My mother loves cats. In her more than 90 years of life, all of which she has lived in the small Connecticut town of Collinsville, she has had dozens of cats. My favorite picture of her, taken back in 1937, shows her holding a big white cat, both of them gazing happily into each other’s faces
As the fifth and final child of the family, I missed out on a lot of my mother’s cats. But I grew up with six I can remember distinctly. There was Petula, a short-haired tiger with a short fuse; Emma, a black-and white cat with a stub tail (she broke it falling out of a tree one winter); Prudence, sister to Emma in both lineage and looks; Rachael, a small tiger cat and a bit of an introvert; Rascal, a fat, lazy long-haired tiger tom; and Louise, a long-haired calico who was especially attached to one of my sisters. At our house, cats lived long, happy lives.
During my college years, that first feline wave transitioned to a second one. It included Tuffer, an orange tabby who loved to be petted by my father, along with Grey Boy, a large, gray short-haired tom who could be both playful and a little scary. I can recall Baby, a beautiful little tri-colored creature whose life was destined to be fairly short, and Blacky, a long-haired black lion of a cat. And Missy, a little princess, black but dipped in white. The latter three were siblings and came as a set of kittens who needed a home.
Missy outlasted her sister and brother, living well into her teens and even past her own eyesight. When the veterinarian told her Missy was completely blind, my mother cried and cried, something I had never seen her do before.
Missy’s death at the turn of the millennium left a void in my mother’s life, so my father went to an animal shelter to find a new feline to fill some of the emptiness.
He came home with a young cat, not a kitten, a short-haired calico named Callie. In short order, Callie latched onto my mother and took over, showing affection and attitude in equal measures. She was a talkative cat, very bright eyed and conscious, with a golden aura about her. My father built platforms on the porch corners, where Callie loved to sit and watch the birds. When she ventured outside, she would dash around crazily the way cats do, but luckily she didn’t stay out long. The woods out back had become too wild. Growing up, I saw raccoons, opossums and skunks, but never bears, coyotes or bobcats, all of whom had since turned the backyard into hunting grounds. Feral cats, the source of so many of our own pets, had once been common in that neighborhood, but they had all but disappeared by 2010.
In 2007, my father also passed away, leaving my mother and Callie as sole companions in my childhood home, a place where people and pets had come and gone, laughed and lived, the years blowing them away like leaves, like colorful foliage.
A few months ago, Callie floated off on that same wind, having succumbed to kidney failure. I had just seen her two weeks earlier, and she had been especially friendly with me because I was visiting without any of my dogs.
“Don’t bring me another cat, David,” my mother has told me over the phone — twice, in fact. I know she is right. With reduced mobility, my mother would have trouble acclimatizing a strange new cat to her home. And another cat would not be Callie.
In the corridors of my mind, I see my mother’s cats, a long string of little ghosts, their tails held high like a line of lemurs, walking through and beyond time. The ones I never met are all white or gray, just shapes really. But then comes Petula, the cat with a grudge; then stubby Emma, the only cat who couldn’t land on her feet. Next are Rachael, Prudence and Rascal, the trio from my youth; and Louise, very conscious of her own beauty. Then there’s Tuffer, orange and green-eyed, tail twitching; Grey Boy, an angel in one eye, a devil in the other; and Baby, kitten-like forever. There’s Blacky, so noble and strong, and Missy — dear sweet Missy, the blind cat who didn’t know she was blind.
But wait, here comes one more, a ripple of brown, white and black. It’s little Callie, golden eyes blinking. The end of the line. The last cat.