Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Nov. 29, 2013


When we return home at the end of the day, our calico cat Cookie greets us at the top of the steps. She has that look only cats have mastered that seems to say, "Where have you been and why are you bothering me?"

But all signs of dignified indifference disappear when we have been away for some time. The sound of the key in the lock is enough to have her nose pressed to the crack where the door meets the jam. Meowing can be heard even before the door is opened.

I often jokingly call her my "guard cat" because she follows me around the house, flopping down near me - sometimes so close I almost trip over her. She seems to be saying, "I'm here. Pay attention to me." On cool evenings when I settle into my recliner, she'll jump onto my blanket-covered legs and fall asleep, purring so loudly she can be heard across the room. If I put down my newspaper or magazine, she moves from my lap almost to my face, puts a paw on either side of my neck and waits for me to pet her.

When she's had her fill of humans, she may move to a favorite perch on the back of the couch where she can keep an eye on the birds in our oak tree. Another favorite haunt is a dining room chair where she can sit in the sun and show her disdain for the neighbor's cats who come to our deck waiting for a handout from the mistress of the house.

But those times are now gone. She died, and I feel the loss deeply. The house feels empty and too quiet.

About a year ago, our veterinarian diagnosed her with hyperthyroidism. But for a cat more than 16 years old, the remedies seemed almost worse than the disease. She appeared to be in no discomfort, and other than slowing down a little, she was her usual self. So I opted to forgo treatment.

At the beginning of November, she had her annual visit to the vet, but it was clear the end was near. I decided to let her stay at home. She wasn't in pain and I didn't want her to die in a clinic with strangers and I knew how she loved that sunny spot by the deck door.

Daughters Mariya and Katie came home to tell Cookie "goodbye" on Saturday. The next morning, Art found her near the deck door. We buried her in the back yard - a fitting spot, considering how as a young cat she had enjoyed chasing butterflies and leaves there.

When the girls were very small, we had "Chaggit" - Mariya's attempt at Chadwick. The first word most youngsters say is some version of momma, but Katie's was kitty. After her death, several years passed until 1997 when the tiny calico kitten we named Cookie came into our life. I had just arrived home after three months in three different hospitals and required physical and occupational therapy. The girls and I convinced Art we needed a cat to help with my recovery. He relented, but worried that the novelty would wear off.

Remembering Cookie, Mariya said:

"Cookie was the cutest fuzzy little kitten you ever did see. She would curl up in a tiny puffball and fit into a little round basket we kept in the kitchen. Her favorite place to cuddle was up on my chest or near my neck - perhaps preparing to one day strangle me? ... One of her favorite games was to cling to the edge of the couch and then leap at you when passing by. She liked to be petted on her head and neck, but nowhere else. If you would rub her tummy, she would tolerate it for exactly two strokes, and then your hand was in the danger zone. She also abhorred being picked up and carried around. There was one time when I had to carry her down to the furnace room to put her to bed. Halfway down the stairs, she transformed into some sort of cat-owl-demon and she did a complete 180-degree turn with the top half of her body, and managed to wrap her paws around my ears and bite my nose. It was an exciting moment for both of us... As an introvert, I sometimes wanted her silent company over any other. And though I'm sure she didn't appreciate [my] teasing, I always knew that I was the person she wanted most to be around."

Katie described Cookie as a "fart in a mitten" - full of energy and always running from here to there.

"Bringing her home was cool. She was always part of home. I liked that we always had a Christmas stocking for her on the fireplace mantel. She was always around when I was sad, and she knew when I needed kitty love. I always liked watching her go outside to eat grass and sniff the flowers."

Even German "daughter" Nadja, our 2005-2006 exchange student, grew to love Cookie.

"... I didn't like when she was feisty and biting without any warning beforehand, but I loved that she was always walking in my room when I felt a little homesick and slept in my closet. She was there to take care of my fear of being all by myself in the house. In the morning she sang the 'miau' morning song for me ... The most important thing - she was my storm warning system. I knew something really was going on when she was downstairs hiding somewhere. I just loved Cookie even if I don't enjoy being around devilish cats."

A few days after we buried Cookie, Katie came to the house and stopped briefly at the garden spot. It was a beautiful, warm fall day. "It was so quiet and all you could hear was the rustling of the few leaves on the trees," she said. "It's the perfect spot for Cookie since she liked the outdoors so much."

I've had a hard time adjusting to Cookie's absence. I want to call her to jump on my legs or to follow me from room to room. She became a member of our family, and there's a spot in my heart that feels empty now. Art's high school classmate and friend Jo probably said it best:

"I am so sorry about Cookie. I know what that is like, and for a time, you feel such a stomach-hollowing ache. Looking for the furry spirit, getting ready to put food in the bowl, missing the warmth on your lap, but thanking her for her life."

Cookie's Christmas stocking will be retired this year. But as Art observed last week, all our stockings are retired eventually and so it is important to enjoy the time we have and remember those gone by. This year we'll remember our feisty, loving calico cat and thank her for the memories.

left: Cookie on Mariya's chest; top right: Cookie helping Katie draw; lower right: I've never known a cat so fond of plastic bags.

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