Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Real Cat Before Christmas

Yes, he’s real, and he’s now a member of our family. He’s not Siamese like Wiki in The Cat Before Christmas, he’s just a cat, a big gray grown-up boy. He showed up the Saturday before Thanksgiving.

A few days before the idea for The Cat Before Christmas hit me like a lightning bolt. I hadn’t given a single thought to writing anything but a grocery list in four years. Interestingly, that’s what I was doing when the idea struck -- making a grocery list for Thanksgiving dinner.

That Saturday our youngest son Paul and I took the list to the grocery store and did the shopping. When we pulled into the driveway the cat appeared, a big, beautiful gray cat with green eyes and a shiny, groomed coat. He wasn’t a stray; he was healthy and well cared for. We assumed he was just strolling by and stopped to say hello.

But he kept hanging around. I’d see him when I went out to get the mail. On Mondays and Wednesdays when I met our grandson Zachery at the school bus the cat was also there to meet Zack. Zack loves cats. So do I. Cats know who loves them and who doesn’t.

The cat wasn’t obnoxious or pushy. He sat politely, looking up at Zack and me with his big green eyes. He followed us to the front door. Each time I saw him he looked thinner and rougher. This went on for two weeks. I was starting to worry. Where was his family? Why was he now, obviously, homeless? What had happened?

I checked the online lost and found notices, the bulletin boards in the grocery stores -- no gray cat with green eyes lost in our neighborhood. I was really worried about him now -- and the big coyote that sleeps in our backyard on sunny days.

When we lost the last two of our three cats, The Little Queens, Michael and I swore off cats, but this guy’s plight was driving me crazy. I talked to Michael. “If you want to let him in the house, go ahead,” he said. “But just one cat.”

The next day was Wednesday. I was prepared. I had cat food and a cat box ready. When Zack got off the bus, there was the cat. He followed us home. Zack petted him while I filled bowls with water and food. I fed the cat and I petted him.

I went in the house and came outside a few minutes later and petted him some more. I did this three times. The fourth time I simply opened the door. He looked up at me with his big green eyes, meowed and stepped delicately into the living room.

Michael named him Smokey because he's like a puff of smoke; one minute he’s not there and the next he is. Michael also calls him Senor Smoke (after the Minnesota Twins pitcher Juan Berenguer) because he’s not a kid -- he’s a grown-up. Zack calls him Gray Stripe. I call him Smoke.

He has impeccable manners. He has all his claws, but he doesn’t use them. He’s very careful if he jumps in your lap, and he hasn’t scratched one thing in my house. He goes outside, but he always comes back. He loves to be brushed. He puts his chin on my shoulder and purrs when I pick him up.

Life imitates art so be careful what you write about. I wrote about a cat, and now I have one. And I’m glad.

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