June 17th 2007 9:01 pm
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We were finally getting a cat!
We had cats when I was very young. Pickles, then Thumper. Both died of distemper at an early age . Prior to that my Mom, Dad and older siblings always had pets of some sort.
I could barely remember Pickles and Thumper and probably wouldn’t have been able to had our border, Grace Shaw, not snapped and framed photos of them and given them to me. I still love her for that.
I felt cheated, as there was nothing in the world that I needed more than a cat during my younger years. Instead, when I was 8, I got a baby sister. (Lilian wanted a rabbit when she was 9 and got me. Sounds like payback.) Grace took some very professional photos of Sharon just like she had of the cats. She was smart enough to give them to Mom instead of me.
Sharon was a very cute baby, but she was kind of useless until she was 3.
I still longed for a cat. I had pretty well given up on the idea when, one fall day in 1972, Dad heard about a chocolate brown kitten and his interest was piqued. The next thing you knew, he and my brothers went to pick it up (why I couldn’t go too, pissed me off).
It was definitely a chocolate brown kitten. A wild one at that. We named “him” Leo, don’t ask me why, perhaps, “Leo the lion“? On the first vet visit, we found out that Leo was a she and Sharon renamed Leo “Penny”.
Anyway, on “Leo’s” first day with us, she demonstrated that she was a spunky ball of fur with sharp points on all corners. Sharon and I had finally calmed her down and had her sleeping soundly on our laps when Mom rustled a paper bag in the kitchen and the cat was startled awake. She dug her claws into Sharon’s thighs to gain the traction necessary to launch herself into orbit and out of harm’s way.
Sharon was afraid of this cat from that moment on. I, on the other hand, was willing to put up with the odd scratch or bite in order to be graced with that brown cat’s presence. And, believe me, there were plenty of scratches and bites to endure.
We prepared a bed for her in a box that’s less important use in life was that of containing Mandarin Oranges. She used it off and on, but definitely wanted to sleep with us kids at night. Mom was not too sure that she would be safe for us kids to cuddle with at night, so she locked Penny in the “freezer” room for the first few nights. I was not excited about this arrangement. The cat was not very happy about it. My brothers and our border, Grace, were not too pleased as they were closest to the “freezer” room and had to endure her incessant caterwauling and shredding of the door. By the time Mom quit locking poor Penny in that room at night, she was close to clawing right through that thick wooden door.
Mom needn’t have put us all through that misery. Playful as she was, Penny was also discerning. She never attacked us at night without good reason. If you stayed still, breathed shallowly, controlled your R.E.M. and did not twitch, you were fine.
I did not realize how intelligent and unique Penny was until I obtained average cats later in my adult life. She played tag, hiding-go-seek, hockey, fetch, sled and ninja street fighter.
She ran the 30 foot dash many a night as Martin would try and deposit her upstairs in the kitchen and race back down to his bedroom and lock her out before she got there. He rarely won that race. Tired and beaten, Martin would often resort to wearily calling out, “Mom, call the cat!” At which point Mom would get out whatever treat was in fashion at the time and beckon, “Penny, Penny, Penny!” If Penny had heard the proper sounds associated with a treat being prepared for her, she would race up the stairs to claim her prize.
She loved the outdoors. She was an accomplished hunter and brought home many birds, dragonflies and mice. As she got more comfortable in her back yard, she started to stay our later and later at night. Us kids were worried sick if she wasn’t home by the time we went to bed. She loved “Cheese Whiz” and we used it as a tool to lure her into the house at night. All we had to do was stand on the back step and clink a table knife against the “Cheese Whiz” jar and call: “Penny, Penny, Penny.” If she was within earshot, she would race home for the treat and the attention.
One night, she didn’t make it home by curfew. Mom, Sharon and I were worried sick. Despite watching a thrilling program and being concerned about our cat, Sharon and I finally fell asleep. We awoke to what sounded like, a burglar sawing through our bedroom window’s screen. The TV show we had just seen helped us figure out what the unfamiliar sound was. Sharon didn’t waste any time in running over to Mom and Dad’s room. I being older, wiser and braver, hazarded a look out the window. There, hanging by a few claws hooked into our screen was our beloved cat. This window was about 7 feet up from the sidewalk. Number one, how did she make that jump? Number two, how did she know that by doing that, she would wake us up and be let in? This was the first of what was to become a somewhat regular occurrence when Penny stayed out past our bedtimes. The screens must have been tougher in those days, as our present ones would not have held a 15 pound cat hanging by a few claws.
She liked her food. She tipped the scales at over 16 pounds at one time. If her cat food bowl was empty, she was quite capable of feeding herself. She could open the cupboard, drag out an unopened cat food box, chew a hole through the cardboard and chow down.
She never quite outgrew her suckling instinct and would quietly while away hours, by herself, in a bedroom kneading and sucking on a bedspread. Mom had a shirt that she loved to do that to as well.
When she really wanted to be alone, she would crawl under the covers of a freshly made bed and be gone for hours. The only evidence of her being there was a lump.
Mom and I were her buddies. She could come to us for food, comfort or play. We were her scratching posts. If you held your hand in a certain way when she was in a playful mood, she would launch all 16 pounds of herself at you. She would grip your wrist with her front paws, burrow her head into your hand and swing her back feet onto the inside of your forearm. Then she would proceed to bite your hand and rake your arm with her back claws. It was difficult to escape without injury once that game was started.
Dad had a special relationship with her. As he was with us, he was her disciplinarian. She didn’t take to that very well. At least not as well as his children did. I remember a day when she decided to take a shit in the bathtub. She was smart, but not smart enough to wait for a time when Dad wasn’t home to pull such a stunt. Dad caught wind (or whiff) of the incident and set out to spank her. Us kids were mortified, especially me. I did not want Dad to hurt my heroic cat. He came for her and she dodged him like a CFL’er. She ran for the front entrance. Dumb move. She appeared to now be cornered. I had tears in my eyes knowing that the longer she prevented the inevitable, the more furious my Dad would become and the more severe the punishment would likely be. Either Sharon or Martin were with me that day and witnessed what happened next. Dad was very grouchy at that point, as the incident was interfering with his naptime. He blocked the front entrance doorway and crouched down to grab Penny. Just when we were certain that she was doomed, she leaped over top of Dad’s left shoulder and high tailed it back to the hallway that connected the crime scene (the bathroom) and the two bedrooms (the girls’ and the parents’). Dad waddled back over that way with us kids trailing and asked us where she went. We honestly did not know but I wouldn’t have told him if I had seen in which room she sought refuge. It did not take long for him to see that she had not returned to the crime scene, so he closed off the bathroom door. He then searched my bedroom. There weren’t many hiding places in there as the closet door was closed. He expended the effort to crouch down and look under the bed. He was sweating and blood vessels were throbbing in his temples. I was afraid for my cat. No cat under the bed. I couldn’t take it anymore and did not accompany Dad into his own bedroom for the final search. She had to be in there and about to take a licking. No cat there either. We were all baffled but extremely relieved when
Dad gave up and went for his nap. Probably ten minutes later, I heard a noise in my bedroom. I investigated and found Penny. She had crawled up between the wall and the cloth backing on the headboard of the bed and hung there for half an hour even thinking to keep her tail safely out of view. What a smart cat.
Like I said, Dad had a special relationship with Penny. She loved perfume and such. In the mornings when Dad would shave and groom for work, she would wait patiently near the bathroom for him to finish. Then he was expected to pick her up and rub his cheeks, fresh with aftershave, against her face. It was a ritual that they shared. We also had the best smelling cat on the block.
They also shared some nap times and grooming episodes. Penny would, at times, lick and lick and lick Dad’s bald head until it almost bled. Good thing he was already bald or he would have been by the time she was done.
One other thing that I remember about Dad and Penny is that he would routinely grab her and hold her by force. Eventually she would get pissed off enough to growl like a Tiger and then he would laugh and let her go. (She wouldn’t claw and bite him like she would have most anyone else.) Again, being a smart cat, she learned to growl loudly and fiercely immediately upon being grabbed by Dad, knowing he would let her go right away.
As I already mentioned, Penny loved perfume. One day, Auntie Mimi came for a visit. She must have thought her feet smelled, because she sprayed perfume on her nylon stockinged feet. When she sat down to drink coffee and visit with Mom, the cat set to work licking Mimi’s feet. Mimi has a soft spot in her heart for all living things and let this cat lick her feet until her stockings were destroyed. Either she quit putting perfume on her feet or she kept her shoes on for any subsequent visits.
One time, our beloved cat went missing overnight. That, she had done before, only to be waiting at the back door first thing in the morning. This time, days went by. We were certain that she was gone forever. We imagined her having been catnapped (as she was beautiful and unusual), run over by a car or eaten by a dog. We were sick with worry and pretty well out of hope when Dad found her over by the railway buildings. She was skinny and vocal, but she was back. We still don’t know what happened to her.
There was the day that Nelson and his friend, Paul Gaudet, were playing with the table hockey game at the kitchen table. Paul didn’t know that Penny was the third defenseman, so when she jumped on the game surface and proceeded to check his centreman, he picked her up, looked her in the eye and said, “Bad Kitty”. She took offense to this and before he had put her down she bit him on the nose. Not a playful bite, but a real bite that drew blood and tears from Paul. She received a game misconduct.
All the bites the rest of us endured, despite being painful and sometimes drawing blood, were play bites. Nelson knows how hard Penny could really bite through experience. One evening, while eating corn on the cob, Nelson reached down to let Penny chew on the rest of his partially eaten cob. (Penny loved corn on the cob and green peas.) He wasn’t really paying attention to her, just holding it for her so she could gain purchase on it and really chow down. Well, she accidentally chomped down on his finger. He howled in pain and she immediately let off, but he was very surprised as to how hard she could bite. Just like pliers.
Her love for corn on the cob got her in trouble one day. Mom was boiling up some cobs when she removed the pot from the element and went to drain it. The element was still red hot. Penny, smelling the corn, got excited and jumped up on the stove. She landed with her back foot right on the red hot element. She howled in pain, unstuck her toes from the element, leaving a layer of skin behind and ran for cover in the basement. It was a bad burn, but she survived and never jumped on the stove again. Her criminal behavior days were now numbered as she now had an unique set of prints. Martin used this information to finger her as the culprit who walked all over his freshly painted “Maverick” as well as his “Norton”.
She developed a “thing” for a few select items. A skirt from one of Sharon’s dolls, Grace’s knit gloves and Paul Gaudet’s toque. What they had in common was that they were all red. When she got a hold of one of those items, you did not mess with her. She meant business and went kind of psycho. During the time it took us to realize what was going on, she was quite dangerous. Eventually we learned to let her have these items until she dropped them somewhere and left the area. Then we could quickly pick them up before she saw us. I am not joking about this, she went nuts with those things.
There was the time that she was bitten on the tail by some scraggly tom cat. She developed a severe infection and we eventually had to take her to the vet. I was blessed with the task of being the cat wrangler for Dad. I was expected to hold her still while the vet squeezed a quarter cup of poison out of her already extremely sore tail. I was sure I was in for a shredding and braced myself. Once again, my smart cat, eyes wild with fear and pain, used her better judgment and did not hurt me. Giving her the antibiotic pills in the days to follow was quite an ordeal itself. Just ask Mom.
On another occasion, I remember waking in the wee hours of the morning to an awful howling sound. I stumbled into the livingroom and flicked on the lights to search for the source of the sound. There, up at the top of the livingroom curtains, was Penny in quite a predicament. She had climbed the curtains (bad kitty) and then got one claw caught in a little hole in one of the mechanisms used to hang the curtains. She was now hanging with most of her weight on that one claw. She ran out of options so she called out to us. I had to get Mom to come and help me get her down as I was too short and a little afraid of hurting her worse. I think she clawed us a bit, that time, in panic.
One day we got the bright idea of bringing Penny to the farm with us so that she wouldn’t be lonesome while we were away (she hated it when we left her alone at home). I was frightened to have her outside on the farm with all the predators that could be lurking nearby. She was a city cat. Sure enough, she went missing. It was a blustery, cloudy day. We searched for hours and hours. Finally, over the wind noise, I heard a distant, desperate meow. It took a long time to spot her, way, way up a tree (at least 100 feet up I would guess). No ladder would ever reach and no kid could climb that high. She was right near the top of that poplar and it was swinging erratically in the breeze. She was so high up that we could barely hear her pitiful cries for help. Finding her was not the relief it should have been. We had no way of getting to her. I was afraid to call her for fear that she would try to come and fall to her death. It was quite a predicament. Time dragged and then Penny finally decided that we weren’t going to help her so she started to make her way down the tree. There were times when she was barely in control. She slid and scraped her way down that damn tree. I am sure I lost a few years off of my life just watching her. She was properly spoiled when we got her back to the farm house and her food bowl. That was her first and last day in the country.
Penny used to follow Sharon and I like a puppy. She rarely ventured into the front trafficy area of our yard but if we there, playing, she would join us. She drove us crazy as she would run out onto the street and scare the crap out of us. Then when we would try to round her up and put her in the house, she would climb a tree. We were constantly bothering Mom to call the cat and lock her in the house while we played in the front or while we made a getaway to the school grounds.
One day Mom forgot to call the cat and the cat followed little Sharon to school. Sharon was afraid of Penny, but she was more afraid of her cat being run over by a car, so she picked her up and carried her home. Sharon’s kindergarten teacher, Miss Houle, knew what was going on and called Mom to make sure Sharon got home safe. Once again, Penny showed her smarts and did not claw or bite Sharon.
Sharon deserved to get bit by Penny the day she blamed her drunken binge on my innocent cat. Way before reaching legal drinking age (you’re only allowed to do stupid things when you hit 19), Sharon got plastered and came home that way. Mom was not too pleased but definitely didn’t want Dad to find out so she tried to quietly shoo Sharon into her bedroom. Sharon was not in a quiet mood, so Dad did wake up. He was slow to get out of bed though, so Mom did get Sharon stuffed in her room with a barf bucket and the door closed before Dad got there. As he passed her bedroom door he heard puking noises. I am sure he knew what was going on, but when he asked her through the door, “What’s going on? Are you sick?” Sharon answered between heaves, “No. It’s the cat.” Dad being too old and tired to deal with his misbehaving teenaged daughter, left it at that. I’m not even sure if Penny was even in the bedroom with her.
In her younger years, it was rare to have her slow down enough to grace you with her presence by sleeping on your lap. As an elderly cat, she was constantly seeking your shoulder, a brushing or a warm lap. She even got to be a pest about it as she would leap from the refrigerator onto your shoulder and demand attention.
I was just talking with Mom recently, and she relayed one last story about Penny for me. I guess after one of Dad’s medical appointments, he was prescribed some sort of leotards that were supposed to help with circulation or something. I don’t know. But the gist of this story is that the damned leotards cost $25 and Dad was afraid that Penny, who was accustomed to napping with him, would claw them and waste his $25 stockings. So once more, Mom was asked to “Call the cat“. And Penny, for a time, was locked out of Dad’s bedroom.
I could go on forever about Penny. She was truly a special cat. There was never a dull moment with her. She made my young pre-teen and teen years more bearable. She united us as a family. She entertained us and made us laugh on a daily basis. She lived to the ripe old age of 18. I am both saddened and relieved that I was not home for her declining years. She was one special feline and I will forever be grateful that she shared her life with us.
My Mom still thinks about you every day. She loves you very much. I haven't met you yet but I love you too.
I enjoyed reading about Penny, thank you for sharing it.
Thank you Wanda. I was a one in a million cat!
wow you were a totally pawsome kitty thanks for sharing your life story with us. Your story made mom think of some of the kitties "peanut" and midnight" that she grew up with and her dad was kinda like your mom's dad, sometimes they had to run and hide now he has a cat of his own. MOL
Thank you Skids Kitty. It is amazing how loved we are.
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