The Cat Who Taught Me Chutzpah
I can still picture the morning I was sitting with a dozen mewing kittens at the local animal shelter. There was a slight movement between two pillows on the far side of the cage. That's where I found Eddie. He was on his back trying to get some sleep "in this lousy joint" as I imagined an independent cat like him would say.
He opened cabinets by putting his paws around the knobs and pulling. Vitamin bottles made great rattling noises on crash landings.
We bought child-proof magnets at the hardware store. Eddie simply tugged a little harder.
Back to the hardware store for hook and eye locks. Eddie flipped the hooks open with one paw.
Back to the hardware store for deadbolt locks. He easily slid those bolts to the side.
The guy at the hardware store already had combination locks on the counter.
I was in awe of Eddie's tenacity. By watching him, I learned that words like "can't" and "hopeless" were just not in his feline vocabulary.
When I'd see a barrier that would prevent me from getting to where I wanted to go, I'd instantly turn around. This happened recently when I decided to surprise Bob with his favorite bacon, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich from his favorite coffee shop. But there were no railings on their steps. And they had not shoveled their snow-covered ramp. Instead of figuring out a way to accomplish my goal, I turned around and went right back to my car.
Now, I could have simply called the owner from my cell phone and nicely asked her to shovel. But I was locked into my "can't do" mindset hence that never even occurred to me. Yet when barriers thwarted Eddie, he'd never quit trying. He'd never give up and turn around like I did.
Every morning, we woke to the blaring sound of Boston traffic reports. That's because Eddie learned to push the button on our clock radio. He wanted to wake us so he'd get fed.
Yes, of course we tried moving the radio. He would simply hunt for two seconds and find it. Yes, of course we tried covering it with books at carefully placed perfect angles. Eddie simply shoved all the books off at once.
So we did the only sensible thing. We got rid of the clock radio. What else could we do with a cat like Eddie? (I heard that!)
To him, anything could fall into the toy category. He'd unravel entire rolls of toilet paper. We then had to keep ours in a coffee can.
One day years ago, he found something else that will surely go down in the "History of the Best Cat Toys" book.
I was on the phone with a rabbi. He was asking me about my mother's interests for his sermon at her funeral. I said, "My mother loved painting and --"
That's when Eddie came running in with something in his mouth. He had opened the new box of tampons I bought that morning. He was flinging the tampon in the air like it was a toy mouse.
The rabbi asked if I was all right because not only had I stopped talking in the middle of a sentence, I was having an earsplitting laughing fit that I just could not control.
He assumed I was having a traumatic stress reaction and said, "When we lose a loved one, we're often not in control of our emotions and that's okay. It's fine to laugh."
That cracked me up even more. I managed to blurt out, "She made jewelry!" before seeing the tampon go flying across the room. Then I hung up -- on a rabbi yet. Oy vay.
For the past two years, Eddie has been sick. I spent lots of time massaging him on either side of his face. He always loved that. On one afternoon, I used my fingers to comb through his lovely full set of whiskers he had eventually grown. That's when I saw the one side effect from the medicine he was taking. As I gently rubbed along his face, all of his whiskers came off in my hands, except for one. I placed them in a tiny needlepoint purse my mother made for me.
He came into our lives with one whisker. And that is how he would leave.
Three months ago, on a quiet Sunday afternoon, I kissed his forehead and whispered, "I love you." He looked up at me. His face showed the love he was never successful at hiding.
As Bob softly sang, "Food, glorious food, hot sausage and mustard," Eddie took his last breath.
While his body was still warm, I cradled him in my arms and rocked him. I held his head so he was nestled against my neck. I said, "You came into my life when I needed you the most." Bob was crying as he stood next to us, watched me rocking my little soul mate. "Eddie," I could barely speak. "You will always be a part of me."
I didn't want to let him go from my arms. But Bob, so lovingly and slowly, gently took him away.
And so, I honor the life and the lessons of my wonderful cat who, from the beginning, stood apart from all the others.
My beautiful cat, my Eddie, just a plain gray tabby, as common as a housefly.
Award-Winning columnist and novelist, Saralee Perel, frequently contributes her columns to us. Her newest book is Cracked Nuts & Sentimental Journeys: Stories From a Life Out of Balance. Read about her challenges after her SCI, stories of her caregiver dog, and her human family too.
For more information on Saralee, her book order information from Amazon or the publisher, even to purchase a signed copy, please visit her website: SaraleePerel.com.
Saralee is also on Facebook. Visit her page, Saralee Perel Presents Gracie, My 4-Footed Coach.
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