Carol Jane Remsburg
Eons ago when I was a little girl, I had a dream. No, I didn't want to grow up to be president, an astronaut, a doctor, or even—God forbid—a lawyer. Back then; the world was suddenly opened to all females. You could be anything you wanted to be when you grew up. All it took was education, drive, and perseverance. I didn't want any of that at aged 8. My whole world was overpowered with the thought of having my own pet—one that loved me best.
I had two older sisters. The oldest I considered an intellectual and a snit. What I found out later was that her demeanor was a simple enough façade. She had wants too, but she knew better than to supply her sisters with ammunition. So she kept to her books and her superiority, she was aloof. She didn't need anybody—save our mom.
The middle sister was full of bravado and worldly wisdom, or so I thought at the time. She was pretty and popular and held a commanding presence. Moreover, all animals seemed to adore her.
As the third and last child, I felt adrift. I wasn't smart, I wasn't pretty or popular, and I didn't have a way with animals. Yet something deep inside me wanted the world to know I was special; that I had something to offer.
In a rural community, animals were special. I wanted my own. I wanted one to love, to feed, to play with, and one to cherish. All too often my middle sister to whom all animals flocked reminded me that I didn't have that special 'something'. I would love too hard and try to hold too long, never realizing that if I simply "let go" that they would return. I was a slow learner.
Our earliest pet that I can recall was a cat. Now, my family wasn't a 'cat' family. They tended more toward dogs. Still, we had a cat and her name was Missy. She was black with little white boots and a blaze of white upon her chest. Missy was beautiful. Missy also hated me. I wanted to hold her and cuddle her and she would scratch the hell out of me to get away. I never minded the scratches much. My middle sister did. She came down with that mysterious malady known only as "Cat Scratch Fever." Then Missy was gone.
Our next family pet was a big dog. He was frisky pup—a Chesa-Lab. He looked pure Chesapeake though with his wiry brown fur and yellow eyes. Ginger we called him for his coat was the perfect shade of ginger. After he grew a bit, that fur would roll from side-to-side as if it weren't even connected to his body—so like a bear's. Ginger grew big and massive. He was not only loving but also overwhelming. He was also very protective. The neighborhood boys tormented him—Ginger did get his revenge on a few of them later on. Ginger always thought he was still a little dog. When his 95-pound frame would leap at my 65-pound frame, disaster was sure to follow. As much as I wanted to hold and cuddle him, Ginger was too big. I cried a lot.
To this day, I wear a scar on Ginger's behalf. I had just turned 9 that past July. Suddenly it was a summer-like October evening. Dinner was over and it was time to feed the dog and it was 'my' turn to do it. I'd left the table before the rest of the family to play outside before it was dish-duty time. When it was your turn to feed the dog, most of those dish chores you got to avoid if you ambled along slowly enough. As I played and played, I suddenly noticed that dinner was indeed done. My oldest sister was walking outside with the dog dish in her hand—the battle that should have ensued didn't for I made one horrible mistake. I attempted to leap over our dugout 'fort' which was surrounded by inverted wire fencing. I left more than a little of myself upon that fence and the rest of our evening was spent in the emergency room.
Later another dog became our family pet. Her name was Duchess—Ducky for short. She was small Dachshund from one of my grandmother's litters of breeding Dachshunds. Ducky was a sweet and loving dog, not nervous, irritable, or pissy like so many are—especially in a household full of children. No, Ducky held her own. While Ducky loved us all in her own way, her special love was my middle sister. Once again, I had no 'special' place or attribute. Ducky would be around until long after I left home and had my own pets.
When I did move out and get married nearly 2 decades ago, my eldest sister gave me a wonderful gift. It was that of a pet—a small tabby-calico mix; a farm kitten that had no real designation other than that she was more feral than domestic. This kitten also wasn't fully weaned. Even so, this little ball of fur walked with the distain of an empress; right down to her kohl-like lined eyes that screamed HATE. This little kitten-cat looked purely the Devil's spawn. I took her in and cuddled her. I taught her to eat regular food, how to use the litter box and she never slept alone—never in all of her fourteen years.
Muffin was our first of many cats. But Muffin was the only one that loved me exclusively. Her wild streak kept her from getting close and warm with others, a few may be but she had her limits. Muffin, my little Ragamuffin, trusted me and worried over me. She knew my moods and my cares. She was always there for my triumphs as well as my tragedies. Later when she was older, she would settle down in my lap with a sigh and a groan with a show that her "Mommy" would take her cares from her. Muffin fought many battles with subsequent feline brethren but she never once gave up her rule no matter how much bigger they were—Muffin ruled the entire house and made no bones about it; except with me.
Muffin had a sister of sorts, Cotton who came into our home several months after Muffin arrived and they were nearly the same age. Cotton grew and grew to be a massive cat that Muffin could only dream about being. However Cotton was a big docile cat. She wanted so badly to mother something but she was a ditsy thing. Muffin played nasty games on her and disallowed much familiarity between Cotton and myself.
When the girls were about five years old, another foundling arrived. He was tiny and defenseless and about the most beautiful cat I'd ever seen—even though his head looked deformed. The poor baby was malnourished from feeding solely upon crickets, Cotton took him in and mothered him. We had to take the baby boy everywhere we went in the house to keep him safe from the Queen. Muffin wanted to kill him and she made that as plain as she could. Once fixed and de-clawed, the little tom still wasn't fully accepted by Muffin. We named him Spike. He grew to be as loving, docile, but much more intelligent and devoted than Cotton. Spike adored the ground my husband trod—quite literally and does to this day some 15 years later.
Years passed. Muffin's adoration, contempt, and attention became my constant companion. She never allowed me much in the way of taking her for granted but I guess I did to a certain degree. I was chastised over late feedings, cussed-ugly over bath time (although she only screamed but never actively fought me like the other two), and nudged often for cuddles when I was morose. Muffin always knew. Just as she knew when I was miscarrying my first child. That cat wouldn't leave my side and she loved me—hard. This most feral, independent, hard, cold, distant cat—loved me and thought I was her mother. She was the toughest thing in a shell of feline-fur I'd ever met—and she loved me. Muffin didn't just 'like me' or 'tolerate me'—she loved me more than anything else. After nine years, she certainly didn't like it when our baby was born. When Erin came, Muffin was in an uproar. Muffin had long ago been terrorized by my nieces. She didn't want this to be a permanent stay by another human being, but she adapted. She may not have liked it, but she endured it for me. Her steady gaze was always a reminder of just what she tolerated on my behalf. Muffin oversaw every feeding, burping and diaper change—well out of reach of the babe.
Muffin was my protector, my cerise, my shadow, and my other self. Muffin could be bitchy when I couldn't. She could strut her stuff and kiss-off the world as long as I was there. She often did. Then she would come running and pounce, cuddling with her hoarse, broken purring. Her tiny body curled up to mine in her ownership of me.
Not long after my daughter was born we were gifted with two puppies, sisters. I love dogs, but found I had little time between mothering, work, family obligations, and keeping my home to give much love or attention to the twin sisters. I lapsed in judgment over getting their shots right away. I thought I could do it in two weeks. In two weeks one of them died. My other little baby is now grown—her name is Sissy. She adores us all, but most especially my daughter. Erin has an innate communication with animals if she would only allow it and not 'push' it as I did.
Cotton left us nearly four years ago. Two months later Muffin did at the hands of a kind Vet upon my dining room table as I held my baby. The Vet cried and I struggled hard not to. Right into the end, Muffin trusted me and loved me. I gave her death to ease her cancer and pain. Oh, I'd been weak and put it off for nearly two months. The cat could no longer walk, but she managed to make the litter box as not to humiliate herself. Humiliation was a something she would never allow.
After the Vet left, I held her and I cried. I felt there could be no other of her kind. Regular domestic kitties were a dime a dozen and without her panache, swagger, and domineering personality. No, not another who would love me with total abandonment the way my Muffin did.
Another two years dragged on. Our mature tom was rapidly gaining an elderly, statesman sort of status. Besides, he couldn't tolerate the kind of intense loving my little Erin doled out. Another stray appeared. He was a kitten, a tough hombre, the dark and dusky Orange Tom.
Full of vinegar, but very loving, I dubbed him Sunshine. That tag wouldn't last for Stinky he was and Stinky he will always be. He wormed his way into my heart and off to the Vet's I went. Once de-clawed and de-balled, he was still terrified of our old tom, who is the biggest wienie that ever walked on four legs. Harried by two females, the poor boy never did stand a chance. Spike was more than ready to accept another male into the house—a playmate. Spike just didn't know what he was asking for. Stinky tormented him and played rough. Spike likes to set others up to get into trouble, but he wants no part of trouble himself. Still, Stink's entrance gave Spike a new life.
That was a year and a half ago. For the first few months we all knew this was a great thing for Spike. His aging seemed to have stopped and there was a new playfulness about him. Erin, my daughter, wanted to lay claim to the new kitten who didn't seem a kitten anymore after several months of intensive feeding. Like a weed in a fertilized garden, Stinky flourished. An adolescent, he allowed all kind of torment from Erin who still carries him about, aloft, and has attempted to dress him in doll clothes on occasion. He adores her. Stinky wasn't to be "hers." He was to be "mine." Oh, the Stink-meister loves me, but not like he does Erin.
A year passes, and it's October again. My husband discovers another foundling. This time it's a female Calico. She's tiny, gorgeous, and so malnourished that it's frightening. She's barely able to hold her head aloft. We take her in and see if we can help her recover. Immediately, I have a name for her. I'm rotten with names—as if you can't tell I've named all the others—I label her Pye, short for Pyewacket from the 50's movie of "Bell, Book, and Candle" with Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak. She is perfect. She may not be a visual clone of my Muffin, but Pie is Muffin. I know it right away. Besides, Pye cows the boys in seconds flat and they out-weigh her by many, many pounds.
Pye looks so like any witch's familiar that the old movies conjure. Although she hasn't quite that bitchy, witchy look with those slanted, hateful eyes Muffin had, Pye owns the house—right up until Erin picks her up and carries her away.
Again, I thought I'd have a devoted cat or dog that loved me best. Trust me, it doesn't happen often. You can love them, feed them, and cuddle with them. Oh, they'll love you then, but they have their preferences.
Spike couldn't leave my hubby for a second. The one week my husband was away last year was nearly the end for Spike. He cried and grieved and screamed for days without end—until Don came home.
Sissy is wonderful and accepting, but her greatest loving is always kept in reserve for her 'baby' Erin. She could starve away and still kiss Erin's face off.
Stinky is devoted to Erin and vies in a big way with little Pye for Erin's attention. Pye sees me as the mother figure she doesn't much care for. I'm in competition with "The Man" for whom the Bell tolls. Other than that, Pye curls up and plays rough with Erin.
Meanwhile, I get the occasional snuggle and rub from any of them. Only Spike seems to know and comforts me—until his daddy walks into the room.
Oh, my Muffin, I miss you so. Bitch or not, haughty or not, thank you Melly for giving her to me. Muffin was the best gift I ever got and was allowed to cherish. But then, it's always the pet's prerogative.