By Stuart Mitchner
What greater gift than the love of a cat.
For the first time since Saddam invaded Kuwait there are no cats in the house. I’ve been adjusting to that enormous absence with the help of In the Company of Cats (British Library 2014), featuring “illustrations through the ages” and choice quotations from poets, writers, and philosophers celebrating feline “mystery and magnificence.”
I’m thinking about two generations of tuxedo cats dating back to Dizzy (1990-2003), the runt of the litter brought into the world against all odds by the ill-fated, small but mighty tabby Tess (1989-1999), followed after Dizzy’s demise by the adopted twins Nick (2003-2018), and Nora (2003-2020), who died June 25.
Like her namesake in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, tawny Tess had seen a novel’s worth of adversity when she first showed up at the back door. Because my wife was severely allergic at the time, we fed and housed the little vagabond in a make-shift shelter on the deck. After disappearing for more than a week (we feared we’d seen the last of her), she showed up pregnant and fiercely determined; now there was no keeping her outside. Our household version of Saddam’s “mother of all battles” was an invasion by the feline force of nature storming from the deck into the kitchen, through two strongbox barricades and up the stairs to this room, where she accomplished her mission on the evening of August 2, 1990, in the same roomy tartan plaid canvas suitcase I’d used on my first summer in Europe.
Tess still haunts this space. A few feet to my left is the spot where she delivered Dizzy and his four siblings, all of whom eventually found homes in the community, except for the jaunty male tuxedo whose place in our family had never really been in doubt. It was for love of Dizzy that my wife finally overcame the allergy that had doomed every previous attempt. Since none of the statements in Company of Cats applies to Tess and her plight, I’m borrowing a line from Mark Twain: “If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat.” more