The Cat Lady

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
A tribute to my late, dear friend Lee S., the cat lady.

Submitted: October 07, 2008

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Submitted: October 07, 2008

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The Cat Lady

 

A tribute to my late dear friend Lee S.

 

She is a tiny woman with Brillo pad hair and merry eyes twinkling through the thick lenses she needs to read these days. Every gift she gives, and she is generous to a fault, carries the additional present of an uplifting and encouraging note. Into a beautiful little black silk evening bag, covered in jet sequins, she tucks the message: “Someday soon some wonderful fellow will ask you to an important event and you will need this to wear with your little black dress.” Slipped under the ribbon that wraps a gift box containing a cunning watch whose face is hidden beneath a carved gold rose, “You will have many lovely hours, and this will help you keep track of them.”

 

Spring has come to Langhorne, with its beckoning scents and warm hands. The flowering cherry and pear trees are splashing the front yards of the neighborhood with fountains of pink and white blossoms. The brassy yellow loudspeaker of forsythia, the soft green whisper of willow leaves, announces the same message. Spring has sprung.

 

Lee risked the discomfort that allergies bring to walk slowly around the yard and welcome each tender new shoot to her world. From my patio I heard her cajoling the tulips to “Open up, babies! I know you’re gorgeous.” Later, her nose and eyes were red and running and her head was splitting. She asked a rare favor: Would I go to the store for her?

 

I would. Her list was brief and to the Lee-point. Two bags of Cardinal special wild bird seed. Twelve cans of light tuna in water, one bag of Iam’s Lamb and Rice Cat Food, three large containers of Tidy Cat scoop litter, for the inside cats . Two bags of Purina Cat Chow for the outside cats. And one small bag of Milky Way candy bars for the inside Lee.

 

I callously joked to a mutual friend that it would be a great deal cheaper to feed the birds to the cats. He said, “You’ll be sorry when I tell Lee what you said.”

 

I didn’t mean it, Lee. It was a poor joke.

 

I have not only personally experienced the process of being granted admission into Lee’s charmed inner circle, I have watched its healing powers over the course of my visits to this safe house in southeastern Pennsylvania.

 

Her substantial suburban home is a showplace for her passions, and they are many and varied. Primitive art and Native American jewelry, large bronze wildlife sculptures (the panther on the fireplace hearth is life-size). Books on every topic extant jostle for space on tables, shelves, and the floor. Previous favorites line the walls in the basement. Her collection of character teddy bears climbs the steps to the upstairs ICU suite for her most recent rescued cat.

 

Cats are the most constant theme. The shower curtain in my bathroom sports cartoon cats. A welcome mat in the kitchen features a shifty-looking tomcat and the legend: “This is not a joke. Deliver five pounds of tuna in a plain brown bag by noon tomorrow if you ever want to see these people again.”

 

Vanilla pile carpet covers a four-tiered cat tree in the living room, and the four downstairs felines vie constantly for the supremacy of the top shelf. Cat toys roll and jingle everywhere; long limber rods tipped with feathery plumes protrude from magazine racks and dangle from doorknobs on elastic cords, for the amusement of a passing kitty.

 

In cat magazines all over the world (the ones published and read by cats), Lee’s home is featured as Human Habitat of the Year, touted as a coveted vacation spot for cats.

 

The cats that own Lee, though, are not cosseted expensive Siamese or rare Manxes (Manxi?).

 

Snowball is a large handsome male, black as a moonless night, self-possessed and serene. He will let non-Lees pet him if they care to, but he will not seek it out.

 

Nemi is a black-and-white tom, a sleek tuxedoed diplomat who prefers peace to contention. He too will accept the caresses of strangers, but makes it clear they are not essential to his well-being.

 

Tevi is a streamlined orange creamsicle of a cat, slender body and narrow head reflecting Siamese ancestry. He is the most reserved of the four cats in the general population downstairs. When I encounter Tevi as I round a corner, his eyes narrow, his tail goes rigid. “It’s that WOMAN again,” he’s thinking. “The interloper!”

 

Romeo is my favorite, simply because I am his. He is a burly tangerine and white doofus with a big head and big feet. He has taken a fancy to me, and when I am sitting on Lee’s white leather sofa, watching TV or chatting with Lee over cheese and crackers and a glass of wine, he rolls seductively on the carpet at my feet, folding his broad white paws against his chest, watching to see if I am impressed. Eventually he will leap up to sit beside me and purr hugely as I rub his back and scratch behind his ears.

 

This might not all be worthy of mention, except that the first time I met Romeo, he was the patient in the upstairs ICU suite. A feral creature trapped by one of Lee’s friends, he was fortunate enough to be accepted into Lee’s cat rehabilitation program. When I first saw him, the distant presence of a human would send him scrabbling and clawing under the nearest couch, eyes wide with terror, fur on end.

 

In the ICU unit, two airy spacious rooms full of toys and carpet squares, luxurious furniture and hiding places, Lee’s patients are left to acclimate slowly to the notion that not every human wishes to cause pain. Many of them begin with bandages and splits, stitches and scars; evidence of the reasons they fear mankind, and evidence of the fact that Lee spares no expense to help them heal. Romeo required hundreds of dollars of veterinary care before they were fairly confident he would live, much less prosper.

 

When the traumatized cat has gentled to some degree, Lee opens one of the doors to the ICU suite – modified specially for the next step in therapy. It is covered by strong wire mesh, allowing the new cat to be of but not in the world of Lee and the other cats. By small patient steps, Lee reassures a wild terrified animal and then one day they are rolling at your feet in a display of affection, their eyes bright with cat contentment, their coats shining with good health. It is a miracle she works on a consistent basis.

 

Her current patient, Foxy, is her greatest challenge. Foxy has been resident for nearly six months now, and still hides each time Lee politely requests admission to Foxy’s domain. I’m betting on Lee, though. Foxy is out-foxed, he just doesn’t know it yet.

 

A poem my father used in his sermons: “He drew a circle that shut me out; heretic, rebel, a thing to flout. But love and I had the wit to win. We drew a circle that drew him in.” [Edwin Markham]

 

Lee’s circles of love are inexorable. Foxy will be drawn in, eventually.


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