14 October 2006

Death of a Childhood Pet

A few weekends ago, my big handsome orange cat passed away. He was my grandmother's cat and he was 21 years of age. I knew my beautiful orange beast would have to leave eventually. Afterall, 21 years is a long time for a cat to live.

What I did not want to experience, perhaps selfishly, was that part of childhood departing along with him. The moment I heard he passed away, I felt just a little bit older. I cried.

I'm a cat person. I used to idolize Winnipeg's infamous "cat lady" when I was a child. When I got a little bit older, I laughed about looking forward to becoming a bingo playing baba with too much lipstick (running into my lip wrinkles) and rouge, a chain smoking habit, and living with thirty cats in lieu of a hubby. And then I fell in love with an allergic-to-cats man.

I lost my own childhood cat a few years back. She was sixteen and I grew up with her. She was my fiesty little calico angel, who adored to torment the majority of my friends with frightening growls and vicious claws. Often, we would share a good laugh and high five together after my friends went home. Once upon a time, I thought the end of a relationship was tragically difficult. And then I lost my childhood pet. Now that is true heartbreak - to say goodbye to someone who never honestly done you harm, someone who made you smile by simply curling up on warm laundry or chasing a toy, someone who loved you unconditionally. True heartbreak, I tell you, when you come home after a long day of work and there is no furry little face looking up at your with sheer innocence.

I had a special bond with my big handsome orange cat, I like to believe. He was born in my backyard when I was 8 or 9 years old. He was the calmest of the four kittens. A small bundle of orange fur. The other kittens, they eventually found their own homes. This fluffy orange kitten ended up at my grandmother's and became somewhat of a barn cat.

Maybe I didn't have a connection with him. Maybe I just like to think we did. He trusted me enough to cradle him like a baby - even though he was a macho and masculine cat, a fierce hunter of birds and chipmunks. He would wait for me in the yard. In his older years and in the winter, he would remain in his little barn but poke his head out of his small cardboard box house which was stuffed full of woolen blankets. His coat was massive, covered with a thick mat of clumped fur which would eventually be trimmed off by my uncle come spring. No matter what, my big handsome orange cat would greet me with a happy meow. In the summer, he would come out and hop on this old school desk outside that was weathered with age. I would sit beside him and give him his well deserved affectionate petting.

When I was about eleven or twelve years old, he went missing for a good year or so. He wasn't one to stray, considering he had a large yard to explore. We had our suspicions to why and how he would go missing. One afternoon and quite the distance from my grandmother's house, my sister and I took my younger cousins from out of town to the park to play. Lo and behold, there was my big handsome orange cat sitting contently in the grass. It was him! I was so happy to hold him again. I was convinced it was him and we promptly took him back to my grandmother's yard, his home. Sometimes I wonder if it was really him or perhaps I simply abducted another cat. Ah, I do not regret my actions. I was convinced it was him and I found him. He never left home again.

Like most cats before they pass on, they don't feel well and barely eat. According to my family, he took one last walk around the yard and was later found in the bushes. He may not have been the prettiest cat, with a luxurious coat. He may have walked with hobble and had ragged ears from the winter's frost. He may have had a drooling problem. But to me, he was the most handsome big orange cat in the world.

Though I was sick my entire visit back home this summer, I got to say goodbye to him. I sat in the grass beside him, as he played with my sister with a long piece of grass. He meowed. I gave him a big hug and rubbed his kitty cat tummy. I called him my big handsome man cat and said goodbye. I knew it could be our last cuddle, our last exchange of adoring words and kitty cat purrs.

I'm gonna miss you, handsome one!

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