November 28, 2008

Goodbye, Little Buddy

One kitten. Eighteen years ago. It was Eric's wedding gift to me. We'd only been married two weeks. Enough time to honeymoon, unwrap presents, pack them up in our Jeep, put a double mattress on top, and leave California for Washington. Pulling into the little town of Gig Harbor, we dutifully asked every apartment manager, "Do you take cats?" The answer was generally an emphatic "No!" Never mind that we didn't even have the little beast yet, I was not going to be deterred. Finally, at the top of the world's largest hill, with a view of the Puget Sound and Mt. Rainier on a clear day, we found it: a log cabin. We quickly called the number on the For Rent sign and asked the owner the only question that mattered, "Do you take cats?" What young married fools we were. But the owner was just as young, just as foolish, and fortunately for us, just as much of an animal lover.

Honestly, I can't remember how many days later, I don't even know if we unpacked, but we made our way over to the Tacoma pound. Yep, pound. The kind where animals don't last long. Noisy, smelly, cement floors, rows and rows of cats in cages, a person who adopted here really would feel like a hero. They had two cages of kittens-males and females- and there she was. Furry bundle of sassy black and white meow with emerald green eyes. The littlest package, she sat in my hand. My first baby, I named her Toulouse, forever a favorite name of mine and one I knew no offspring would ever appreciate. But there was Eric, no kitten for him. And there in the neighboring cage sat Toulouse's litter mate-the same black and white, the same emerald green eyes, but where she was a ball of fluff, he was sleek silk. No sass for him, he was sweet, gentle love. It made sense; we didn't have brand new his and her towels, but we could have matching kitties. We had wedding gift money to burn. He was my husband's Gilligan, and so we brought home Toulouse and Little Buddy.

Not having a television, the cats became our entertainment. We took pictures galore. They nestled in our bed and found all sorts of hidey holes in that cabin. Unfortunately, being young and foolish and in love, and having wanted cats more than reasonable rent, the cabin didn't last long. That's when we started to learn that while maybe some people would take one cat for a ridiculous fee, two cats- no way! It became a yearly search, for that's about how often we moved those first few years of marraige. But Toulouse and Little Buddy always went with us. They were co-conspirators the first Thanksgiving my parents visited. So proud of our first BBQ'ed turkey, we left it on the counter to rest. The cats loved their turkey dinner that year.

Hannah soon joined us and Little Buddy loved her warm little body. She was a great snuggler. We made our final move in Washington, unbeknownst to us. This time, the cats paid the high price: they had to be declawed. But they came.

Four years later, we moved back to California. I drove with Hannah, not yet two, the cats, not in cages, and plenty of Benadryl. But we made it back and have never moved since. A year later, Malcolm made his appearance and, as usual, the cats adjusted. Little Buddy always was a "lover, not a fighter" and after some initial timidity would welcome any new little being. And they came- guinea pigs, rabbits, stray kittens, even more cats. Finally, the worst nightmare- a bouncing, barking Jack Russell, a little Jack who wanted to be best friends with these long tailed, hissing, spitting, running litter mates. And Little Bud acquiesed. He even put up with the dog. We added to the cat collection. As the kids turned ten, we would troop off to the local animal shelter (far cries from that first hell-hole, these were life-oriented shelters) and pick out a new little bundle of fur. Boo, pure black, a Halloween baby, and Ares, a chubby white male with a Zorro mask and a tail dipped in black ink. We still had other stray cats, but the kids figured it out: if they weren't black and white, they didn't last long in our home. Leukemia usually took them away or some disease. It was our pound kitties that loved and lasted. Eventually, we brought Matthew home from VietNam. The Jack was a bit boisterous for this shell-shocked little guy, but Little Buddy's gentle bonkings on the forehead won him over. Two years ago, another stray found us, and she was black and white. Maybe we kept her because she reminded us of our Little Bud and his heart had already been failing for awhile. In fact, as she grew, in the right light, you couldn't tell them apart. Like all the kittens, he welcomed her in and she nestled next to his slumbering form. Old and young.

Toulouse never liked another animal. Always intolerant of everyone but her brother, she would refuse to share my lap with anyone but him. And that's where those two have spent many mornings for the last eighteen years. I'd feed them, make the coffee, and sit down with my Bible. Then they would come. I'd have to reorganize everything to fit them on my lap. That's where I'd wonder what did they reveal about God? For they are His creation and so must reflect something about Him. I know I'm a crazy, cat loving fool, but I also have a God who cares about falling sparrows, so I know He cares for these two.

But today came. Little Buddy had been melting away over the last few years. His heart was failing, his kidneys ruined, yet he was still happy. Still loved basking in sunshine, his breakfast in the morning, and climbing on my lap. He didn't walk so well and he smelled bad. His once silken coat was matted and dull and would even fall out in tufts. But today he was in pain. Today he came to breakfast, but didn't eat. Today, we needed to let him go.

So today, Little Buddy lies under the redwood tree where a sunbeam resides in the spring and summer. Ares and Princess love to play under that tree and we can see it from the kitchen window while we wash the dishes.

Goodbye, Little Buddy

October 1990-November 2008

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