A love for the pets in our house in my childhood started to carry over starting in college, running through my marriage with Teresa and continuing through today, as some are adopted, some born, and some, like Teresa, have passed away.
I never expected to find a cat picture from my childhood house, but here he is: Shadow, our big Siamese tomcat.
My first cats after leaving home were adoptees, the sons of Orbit, companion to Stella Wong, a housemate - and a BBW - at Barrington Hall, a former student cooperative house in Berkeley. Barrington was a fast and loose place, with wild parties and intense late-night study sessions. Though the rules officially prohibited pets, many of us had cats, and took to referring to them as radios when outsiders were around. Of course, some of them got a little suspicious when our in-house store listed "radio food" on its signboard....
I found and joined NAAFA a month after I adopted Dune and Fire, in July 1988, and in Spring of 1999 I moved out on my own with them. Unfortunately, while we were living in North Oakland, Firestripes got himself lost in the urban wilds, but Dunesand stayed on through many more moves in Oakland, down to Fremont, up to Concord with Teresa where eventually I married her.
Dune was a solitary male, and though a fat cat was an accomplished hunter who loved spending a lot of time outdoors. In the evenings he would come in for cuddling however. After one last move to our Bay Point house, Dunesand slowly petered out and died quietly one evening toward the end of 2002, only a few months before Teresa's passing.
Dunesand's arrival in the home of Teresa Brogan, not long after to become Teresa Colter, meant that Misty's days as the only cat had come to an end. Misty never quite got used to this, though she tolerated it as best she could.
Teresa tells me that Misty always loved the song of the same name, and would sit and purr whenever it was playing. Teresa loved musicals, and one of her other favorite songs for Misty was "Pink and White" from Carousel, since she regarded Misty as her little girl. Also, because she had a little brown beauty mark on one of her cheeks, I sometimes called her the Cindy Crawford of cats.
My own song for Misty was "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face", as she always had a habit of petting my face with her paw. I would even draw the covers over my head when we were sleeping, curl up in different positions, and play "Where's My Face" with her. Teresa told the story that when she was younger, Misty was very aggressive about this and would claw at her face. She kept a cup of water to splash a few drops on Misty to stop her. One night when Teresa went for the cup, she found it was dry. Misty had cleverly drunk all the water from it. Teresa then refilled it however, and when she next splashed Misty with a few drops, her cat acted highly surprised. She started to look into the cup and wet her nose, not counting on it being refilled.
Teresa had mentioned a few times that Misty had looked out the window as if she were thinking of running away. She never did as long as Teresa was there. But six months after Teresa's passing, by then having guessed that she was never coming back, and herself feeling the pains of old age, Misty finally must have made the decision, as I came home from a weekend out to find her missing, never to return.
Originally I thought this cat was female, because his original owners put a pink collar with a bell on him, and thus I was calling him "Tinkerbell" for a while. When we finally figured out his real gender, I started calling him Twinkleberry instead. A black longhair with long sharp claws, he really resented the bell, and one windy night he decided to change owners and join us. Shortly afterward, he must have pulled off the belled collar and conveniently lost it somewhere.
Twink is a very cuddly fellow, but a comforter is recommended with him due to those long sharp claws. He still lives, the last remaining cat of the early trailer park period.
Shortly after Twinkleberry joined Teresa, Misty, Dune and I, I noticed another possible candidate. Having had a big Siamese cat, Shadow, in my childhood, I became very enamoured of the beauty of that breed and their interactive nature. I saw what looked like a Siamese cat, only smaller, thinner and with brown points, sitting and meowing at the trailer across the street. After a few days, this meowing because actual keening. He sounded so unhappy I just had to call him over. His big blue eyes lit right up, and he trotted over with his bowed legs and gave me the most loving look.
I discovered that this cat was not actually Siamese, but a very similar breed called Tonkinese, Tonkin being another name for northern Vietnam. Tonks are smaller than Siamese, but even more oriented toward companionship, and are prone when left alone to suffer from abandonment syndrome. His particular color is referred to as chocolate mink, but from the start because he was such a sweet little swirl of white and brown, I called him Marble Fudge.
Sometimes I called him Thich Nhat Hanh's Cat, referring to an activist Vietnamese Buddhist monk, as his fur formed a little frock under his neck, and he would often sit up with his eyes closed meditating. His detachment from earthly pleasures was far from perfect however, as from almost the first time he came in he became awestruck with Misty, especially admiring her as she would jump between one high place and another. Sometimes he would stalk her, and at others he would just sit on the ground below, looking up plaintively at her and literally serenading her. Unfortunately for him it was a largely unrequited love.
Still other times, he would run along the top shelves looking this way and that and meowing strangely. Who knows whether he was chasing spirits or dreams? Only the cats know for certain.
Marble Fudge was my "little assistant" who would sit and quietly look while I was working on fixing or building things. He also was a seeming entymologist, as he would look with wonder at insects he would see, not hunting or killing them, just watching for the fun of it.
Marble was always one of my favorites, which made his passing all the more painful, particularly as it was so sudden. Unfortunately he turned out to have a blood clot problem, and one evening he let out a loud meow, emerging a few minutes later in the hallway limping and quickly collapsing. When I saw that his legs were not responding to being pinched, I was horrified, and ran him down to the emergency vet. I had thought he had twisted his back, but the reality was far worse: an aortic thromboembolism, a big clot, which had cut off all blood to his lower body. Even if they removed it at that point, the vets said, Marble Fudge would likely be a paraplegic and incontinent for the rest of his life, with no guarantee it wouldn't happen again. So I called Teresa and we made the decision to let him go. It was the worst night of crying I'd done in a long time, and to this day only Teresa's loss has affected me more. Even Misty seemed a little disappointed that her not-so-secret admirer would never serenade her again.
I'll always remember this sweet little guy, with his loving eyes and his fetish for cleaning my forehead.
Lefty O'Shaughnessy, the baddest bare-clawed boxer of them all! That's how I always envisioned this muscular tomcat, named partly because his left ear had a backward curl, and partly because he had the confident scowl and and stride of a street fighter. He would sometimes give a challenging meow to some of the other cats. Under it all however he was really a big softy, who would often hide in the closet when humans he didn't know were around.
He was an occasional visitor who came under our care after a painful accident. He had an infection in one of his eyes which was refusing to clear even with many warm wet washcloths. Finally we took him to the vet, who anesthetized him and came back after a few minutes to show us the foxtail which had gotten itself lodged between his eyeball and its socket. According to the vet, it was working its way back, and had it made it all the way behind, Lefty would have surely died a cruel death from a brain abcess. Lefty somehow knew we had saved him from something horrible, because his loyalty was unquestioning from that point on.
Unfortunately another cruel death awaited him, though slower. He turned out to have contracted FIV, and as the years went on he began to frequently have a sore throat which kept him from eating well. Just after escrow closed on our house, and just before we moved in, I took Lefty in to the vet, who injected him with fluid for dehydration. It must have been too much for his heart, because I found him dead in the living room the following morning. I buried him, and later Marble Fudge, in the backyard of our new home. I was disappointed he never got to experience the backyard, but perhaps some part of him can see it now.
At one point the mobilehome park landlords announced that any cats outside would be trapped, so we kept our cats indoors, and in addition borrowed some traps ourselves and pulled in a few more.
Our two big Russian blues differed in their personalities, but maintained a certain cameraderie. Sometimes when they met they would repeatedly bob each other on the head, an act I came to refer to as their "Russian salute".
"Vladymyr the Magnificent", due to his size and personality, rapidly became the "alpha cat", becoming a father figure who would always be grooming the smaller cats, and at times forcefully holding their heads down until he was finished cleaning them. I named him because of his heavy jowled face and his melancholy look which seemed perfectly to fit the penultimate spirit of the Russian. Despite this melancholy look, he is a very cuddly fellow, a big cat who especially loves big humans, perhaps out of some recognition of having that in common.
Yury was with me until recently, becoming one of a few who have disappeared as cats sometimes do. He was a soft-spoken cat - even his meow was very low volume and high pitched for his size. He had big round eyes which often made him appear to be worried. Sometimes he would squint, as if he were pondering whether he should be worried. He was also very cuddly and had a great love for the younger cats.
Prancing around meowing and trilling, with a face tabby grey on one side and white with a small dark patch on the other, Teresa always thought that Whirlwind knew how funny he was, and that he was therefore a feline clown. He seemed like an inexhaustible little Djinn, twisting and turning merrily through life. Sometimes I called him "Whirlwinder", pronounced as a Hindi name would be, and sometimes just "Whirf", because at times he would make a vocalization of both joy and impatience, starting with a trill and ending with a huff.
Whirlwind's other funny aspect was that he had a palm fetish, particularly with me. He loved to lick the palms of my hands, and even burrowed under the covers at night to do so.
Whirlwind's sister was almost all white, but with a shock of black hair on the top of her head and Asiatic eyes, like a Japanese lady with porcelain white makeup. Kabuki was a somewhat timid little girl, her main joy out of the house being to roll around on the warm pavement, and inside the trailer to race at high speed through the place, sometimes accompanied by Whirlwind. Many is the time I would hear her little feet begin their thunderous gallop, and see nothing but a little blur of white light race by.
One day Lefty was in the hallway cleaning himself, and as I watched through the bathroom door, Whirlwind and Kabuki ran through very quickly, effectively buzzing him. Mistaking the direction of travel, Lefty looked rightward toward the kitchen, when the two siblings had actually gone into the bedroom to the left. Whirlwind walked by very stealthily, sensing that the big tomcat was now on alert. Lefty noticed him as he passed, looking puzzled as if, "If you came from behind me, then where is....." and right at that point Kabuki buzzed between them blindingly fast, and Lefty looked as if to say, "Arrgh, she got me AGAIN!"
When we finally moved into the Bay Point home, Kabuki, as always, was the most difficult to get into a carrier, she was so fast and nimble. Like a ninja, this little one valued her ability to hide away. She mastered the art of opening the cupboards and crawling inside. She had even sawed a hole in the bed's springboard with her claws so as to hide in there, and her brother and Vladi eventually discovered this and would join her. I closed the bedroom door and cornered the little one in the hallway. As I leaned over to get her, she burst into her lightning-fast motion, took a flying leap, slammed her body into the wall to my left, ricocheted over my right shoulder, slammed off the wall behind me and to my right, and made a bee-line right for the kitchen cupboards. I finally had to chase her around inside the interconnected area under the sink opening different doors until she finally tired out. When I finally got ahold of Kabuki, she tore a nice slice in my hand just for spite.
That wound had not yet healed a couple of weeks later when, one day we woke up to find that after spending nearly all her time hidden in the springboard and only just barely coming out from the trauma of moving, she went outside and ran away. Whirlwind, always close to his sister and visibly agitated by her absense, apparently went out to look for her. Whether he ever found her, we'll never know, because they never came back.
I haven't found any pictures of these two, who were with us for only a brief time in the trailer. Fingers was a boyish-looking tabby, brother to Whirlwind and Kabuki, and the only cat we were to successfully adopt out. The person who adopted him at one point considered giving him back, but I convinced her to give him about six weeks, in my experience with the others the time it takes for a cat to become confident about new humans and territory. He eventually turned out just fine, and the woman remarked that her puppy stopped digging up the garden because he was too busy playing tag in the house with his new playmate. I went to visit once, and they had put a yellow collar on him which made Fingers look like a little boy on his first day of school. The last I have heard of him, he lost part of his tail to a car, but otherwise was doing well.
Blue Cloud got her name because she had deep blue eyes and was a longhaired cat with colors similar to Siamese. She seemed very old, with an old-lady-sounding meow, and after developing a nasty case of dysentery, wandered off and likely perished. We shared a very short time with her, but she was a gentle spirit and found a lot of love while she was able.
Reeling as we were from the disappearance of Whirlwind and Kabuki, and the knockout punch of Marble Fudge's death, our new neighbors sought to cheer us up, bringing Oscar over, and eventually his sister Tulip, so that we again had a brother and sister pair with us. This began the new generation of Bay Point natives to join the family.
Spot is our next door neighbor's cat, and visits every so often. She is independent but cuddly, and very talkative.
Freddo is a general neighborhood resident who ranges the area and visits occasionally. He is bigger even than Vladymyr, a rare thing, but is generally friendly. This picture is recent, but is also the first time I'd seen him in months.
Raider and Precious belong to a neighbor down the street, and likely are a son and daughter of Freddo. Raider is a friendly and jovial fellow. Precious is a little more aloof. I call Precious the "grumpy kitten" because while she doesn't bite when petted, she does growl. Often I have been able to pet her for a few minutes without her running or biting, just standing there grumbling.
Oscar was a consummate outdoorsman, climbing the trees and travelling far and wide. I came to call him Oscar the Ranger. Not very talkative, he instead expressed himself with his eyes, and the look in his eyes led Teresa to believe that he was a very intelligent cat. He saw the whole neighborhood as his domain, and would often occupy the commanding view on the highest front part of the roof waiting for me to come home.
Teresa was always worried about the cats, and early one morning she had me looking up and down the street for him. Having given up, I came in and turned on the radio to hear a little relaxing music before the morning news show. What I heard was far from relaxing. The national political show host was on instead, frantically reporting the events happening only blocks away from her Manhattan firehouse studio. It was the morning of September 11, 2001...
Oscar didn't disappear until a year after Teresa had passed. I had started going out more, and with no humans in the house sometimes for long periods, evidently he decided to be more daring in his travels. Freedom lovers come, and freedom lovers go, and you enjoy them as long as it lasts. To the Ranger!
Tulip, Oscar's sister, got the name of Fuzzy Kitten, since Teresa noted that she had fuzzy ears. She was very vocal and enthusiastic from the start. She developed a taste for dairy very early, so much so that when she was a kitten and I brought ice cream out of the freezer, she would meow loudly and then leap up onto my pant leg, hanging on with her claws. Now older and bigger, she can't quite do that anymore, but she still puts her paws on my leg when she's hungry. Tulip is very cuddly and talkative and has a deep robust purr, a nice cat to curl up next to you on a cold night.
Her full name is "The Midnight Special", not only because she is black as a moonless night, but also because she came to us one Sunday morning in a box on our doorstep, with the message, "I need a home." Like Twink, she is a longhair, even more fluffy than his. Beneath all that fluffy fur, she is a little cat. Midnight also earns her name because she is aloof, seclusive and stealthy. Like a nonviolent ninja she easily slips in and out of view, and prefers most of the time to be where no one can see her.
Midnight did develop a deep attachment to Teresa. Teresa always thought that Midnight was fascinated with this biggest of life forms she'd ever known and might have been something of a fat-admirer, because when Teresa got ready to go to bed, Midnight would magically appear to watch Teresa lie down and roll her great fat body over, after which she would burrow under the covers to cuddle with Teresa for a while. Eventually though she would decide she'd gotten enough human touch for the night, and then with a soft sweep of her fluffy tail she would melt untrackably back into the darkness.
When Teresa passed, Midnight no longer had her beautiful fat human to admire, and her appearances became much more rare. She spent much of her time in the neighbors' yard, sneaking in at dinner time for a few moments to grab a bite and quickly retreating. Even with a new girlfriend sleeping over who is also supersize, which I thought might bring her back, it appears that Midnight's relationship with Teresa was a once in a lifetime thing. Thus, though I haven't seen her in a while, I can't say for sure whether she is gone for good. Somewhere out there, as I write this near the stroke of her hour on a late autumn night, a fluffy ball of obsidian may yet be curled up only a stone's throw away.
Alfie joined our family on his own, charming us with his easygoing way and friendly voice. He's a very affectionate and personable fellow who spent a lot of time comforting Teresa during her afternoon naps while I was away at work.
A friend of the next door neighbor made another donation one day, this time explaining that she saw a tiny tabby, perhaps a runt, who was sitting in the middle of the road looking miserable and acting as if she was giving up on life. Further inspection revealed one possible reason: she was covered with fleas. Many sessions with the flea comb and baby shampoo later, the colonizing army was drowned, and a very grateful little girl perked up and was given the name of Sasha. She's one of the talkative ones, and often spends time on my computer desk or on top of me in bed on winter nights.
February 1st 2003 began with the explosion of the Space Shuttle Columbia, which shook up Teresa severely. The next forty-seven days would follow in rapid succession with her forty-seventh birthday, Valentine's Day, a huge peace protest she barely talked me out of attending, daily reports of contentious diplomatic meetings and threats of war, a broken leg, an operation, a coma, our tenth anniversary, her death, and the beginning of the invasion of Iraq, the last two occurring on the same day.
As her service ended the dark month of March and April signaled the move from a very cold winter into a new spring, our neighbor's cat Spotnik must have sensed that a lot of life had gone missing from our house, and decided to remedy this the only way she knew how. Thus it was that one morning I woke to sounds from my closet which I knew to be the calls of newborn kittens. Spot had found the closet door open, climbed into a plastic barrel filled with Teresa's underwear, and bore five kittens there. One of these kittens succumbed to sudden infant death syndrome, but the others went on to become the newest generation of cats in my house.
I know that Spotnik is the mother. And I have a pretty good idea who the father might be....
Since then, all the cats have been spayed and neutered, so any future ones will either come from off the street or the shelter.