On my father’s side of the family, we are catfolk. My grandmother adored them and always had at least two in the house at any given time.
I was a big blanket fort builder in my early kidhood, and my favorite spot was behind grandma’s recliner. When she tipped the chair back, it made the perfect roof over which to toss my blanket and then tuck the ‘walls’ in tight around. Inevitably, the grandcats would find me.
What’s the small human doing now? Do you think she has food back there?
And in their furry heads would poke.
There were two generations of grandcats during my early childhood, but the most memorable were the two white kittens my dad brought home one day. He was in college at the time and living at home, so I got to hang out with him and the grandparents together. I was the lovechild of a failed shotgun wedding, you see. I spent the school week with mom, weekends and summers with dad and the grands.
Dad brought home these two ragged white kittens and said we had to name them. While we watched them tearing around the big house, climbing grandma’s expensive drapes and ripping up the side of the chenille sofa, we contemplated their fate. How would we address these two destructive little beasts for the remainder of their lives with us? What truly suited them?
The scrawnier of the two was a wily hunter. He’d only been on the property for a few hours and had already bagged a field mouse out in the yard. Dad sagely decided this one would go forth as Mousetrap. Over the years, he got many chuckles out of the phrase “this is my cat named Mouse”.
The larger-boned kitten was clearly an alpha male. He had longer fur; he was prettier than his wiry companion (they were not biologically related, just found at the same time). The larger cat was also pompous, regal and distinctly dangerous—sort of like a fluffy drug lord. When he looked at you, you had little doubt he would remove your eyes for you if you bothered him too much. And a sweat he would not break.
I always loved the bad boys. The little girl in me was also taken by his opulent, dense fur and I mentioned that he was quite puffy. My father went with that description. He branded this fierce alpha cat with the closest thing he could come to a gangster street name: Puffer. This was often condensed to ‘The Puff’ which, to young, impressionable me, was even more gangster.
Mouse and The Puff outlived both my grandparents and were with us into my early teens. One day, my dad came home and said the white, fluffy drug lord of Ellery Drive had gone ‘into hiding’. We wouldn’t see him again.
This sounded so romantic to me, like he was on the run from the federales or the FBI. The Puff was such a badass. What it really meant was that my dad found him dead by the side of the road after losing a fight with an oncoming vehicle.
But, come on—as far as ways for a big white fluffy tomcat to check out, that was totally freakin’ gangster.
Mouse hung on for another few years before succumbing to skin cancer. He was dumb as a box of fur, but he was sweet. After a sufficient period of mourning, my dad—who was living in our family home on his own by then—scrounged up two more cats to continue the long neglected work of ripping sofas and shredding drapes.
These were a brother and sister team that he named George and Susie, respectively. My grandfather was from the former Yugoslavia (what he called ‘the old country’) and never had much use for American English. To him, everything female—regardless of species—was a ‘susie’. That’s how the female kitten was named, but her brother got his moniker simply because he ‘looked like a George’.
Susie, a calico, and George, an albino with a black spot on his head, were still kittens when I moved in with my dad while I was in college. I came with my own cat, my beloved Jazmyn. Jaz was a little older than the kittens and far more reserved having been an only cat at the house I shared with my mother. She stuck close to me. She was my familiar; my sister in furred form.
I should probably mention at this point that I am intensely allergic to cats and I also have asthma. None of this mattered to me when I was younger because there was always medicine around that could keep me from sneezing and wheezing myself to death. The cats didn’t come in my bedroom, but otherwise I was never far from them.
One thing that non catfolk might not realize about them is that they are freakin’ comedy. My dad and I had so many hilarious stories about our adventures with them—or just watching them go about their feline business. There are a few standout tales that have made their way into my various written works, but I’ve reserved three really great ones for Arabesque. My lead, Elijah, is a cat daddy, like my own dad.
I’m not a writer who morphs stories from my own life into my fiction, but I do recycle cat stories. In fact, telling cat stories at parties or at the dinner table is one of my favorite things on earth to do. There’s just such a wealth of material!
So, whenever you see a cat stroll through one of my stories, he or she is likely doing something that one of my real life cats did. This is my way of paying homage to them and honoring the endless joy they brought me. Age has made my allergies so bad that I can no longer live with cats. By including them in my fiction, they are still with me, hanging out on my couch, making me laugh and going on forever.
Here’s to all the cats out there—mine and everyone else’s. You’re all badass gangsters to me.