Friday, May 18, 2012
My mom was the one who began calling my black and white cat "String" even though I had already named her "Cookie". She was in that "gangly" kitten stage, with a long body, big head....my mother said "That's a stringy-looking kitten you have." The name stuck.
A good friend of mine had a black and white cat named Lizzie....I thought Lizzie was beautiful and sweet...and the most endearing thing about her was....her little black nose. I just loved it. One Saturday, I decided to go over to the Animal Refuge Center, and take a peek at the adoptable kittens. There was String right when we walked in, perched in the middle of a throw pillow that was on the floor, balanced right in the center of it. She was so tiny....so fragile. And lo and behold...she had a tiny heart shaped black nose. Yep...she came home with me that day.
String had a grumpy but endearing personality. She was cranky 100% of the time. She loved to scream-meow, hiss and growl....all the while purring away and rubbing her little face on you. I found out how she came to be at the Refuge Center, and it was no wonder she was grumpy. Her life started out in a dumpster behind a Publix grocery store. She and 4 other kittens were stuffed into a plastic grocery bag, their eyes still closed, and dumped in a dumpster. Someone heard their cries, fished them out of the dumpster, and took them to ARC. So, I always forgave her grumpy attitude, because I figured she was entitled to feel that way, starting out life blind and surrounded by garbage. String and the other kittens nursed on another mommy kitten at ARC until they were ready to be adopted out.
String came home with me right before Christmas in 1993. She got along famously with my other cats, and our Samoyed Snoopy. One of my favorite photos is this one that I call "Monster in the Middle"...String eating between Kate and Punkin. My Girls.
Anytime you spoke to String, she would answer you, using her extended vocabulary of meows, hisses and meow-purrs. My mother would say "Good Morning String!" and String would Hiiiiiiiiiiiisssssss back at her, but want to be scratched behind her ears. I also had an exclusive call that I would use to call her....in a sing-song voice I would call out Monnnnnnnnsterrrrrrrr....she would appear, eyes bright and a closed mouth purrrrrmeowwwww? would be her answer. She also loved to rub her teeth on you when she marked you...on your hand, leg, and take little love bites to any exposed skin. Another favorite of hers was to come in the bathroom while you would be on the toilet, and nipping at your thighs as she would walk by. I would hear an Owww! come from the bathroom, and then I'd hear "String got me!" Her meows could be long and loud....she loved to express herself. She would go into the laundry room sometimes, and meow over and over again....she loved the sound of her own voice.
I bought the cats a round plastic toy that had a ball inside that they could bat around, and in the middle of the toy was corrugated cardboard for them to sharpen their claws. One day, I was holding String like a baby in my arms. I would kiss her right on her mouth....I started doing that while she was a little kitten, so she was used to it. One day, after a kiss, I put her down and she ran over to the toy and angrily scratched her claws on the cardboard. She began doing that every single time I would kiss her, so I entertained friends with this antic of hers.
She was a tiny girl....she didn't get very big. Even when she was full grown, she still looked like a kitten. I figured it was because she had a rough beginning and was taken from her mother. What she was short on physically she made up with personality-wise. She was full of herself. She also loved ice cream....that was my fault because I would give her a little bite of mine. She could be anywhere in the house and hear me open the freezer. I would try to open it quietly, and sneak some out for myself...and always, when I turned around, she would be behind me, with her banshee scream as soon as I turned around. I had better give her a bite of ice cream, or else!
String was with me through many life-changes; she moved with me from Florida to Cape Cod, and then to Nashville TN, then finally to North Carolina. She slept on a pillow, next to my head each night. We called her the Troll of The Pillow. Only she was allowed to lay there, and she hissed and growled if the others tried to take her spot. If she had to be left at the vet for any reason, it was only I who could remove her from the cage she was in. I once left her at the vet for a flea bath. When I came to pick her up, a vet tech came out to get me..."Uhhh, Mrs. Balmer? Could you please come get String out of the cage for us?"....I went to the back, and they had hung a bath towel over the front of the cage. The noises that were coming from inside the cage sounded like a Tasmanian Devil was inside. "Monst?" I called...."Monnnnsterrrr"....and she answered with her "mrrrrrow?" She knew I was there to get her.
When we lost String, it happened so fast. She got sick almost overnight. She started looking like she was losing weight so we took her to the vet and found out she was hyperthyroid, which we felt lucky that it was NOT diabetes. I had treated some of my other cats for hyperthryroidism, no big deal. Well, what I found out later was.....2% of cats cannot tolerate Methimazole, the drug of choice for hyperthyroidism. String was in that 2%. One morning she came into the bathroom, and crawled into the shower stall to lay down. I took her right to the vet. Her liver was malfunctioning...she was jaundiced. And could not hold anything down. She came home with us that night, but she did not come sleep on her pillow. She stayed in one place, with her little head down between her front paws all night, and didn't move. The next morning, we took her back to the vet. I had her wrapped in a towel, and sung to her the whole way to the vet in the car. We said goodbye....I kissed her little black nose, and she was gone.
I keep her ashes in a cedar box that is decorated with her name and her picture. There will never be another String. I feel so fortunate to have had her in my life for 16 years. I hope and I pray that we will see her again. Until then, I hold her close in my heart, and not a day goes by that I don't think of her with love....Love you, little Monster.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Monday, September 19, 2011
Would anybody miss her, if she just disappeared? If she just walked away tomorrow, would anyone notice?
It would probably take people awhile, then they would say "What happened to her? Haven't seen her posts for awhile....perhaps she is just busy." Then, she would be brushed away, like an after thought.
Some weeks later, maybe some of you would visit her page. "Hmmm, look at that. She hasn't posted anything for a couple of weeks. She must be really busy! Wonder what has been taking up most of her time?" Still, no one leaves a message.....not a "Hey! Are you OK?" "Just thinking about you!"
Some more time would go by, then maybe people would notice their friends list is missing someone...their 198 friends has decreased to 197.
"Who's missing?" they'd wonder....scrolling down their lists, not really seeing who or what was in front of them. "I don't see anybody missing....looks like everyone is here." Face it, you can't keep track of the friends on your lists unless you keep a spreadsheet of them on Excel, and even then, it is touch and go.
After a month, she is forgotten. No one pays attention. No one paid attention before, why should now be any different.
Would anybody miss her if she just disappeared? She already knows the answer.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Today I am thinking of my Granny and her house in West Virginia...all of the happy springs and summers spent there.
Every Easter over spring break we would visit for a week. In April, winter was still in New York...but in West Virginia, the breeze was a little softer. The grass was light green, Daffodils and Crocus grew in her yard. The nights were still chilly, but the daylight brought warmth.
During the summer, Cicadas (or Hot Bugs, as I called them) rattled all day long in the trees, but the heat was not unbearable. Granny's house was nestled in a valley between the hills, where it stayed cool.
Summers in West Virginia (1969-76); Each day was an adventure; my brother, my cousin and I, played outside all day; our bikes were our "cars", the old brown metal glider between the two huge trees in the front yard was the gas station, where we would fill our bikes with imaginary gas; The Rock, up the hill from the house, where my cousin and I would go to sit and talk for hours. It seemed so high, up on that hill. We would climb that hill, and sit on the rock. We could see the top of the house, and the hills and fields and granny's garden.
Summer mornings brought breakfasts of biscuits and gravy, sliced tomatoes and bacon. Granny's transistor radio played in the kitchen as she cooked, and I woke up to "How Do You Mend A Broken Heart", "Eleanor Rigby" and "Suspicious Minds" on WCHS AM.
Lunch was thick slabs of baloney on white Purity Maid bread, slathered with Miracle Whip, and slices of tomatoes from the garden. During those summer days, we'd run into the kitchen and snag Freezer Pops from the pull out freezer below Granny's fridge. With Orange, Purple and Green mouths, we'd play throughout the afternoon, one of us occasionally crying out from a sweat bee bite. I was the biggest baby...running inside, for peroxide and baking soda to be applied to my bite. Then, I'd sulk on the couch, silently hating the sweat bees for living, and ruining my outside playtime.
Supper was always corn bread.....green beans and fried yellow squash from the garden. Fried chicken, always prepared in the red electric skillet, by my Aunt.
After supper, there was more outside playtime, until the Lightning Bugs appeared. Then came baths, and TV; The Dolly Parton Show, Hee Haw, M*A*S*H, The Waltons. I remember one of my older teenage cousins coming over some evenings to watch television...he did not have a TV at his house. We would watch Petrocelli, Columbo, and other detective shows.
Then there were the "Going to Town" days, where we would drive into Charleston to run errands. The mornings were spent running around, getting ready. The scent of Aqua Net permeated the air as my mother and Aunt fixed their hair. It took almost 60 minutes to drive to town. We'd be in my Aunt's blue Chevy, us three kids in the backseat, windows rolled down, no a/c. We would shop at Stone and Thomas and The Diamond, then Kroger's, before heading home. On the way home, we would stop at Dairy Queen, for hot dogs and shakes.
At night, we slept with the windows open; The Sounds of Night coming through our windows. My mother complaining about how she hated the sounds of frogs and crickets...she grew up with them and they drove her crazy. I loved it. So many different and strange sounds. I would lie there and try to imagine what was making each sound....crickets, bull frogs, and some others that I have never heard again. Some sounds I can't even describe, but can still hear clearly in my mind, like The Clicking Bug. It made clicking sounds, down the the creek. I heard it every night. The Sounds of Night; Granny's soft snores, sighs of sleep, and sometimes the yard dogs barking at something unknown. If the barking continued for too long, Granny would get up and get her gun, me behind her, clutching at her gown, as she made her way to the breezeway door with a flashlight. "Git! Git!" She would yell, as her flashlight would find a possum, squinting in it's bright light. It would lumber off into the night. The dogs would settle down, and we'd lie back down, soft beds and quilts. The gurgling creek lulling me back to sleep. What I wouldn't give to hear those sounds once more.
My Granny's house has sat empty for a long time. She passed away in 1983 and my Aunt continued to live there until 2006. My Aunt had gotten new furniture at some point, which still remains in the house. But besides the new furniture, a lot of old things remain. The electric clock that hangs in the kitchen, which has been telling time since before I was born. The four poster bed in one of the bedrooms, given to my Aunt when she was in her twenties. Quilts, stacked in the closets, smelling of mold and mildew, falling to pieces when touched. And The Rock up on the hill. One of the last times I was at the house I looked up at that rock. It wasn't so high up on the side of that hill after all. Where it used to loom large, it now appears small, inconsequential.
I realized back then that those days and nights were special. I knew that they would someday end. What I didn't know, is how painful it would be to recount those memories. Happy memories that cause tears today. Although through my pain and my tears, I am forever grateful to have been there to love and to be loved. Dear Granny and My Childhood, I love you and I miss you, Always~
P.S. This morning I realized that the day that I typed this up, Wednesday, was Granny's birthday. No wonder she was on my mind so much that day~
Thursday, August 25, 2011
In July, 1989, my boyfriend (now ex-husband) Mark and I moved from Charleston, WV to Bluefield, WV…a small coal mining town in the southern part of the state, right on the Virginia border. There was not much there. We rented a single-wide trailer, Mark went to work every day, and I couldn’t find a job.
One day, while driving around, I found the Mercer County Animal Shelter. I stopped in, to look around. There were a lot of kittens, and I thought “That’s what I need….a companion!” When Mark got off work that afternoon, we rode up there together.
“I like this one!” I chose a fluffy orange tabby, which looked kind of pissed off. I was choosing on looks alone.
We left, with the kitty in tow. I named her Katie, after my mom, because I thought she was beautiful, like my mom, and also because I missed my mom so much.
Katie was a little spitfire. She loved to run from one end of our trailer to the other, knocking over things as she went; a whole dish drainer full of clean dishes, the broom and mop leaning up against the wall, my breakable glass figurines in the living room. She also played fetch! She loved the plastic rings that came from the milk cartons. I’d say to her “Want to PLAY?” She would meow, and run over to me. I’d toss the milk ring, and she would run and get it, and bring it back to me in her mouth! She was so tiny and cute…and I loved her. I got her used to riding in the car…we’d go for rides, over to the radio station to visit Mark at work. I bathed her, coddled and held her. She was spoiled rotten.
Eight months after we adopted her, we moved to Fort Myers, FL. She rode with us in the cab of the U-Haul, under Mark’s seat. When Mark would light a cigarette, she would start meowing, and come out from under the front seat, and continue to cry until he put his cigarette out. She also rode part of the way on his lap, while he drove.
Upon arriving in Ft Myers, we stayed the first couple of nights with Mark’s elderly Aunt Helen, who despised cats. Poor Katie had to sleep in the cab of the U-Haul at night. During the day, she was with us, in our car, while we rode from place to place, searching for an apartment.
We finally found a one bedroom right up the street from Mark’s work place. We settled in. Katie was strictly indoors, so she amused herself with sitting in the windowsill, watching birds fly overhead…sometimes seeing the big Pelicans glide by. Her eyes would grow huge at the sight of them. “Look! Look – look!” I’d whisper to her, and her mouth would open, making tiny little chittering noises. After a short while, all I’d have to say to her is “Look-look!” and her eyes would turn dark and big, and she’d hop up into the window sill, tiny meows coming from her mouth.
One day, she came trotting into the living room with something large and black in her mouth. “What do you have?” I asked. She danced away from me, then dropped the thing on the floor, and began to bat at it. Upon closer inspection, I thought to myself, “Gee, that kind of looks like a Scorpion…” Black, curled forked tail…..Shit! A Scorpion! Just as she was leaning down to pick it up in her mouth once more, I screamed “LEAVE IT!!” She darted away, and I ran to Mark’s closet to get a heavy dress shoe to smash it with. I pounded it, then threw it’s carcass out the front door. A Scorpion! I had never seen one before. Welcome to Florida.
Katie got a friend in December of 1991, when I went to work part time at a veterinary clinic. I brought Punkin home, and they took right to each other, although Katie remained The Queen. She was a well-traveled girl, going with me to WV, then back to FL, then to Massachusetts, Tennessee, then finally North Carolina. She took it all in stride. She was a healthy cat, and easily adjusted to her surroundings. She never had any health problems, and was very independent. She was with me through a marriage, a divorce, living single, then finding love again. The night that my new boyfriend came over for the first time, she climbed right into his lap, surprising both of us. Steve, because he didn’t like cats, and me, because Katie didn’t normally warm up to strangers right away. She climbed right up into his lap, lay down, and began a low, contented purr. Steve changed his cat-hating ways when he took up with me. “They were here before you” I pointed out “and they aren’t going anywhere.” He still complained occasionally, but he came to love them as much as I did, although he would not admit it for quite awhile.
Kate always became playful when I cleaned the house. I would turn on loud music when I cleaned. While living in Florida, I would listen to Bread while I cleaned. To this day, the song Sweet Surrender reminds me of Katie. When it would come on, I would sing loudly and she would race around the apartment, her eyes big as saucers, her tail fluffed out to full bottle-brush mode.
One time she got angry with me because I wouldn’t let her mooch food from me. I was sitting on the loveseat, and she was next to me. “I said NO!” firmly to her. She quickly bent down and bit my knee, then took off fast as lightning, for the bedroom. “I can’t believe she just did that….did you see that?” Steve was laughing….”She took off because she knew she shouldn’t have nipped at you!”
Another endearing Kate-ism, was her searching through the grocery bags when we’d get home from the store. “Are you looking for your DINNER?” I’d ask. She’d meow furiously, pawing through bag after bag, until she’d find the one containing her cans of Fancy Feasts. She then would nose at the bag for me to unpack it. I kept the cans under the sink, and one morning, I slept in, past her breakfast time. When I got up and went into the kitchen, the cabinet door was open, and there was a can of Fancy Feast in the floor, Kate sitting beside it. I don’t think I have ever laughed as hard as I did when I saw that. I wish I could’ve taught her to open the cans.
Kate slowed down as she aged, and became a permanent lap cat. As soon as we’d sit down, she’d climb on our laps and settle in. Steve nick named her “Kate Moss Kitten” because she was rapidly losing weight. We found out that she was hyperthyroid, and the vet put her on medication. She never gained her weight back, though she ate like a horse.
She began to have sneezing and nasal problems. Her little nose would run and run, but sounded clogged up at the same time. I began taking her to the vet, to get her sinuses flushed out. The vet suggested that she may have a cancerous nasal polyp, and wanted to scope her nasal cavity. They could not do it at the office, so she wanted to send her to the vet school at NC State University, the procedure would cost over a thousand dollars. At this point, Kate was nineteen years old. “No, I want to just continue with the nasal cleanings” I said. “No scope”.
Throughout her long life, Kate shared her home with 7 other cats, and still, she reigned Queen. Everyone else was submissive to her, and no one ever picked on her, even as she aged. She and Punkin remained close, and she grieved when Punkin passed away unexpectedly. She did not get along with any of the other cats as well as she did Punkin...when Mark and I were still together, he would refer to them as The Lesbian Lovers, because they bathed each other constantly, and got into occasional lover's spats.
Kate’s weight got down to 6 pounds, and one morning she refused her food. She had never done that before. She was always ravenous. I tried everything from canned tuna to stinky salmon. She purred, and rubbed me and wanted to be held…but did not want to eat. Steve and I gathered her up, and took her to the vet. She stood on the table for a few seconds, and then just laid down. Her breathing was rapid, and she appeared to be exhausted. “It’s time” the vet said.
We whispered to her….”We love you, Katie Bug….you’re such a good girl….we love you so much…” In seconds, it was over.Nineteen years old, My Sweet Katie Bug, My Kate Moss Kitten. We love you, and talk about you all the time. We will see you again….until then, run and play, and hear Sweet Surrender in your dreams.
Saturday, August 20, 2011
My parents had recently split up, and my Mom and brother Mark were preparing to move from New York to West Virginia. My Mom was from WV, and I was in my freshman year of college there. The arrangement was for my Mom and brother to move in with my Mom’s younger sister Jackie, into the house that had belonged to my
granny, who had passed away that June.
Mark had been asking for a puppy. My Mom didn’t mind the idea, since granny’s house was way out in the country, with lots of land for a dog to roam. My granny had always had dogs. Presently, there was one living there with Aunt Jackie…a hound mix named Smokey. There were also a couple of cats, Garfield and Blackie, who could always be found lounging on the breezeway, or on the wide windowsill outside the living room window. Jackie was opposed to us getting a puppy right away. It was winter time, the puppy would have to stay inside, thus there would be messes to be cleaned up. I didn’t care…I wanted my brother to have a puppy. He was leaving NY, his school, his friends, everything that was familiar to him. I wanted to make him happy.
Me, my college roommate Cherie and a friend of ours all went to the animal shelter on a snowy Friday afternoon, a few days before Christmas. There were some puppies there, all cute. A trio of Sheltie puppies caught my eye. The one in the middle was gazing at me….soft brown eyes, tiny black eyelashes, little freckles across the bridge of her nose. “Take me….” Her eyes said. “That one!” I pointed to her, and Cherie opened the cage to take her out. She was warm and wiggly, and covered my face with kisses and puppy breath.
We took her back to our dorm room, where we fed her and gave her water. She snooped around the room, then discovered she could bark…oh boy. We were of course trying to be quiet and hide her. It was all over then. Girls from up and down the hall flooded my room, with squeals and “OH HOW CUTE!” Luckily, Cherie’s house was close by, and she was going home for Christmas break. She offered to take the puppy and keep her until Christmas. Problem solved.
Christmas Eve afternoon, my father and I drove to Cherie’s to get the puppy. I knocked on the door, and the puppy’s head appeared in the tiny window in the door. Cherie was holding her up and it looked so funny! “How’d she do?” I asked. “Not too bad…she had some accidents and chewed up my Stevie Nicks tape…other than that, no problem.” Cherie said. Out in the car, I tied a big red bow around her collar, and we started home to Aunt Jackie’s. All week Mark had been searching under the tree for his gift from me. “Where’s my present from Missy? She ALWAYS gets me something…there is nothing here!” He would complain. My mom just smiled…she knew what was coming. We arrived at the house, and I had the puppy wrapped up in my coat.
“Do you want your Christmas present now?” I asked my brother.
I set my coat on the floor, and with a flourish, whipped the coat off of the puppy. There she was, the soft tan and white fuzzy Sheltie mix with the big red bow around her collar. Mark screamed. My heart was glad and my throat swelled….I had made him so very happy.
He named her Sandy. Sandy was housebroken within two weeks. She didn’t cry or bark excessively. She won everyone’s hearts immediately.
By the time I got back home in May when college was out, Sandy was a permanent part of the family. Smokey loved her, the cats tolerated her. And she was smart. Mark had already taught her to sit, shake hands, and she came when called. He also trained her not to go up to the road. Many of my granny’s dogs had died because they went up to the road and got hit. Sandy knew to stay in the yard with Smokey. She was a perfect dog.
In November, my mom bought a town house for us. Aunt Jackie needed her space, so we moved out. The town house had a small back yard. Sandy had a dog house, but not much room to run. She became more of an inside dog then. We took her for walks and she slept in Mark's room. She was the bright spot of happiness for all of us.
Mom, Mark and I would sit in the living room on the floor, and hand Sandy a rolled up newspaper. Mark would hand it to her and say “Take this to Mommy” Sandy, grasping the paper firmly in her teeth, would obediently take it to my mother, who would take it out of her mouth and say “Oh thank you, Sandy, good girl!” Then she would roll the paper back up, and hand it back to her and say “Now, take this to Missy…” and Sandy would….very patiently and seriously.
She would sit by us while we were eating….sometimes with one long drool hanging down the side of her mouth. My brother would reach over with a napkin, and wipe her mouth. She never jumped on people, or acted up. Her favorite treats were these beef basted doggie waffles. One time, I was in the floor with her, and pretended that I was eating them. The look on her face was priceless….she wasn’t mad…she looked heartbroken. I quickly handed over the treat to her, kissing her little face, and felt bad for teasing her.
My father would still come visit us from NY, even though he and my mom were split up. He was not an animal lover. He tolerated Sandy, and she knew it. She’d be in the living room with us, and he would say “Sandy, do you want to go outside?” A wheedling appeal in his voice. She would stare balefully at him, while my mother would croon “No, she doesn’t! Don’t listen to the Mean Old Man, Sandy-Lou, you can stay in the house.” My Dad would scowl.
Eventually he began to warm up to her. “Want to go for a ride Sandy?” He'd ask. She would hop to the front door, smiling, tongue lolling out one side of her mouth. He would get in Mom’s car, and she would ride shotgun, they would go down to the corner store to get a newspaper. Sandy loved riding in the car.
Some years later, I moved away to Florida. I couldn’t wait to come home and visit. My mother took my picture with Sandy, and Sandy smiled in the picture, showing her teeth. A couple of years later, I temporarily separated from my husband. My two cats and I came to stay with Mom for awhile. Sandy was less than thrilled to see my cats. My cat Punkin loved Sandy. She wanted to rub up against Sandy, and sleep next to her. Sandy would eye her hatefully, and curl her top lip up, showing her crooked little teeth if Punkin got too close.
“Sandy!” I’d yell. Immediately, she would get a sheepish look on her face.
“The kitty loves you,” I’d explain. “Let her smell you…”
Sandy would have none of it. When she would fall asleep, Punkin would go over and rub her face in Sandy’s furry tail, and purr away. Mom and I used to talk about Sandy’s dislike for the K-I-T-T-I-E-S (we would spell it out, because if Sandy heard the word “Kitties” she would give us a hateful look). It was very entertaining.
Finally, it came time for my brother to leave home. My mom and Sandy were on their own. My mom would take Sandy out to Aunt Jackie’s for weekends, so she could run, and play in the huge yard, and fields. One such weekend, my Aunt Jackie got up on Sunday morning, and went out to feed Sandy. She saw Sandy, lying in the front yard. She thought she was asleep, so she called and called - Sandy didn’t move. My Aunt had MS now, and could not walk well enough to go out into the yard to investigate. She called her brother-in-law, who came over, and examined Sandy. She didn’t have a mark on her. She appeared to be asleep. She was gone, at eleven years old. He surmised that she had had a heart attack, while chasing deer in the yard during the night.
Mom didn’t tell us. I called from Florida one afternoon after work to chat.
“Hi, Mom, can I talk to Sandy?” It was a big joke with us, I’d call and ask for the dog.
“She’s dead, Missy….” Gee Mom, try not to be too subtle. I sank to the floor, phone in hand, hot tears running down my cheeks. I held back giant sobs.
“Does Mark know?” I whispered.
“No, I told your Dad to tell him….” My parents always hated to be the bearers of bad news….always avoiding it, one of them trying to get the other to do it.
My brother had moved to Nashville, TN by this time. I know he cried. I know it hurt him more than anything ever would. He never got another dog.
We were all affected by her death. We still have her photos, and her memories. We still miss her each and every day. But we feel lucky to have loved her and received love from her for eleven years.