A recent article in the New York Times addresses the attractions of having pet cats, and challenges the misconceptions of women who do so. The piece was timely for me because I have been thinking of what a pleasure it has been for me to have my cat, Tiko, with me over the last few years. First when I sold my house and moved two miles away I was pleased that my outdoor cat could still access fresh air through a cat window that led to my third floor porch. During the last weeks as I have left New York and returned to Pittsburgh, I’ve realized how lovely it is to have a living creature that has been a constant during these transitions.
He is sweet, occasionally loud and very tolerant. When I go to bed, he burrows himself next to me and purrs so deeply that it sometimes feels like a relaxing ultrasound vibrating the tension from my stressed body. I am deeply fond of him and enjoy him not in an anthropomorphic way but precisely because he is a cat. He is soft, small and warm. He likes to sit on me as I read, wanting to be pet, but is just pleased not to be shooed away.
I would guess that most of my life I’ve lived with a cat. As a child we had a series of cats from the gorgeous and excellent mouser Panther to the sweet Puff. Their roles were to keep our house rodent free, a goal that went rather awry when my sister G had a hamster for a pet. Her short lived parakeet met his fate at the hands, or claws, of another of our felines. We also had pet turtles that had unfortunate tendencies to somehow escape their glass worlds; we found one months after it had gotten loose, its desiccated body shrunken into is soft shell. There were any number of gold fish and angel fish. I don’t remember any baby chicks at Easter, but do recall at least two rabbits that followed the example of the Velveteen Rabbit and ran off to join his wild peers; or so my mother claimed.
What was odd about some of these pets was the haphazard way that they came into our house. The beautiful Puff was a prize that my sister N won for her excellent artwork in a contest run by the local “educational TV” station. We sat at home and watched as she and Daddy marched across the set of the predecessor of Mr. Roger’s TV show to discover that she won a kitten. I vaguely remember my mother muttering about this. The rabbits were gifts from a convent where one of our priestly uncles served as confessor. I firmly remember my mother’s irritation at this bit of generosity. Fish came from bazaars and a family a block away who sold them from their basement. As I got older, I remember wheedling my mum for a cat trying to wear her resistance down, until I was the only one left at home and spent most of my time “loafing” on street corners and I no longer cared. But many of these creatures arrived in our house without pre-approval.
I often joke that I and my sisters were nearly feral, that there were few limits imposed upon us either by custom or indifference. One of the wonderful aspects of this was the chaotic sense of life that this begat. Animals came and went. While there were strictures that were enforced at school and church, those at home were malleable if extant. In my own family’s life, I had tried to create a world that was steady and boring in its regularity and I failed. When I put my Tiko in this context, it is no wonder that I am grateful for his constancy.