Thursday, September 19, 2013

One Sweet Soul

One week short of nine years ago, a very young kitten walked in our back door, fuzzy little tail held high, and until last night was an integral part of the family.
We had been grilling chicken on the deck, and heard a loud and insistent "MEW" from somewhere out of sight.  We found him peeking out from underneath, and it looked like his hunger would override his fear of those human things.  We put some chicken on a plate, he hopped up the step, and afterward just walked in the opened door.  He had many chicken and tuna snacks after that. 

Of course we never knew if he had escaped his home, was put out, or if his mother had dropped him off in the neighborhood when his six weeks of idyllic family life was over.  We were just glad he had a nose for chicken and showed up here.

We named him Gillligan, because it looked like he took a three-hour trip and got lost.  We were glad he'd filled the place left empty by Moonshadow's death several years earlier.  But the poor thing, despite looking as pretty and lively as they come, had health problems.  At his first visit to the vet, a heart murmur was discovered, and shortly after that, at home, he seemed dizzy and disoriented; the vet found he was losing his sight due to uvitis.  If he had stayed outside, he'd soon have been starved and dead.  The treatment is not always successful, but the little rascal made a full recovery.  

As a young adult, we found he was crying and looking miserable one day, and so rushed him to the vet again.  We found it was again a common cat ailment (common to most male cats, that is): crystals in his urinary tract.  A harrowing stay in an emergency hospital and a week of wearing a plastic cone later, his fur started growing back where it had been shaved, and he got back to normal on special prescription food.  This free cat had become quite expensive, but he was firmly lodged in our home and hearts.

Like all cats, he found favorite places all over the house, but would exchange them for new ones after a while.  He always got along with the rabbits downstairs, and we were always impressed (and bragged about it maybe too much) by his polite and dignified demeanor.  He would ask for what he wanted, then sit quietly and wait.  Very talkative, he'd hold a conversation with you as long as you wanted to continue, with different inflections of "meow" to seemingly indicate different answers.  And we liked that he wasn't too much of a scairdy cat, coming up from his basement safe place to greet visitors and strangers after a while, then give them a rub to let them know they were accepted.  And a pet from anyone was always welcome.

For some reason known only to him, Gilligan was crazy about fresh ears of corn.  He knew immediately when it was coming into the house, whether in cooler or bag, and jumped up on the counter to push his face into the container and gnaw on the husk.  We looked forward to summer on his behalf, anticipating the complete joy with which he greeted the fruit of the maize plant.  But of course, chicken was still the best treat out there.

A big change occurred three years ago when another kitten all on his own outside approached our deck in search of food and shelter.  Blackberry was feral and had been dropped off by his mother (whom we had seen in the area several times), so he was not so easy to convince to come inside.  He loved his kitten chow in the bowl on the deck, though, and became a regular visitor, conversing with Gilligan through the back window screen (we set up an inverted box for him to get up there).  A blue mouse toy coaxed him inside, a little to Gilligan's dismay, but eventually they came to some sort of living arrangement and gave each other some much-needed exercise chasing around and up and down the stairs.  Eight paws thudding at the same time can make quite a racket!

These two left a lot of tracked litter and fur to clean up, but they were always well-behaved and full of irresistable behaviors.  Last night things changed suddenly.  Gilligan came downstairs where Nancy and Zach were, and lay down on the carpet by the litter pans, crying.  He tried to get up and move, but his back legs just dragged.  He cried louder, and we knew something was very wrong.  We'd already had a busy evening, but we got ready quickly and wrapping him up in a towel, ran to the car and headed to the new emergency vet hospital we had, believe it or not, just noticed a few days before outside Mechanicsburg.  Poor Gilligan howled and thrashed all the way over, giving Nancy some bloody wounds in the process.  The assistant and the vet both gave a diagnosis immediately, having seen the sypmtoms many times before.  His heart problem was back.  A clot had broken loose and lodged near his hindquarters, cutting off the circulation and paralyzing the back legs.  His lungs were filling with fluid also.  The vet gave hime a shot of morphine to lessen the pain, but it had no observable effect, so she returned with an anesthetic, which mercifully ended the crying and panting.

The doctor said she had just euthanized her own 8-year-old cat for the same condition, since it could not really be treated.  One could try, with operations and hospitalization, but she said in 23 years she'd never seen a good outcome.  We knew what had to be done and spent the last moments close to him.

It's a pretty sad around here today and will be for a while.  Blackberry stayed with us all night and has been close to me all day; he knows something is not right.  And we know full well everything that lives only has some much time, but that knowledge and our feelings are two different things.

We're going to miss our elegant and beautiful friend for a long time.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Vagabond Summer

I have about a week left of my summer-long absence from home.  Other than the three weeks in June at Ron and Claire's house in California (while they were in Scotland, driving on the wrong side of the road), we had not planned much special, so I planted over a dozen pots with edibles and flowering plants, the south-facing ones of which I knew would need constant watering.  It started off well with the basil plant going, vegetatively, nuts and the tomatoes growing strongly.  The onions took off and I actually enjoyed one before setting off to Cali, which was delightful as usual.  Nancy joined me for a week, and in the middle of that week, flew off on a four-leg flight to surprise her brother in Kentucky for his retirement as school principal.  With her usual careful preparation, she did that, completely, in the greeting card section of the Dollar Store in Fulton, Kentucky.  He was very surprised.

And that was to be the hijinks highlight of the summer.  But as we all learn, the more one plans, the more hilarious the gods find your presumption.

After years of bouncing in and out of the regular and rehab hospitals, our parents' ongoing health crisis seemed suddenly very serious right before Memorial Day.  Mom passed away there before any of us could get to Florida, and Dad, who had joined her at South Bay Hospital, went to the nearby rehab for what turned out to be a very long stay.  We each went there for alternating weeks until I finally moved to the Sunshine State on a one-way ticket to stay until something was decided or even decidable.  When we realized he was never going home again, a family friend found a room for him in a very fine nursing home near ours in Pennsylvania, thus happily ending an anticipated long time on a waiting list.  If you think your taxes are a lot of paperwork, try applying for entrance to one of these.

I guess most out-of-state family members in this situation just have an estate sale (there are several companies that do this locally, as you can imagine with the area population being 95% retirees) and then call in Goodwill or the Salvation Army.  It seemed more right to go through everything, item by item, and figure out what to do with it: send to family, sell -- hardly an option in this land of, uh, constant turnover -- give away, or take to one of the many thrift shops.  All of the above, of course.  Long story short, we (Nancy was here with me for one very productive week) became regulars at UPS and the post office, and some of the thrift stores got pretty tired of seeing me.  If you are interested, I am now an expert on where to find boxes in the 33573 zip code, and can point out the best dumpsters. The Salvation Army was great at taking those many items that just didn't fit anywhere else, and they came in their truck, which worked a lot better than Dad's Toyota sedan for all that hauling.

Reluctantly, I guess I'll have to take the hated I-95 north, getting to Richmond at the end of the second day.  Many wrapped items in boxes to hand off to family members there, and maybe some time to hang with old comrades.  Then home, unloading what's left and hoping to send a lot of that to others in the future.  A dilemma to be faced, I don't know how yet:  you can't throw these things away, but there's no room for anything.  We need a three-car garage.

So it's goodbye to all that: the beautiful bridge from St. Pete to South Bay, with its bright yellow ribs standing up like pick-up sticks, exotic palm trees of many species, waterbirds (egrets, cranes, herons and storks) with impossibly skinny legs and long beaks, golf carts with everyone's home state license plate on the back, old people who can talk the paint off the wall, scattering geckos and lizards by the hundreds, ferocious storms that build up too quickly to run from and bayside tiki bars I'm really going to miss with their sunset ceremonies and island music.

  And a long goodbye to people married for 66 years as I pack their lives up.