following in his footsteps, hanging out with her guy.

In the evenings, it was not uncommon to see Tabitha sprawled out, purring peacefully, within arms reach of my father as he sat at his computer. I think she just wanted to be close to him, as so many of us do, because this wise, wily cat could sense that my Dad is good people.

Before Tabitha, my Dad was never what one could call a "cat person". He didn't hate them, he just didn't have any special affection for them. In other words, he had never been "chosen", which is the term I use when a cat decides you are worthy of their time and attention.

Justin talked me into adopting Tabitha in March 2000, when we lived in Amarillo, so Tabitha was a Texan and a wild and wooly Texan she was. She paid no attention to the fact that my father was never terribly enamored of felines, she marched right in his room and charmed him into loving her right back. And love her he did.

They shared so much time together, she tagged along for yard work, parked herself as he worked on ancestor sleuthing, and every now and then, you would see her sticking her nose in his pipe tobacco, sneaking a nibble. She always knew that when he finished dinner, there would always be a morsel or two set aside with her name on it. It was part of their routine, she would wait patiently for him to eat his fill, and then she would walk over and eat a treat or two from his hand.

Saturday evening, my parents returned from the store and with both doors open and the side van door ajar, as they were taking groceries out, Tabitha slipped in and hid herself well. The car wasn't started again until this morning, when my parents left to go run a couple of errands. As my father was opening the door of the van for my mother, they discovered Tabitha dead on the driver's side floor of the car.

I was sitting out by the pool, baking my already sunburned skin and had my nose in a book when I noticed my Dad walking around the garden. I absently asked him what he was doing and he said he was looking for a special spot. As he passed me on the way to the side gate, I inquired as to what he was getting ready to do? More cucumber plants is what I was hoping for. He told me not to ask any questions. Of course, I asked more.

A few minutes later, just as I was about to dive back in the pool, I saw him again and this time he was carrying a black trash bag. I could tell by the shape of the plastic that it most definitely wasn't cucumbers plants. It was then that he told me what had happened. I just couldn't believe it. And then, I cried. A lot.

I watched my Dad as he reverently began digging and gently laid Tabitha's body into the hole. I cried as much for the pain my Dad was feeling, the loss of his little buddy, as I did for Tabitha. Tears fell down his face as he covered her with dirt. It was heartbreaking. It wasn't a very happy way to spend a 60th wedding anniversary.

I called Katie in NY and when Justin got home, I told him and after he processed the information, he walked over to my Dad and put his arm on his grandpa's shoulder and expressed his sorrow. My Dad's heart was broken because he loved that cat. Our hearts were broken because it feels so helpless to see someone you love so much, experience a loss and the pain that goes with it and you know there is nothing you can do but just be there.

Katie wrote her Pops a sweet E-mail and she most certainly put things in perspective for me when she shared that when she first heard my voice when I called, she was instantly afraid that something had happened to one of her grandparents and, though she loved Tabitha dearly, she was relieved that her Granny and Pops were OK. I'm so glad the news wasn't what she feared. I'm sorry it was Tabitha, but so grateful to have both of my parents.

After dinner, Justin walked outside where my Dad was still working, and took a Giant Magic Marker and wrote Tabitha's name on a paving stone which is now her grave marker, there among the cucumbers and tomato and pepper plants. "Tabitha Cook - 2000 - 2006". It was such a "Justin" thing to do and it was poignant to see my Dad appreciate his grandson's gesture.

Sure she was just a house cat and, as my daughter mentioned, Tabitha probably spent way over nine lives in six years and we never really expected her to live to old age - she was just too adventurous, too wild, and admirably untamed.

I've always heard that you can "own" a dog, but you can't ever truly "own" a cat. A cat chooses you. Almost from the beginning, Tabitha chose my Dad and I commend her on her great taste. In cat terms, this feline lived a good life: Six years ago on Mother's Day, she celebrated by taking out a family of birds who built a nest way too close to the ground. A few months before that, on the evening of my 41st birthday, Tabitha turned up after three days out. She'd had a fight with a car and the car won. Her bottom chin was separated and split from the gum to the point that the ER Vet had to insert a button and attach it with a paper clip under her chin so the bottom plate would heal back to her lower jaw. This kept her down for, maybe, a day and a half.

It will be strange not seeing her waiting patiently for her "after dinner" treat from my Dad's plate. It will be odd to walk in and not see her lounging asleep on his filing cabinet. I'll even miss seeing her occasional offerings of freshly killed glass lizards, frogs and the occasional squirrel. Tabitha was a true "hunter and gatherer", but most of what she gave was love. I always respected her refusal to become completely tame and play by the rules. There was something truly wild in her nature and she was simply a gorgeous tabby of a cat.

We'll miss you Tabitha. See you on the other side of the bridge.

Rainbow Bridge

There is a bridge connecting Heaven and Earth.
It is called the
Rainbow Bridge because of all its beautiful colors.
Just this side of the
Rainbow Bridge there is a land of meadows,
hills and valleys with lush green grass.

When a beloved pet dies, the pet goes to this place.
There is always food and water and warm spring weather.
The old and frail animals are young again.
Those who were sick, hurt or in pain are made whole again.

There is only one thing missing,
they are not with their special person who loved them so much on earth.

So each day they run and play until the day comes
when one suddenly stops playing and looks up!
The nose twitches! The ears are up!
The eyes are staring and this one runs from the group!

You have been seen and when you and your special friend meet,
you take her in your arms and hug her.
She licks and kisses your face again and again -
and you look once more into the eyes of your best friend and trusting pet.

Then you cross the Rainbow Bridge together, never again to be apart.

Author Unknown

Double Your Trouble...

One week from today, iced tea in Wilmington will be a hot commodity. That's right, Manhattan's newest and finest is gracing us with a visit and we are beyond excited.

Gosh it feels like I haven't seen my Katie in forever. In reality, it's only been about seven weeks, but I have missed the sprite! She's on a mission to over-saturate herself in southern humidity and sweet iced tea. I'm on a mission to soak up as much fun as I can with her which won't be easy and I may have to stand in line, but I'm willing to do what I have to do for an audience with her Manhattan Majesty. It's what you do when you give life to a legend.

I will, without a doubt, be snapping photos left and right. I can't handle these droughts. I mean, you really do get accustomed to having a smart ass around.

Katie has sorely missed the south's finest drink and I've sorely missed Katie. I hope we both get more than our fill.

I imagine lots of late nights, a fair amount of coffee intermingled with the tea, and laughing at really stupid things and crying over some seriously sad stuff.

I look back on the two photos taken that faraway day in May when I left my little girl in the big apple. What a hard day that was! I didn't cry that much when we had to put Freeway to sleep - but, then again, I have known Katie longer than I knew Freeway. Plus the fact that I gave birth to her and all that stuff. :-)

That's not to say that Freeway wasn't a mighty fine dog. She was just a bit snippy and basically hated Cassie with a passion. To this day, Cassie holds no grudge and you have to respect that.

Of course, one of the reasons for this impromptu visit is because of the recent changes, which I'm sure is the same reason her text messages have been more obscurely bizarre and amusing than usual. I think it's part of that whole "circle the wagons" stuff that families do when difficult times visit. A million times a day lately, I find myself grateful for this crazy family of mine. They're on such a thinly disguised mission to keep me busy and pre-occupied and how can you not love people who go to such extreme measures?

Case in point: It was almost 100 degrees this evening and I was in the attic boxing up things that need to be picked up, so with the heat indices it was probably 110 where I was working. Justin arrived with an order for me to go downstairs. Now. I could tell he wasn't going to accept any excuses. It turns out that he had made some soup and I was going to eat it. Period. End of discussion. I exchanged glances with Stephanie, who was sitting to my right at the table pretending to read Harry Potter, though I really believe she was acting in the role of "under-cover prison matron", because she looked at me as if she was all prepared for any sudden moves or signs of escape. I wasn't really hungry, and they really didn't care. The soup really was great - the love behind it was priceless.

They're both so adorable.

Perhaps we can talk Nina (John's Mom) into joining us for lunch during the week Katie is in residence. We'd love to see her again and give her a proper beach lunch. John has one of the nicest people in the world that he calls Mom, and the extended clan is just as lovely.

Mostly, I would like to find a not so crowded parcel of beach and sit in the sand and chat with my daughter (and my son if he's not working!). It's not so much what we will or will not talk about - it's more about being in the same space and I would love to share some space with Katie. I need that right now and, prescient faerie that she is, I'm sure she intuitively knew it.

Of course, we'll have to do the whole "goodbye thing" again, but I'm thinking this time it won't be as raw as it was in May when I left her. That day was hard for so many reasons and when I left her, it was the singular feeling of "aloneness" that hit me with a searing, soulful pain.

Certainly saying goodbye was a catalyst, but it wasn't the basis for the turmoil that was brewing. That was one of the worst feelings I can remember experiencing in recent history and, truth be told, it was a harbinger and I knew instinctively I was in for a sea change. OK, so it turned out to be a bit of a tsunami, good thing I know how to swim. And thank God for all of those lifesavers at the ready. And no, I'm not referencing the candy.

Can't wait to see you, my dear.