19. Eggnog with Pickles

19. Eggnog with Pickles

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Merry Christmas!

Eggnog with Pickles

Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.

~Douglas Adams

In the first few years after my mother’s death, I was a little bossy with my widowed father. When he didn’t seem to be moving on and enjoying his life, I decided he needed a pet. Dad had always taken an interest in my family’s cats and dogs so I decided to get him a kitten.

I bought bowls and food, a litter box and litter, scratching post and catnip mouse, and a cat carrier. I wrapped everything and purchased a gift certificate for neutering and three veterinary visits. All I had to do now was select a kitten at the animal shelter and pick it up Christmas Eve morning. My kids jumped right on board with this gift for Gramps. “Great idea, Mom, he’ll love it. Maybe we should get two!”

My husband Jim, a practical kind of guy who cares about actual facts, wanted to weigh the pros and cons. “Let’s discuss both sides,” he suggested. “On the one hand the five of you like this concept, but on the other hand, no one knows how Gramps will feel about the surprise.” I assured Jim it would all work out. I knew what he really wanted was a firm guarantee that we wouldn’t wind up with another animal. We already had three cats and a snooty Pekingese.

Jim had the last word: “Remember, all of you, this will be Gramps’ cat. We have enough mouths to feed around here.”

On the blustery, snowy day before Christmas, chubby, fluffy, gray-and-white Pickles (named by the volunteers at the shelter) planted himself on our family room couch. Except for the Peke, who took to his bed, all of our critters welcomed little Pickles and he soon joined in the cat festivities — batting tree ornaments and pawing at the bows on the packages under our freshly cut Scotch pine.

Surveying the cat chaos and the laughter of our kids, Jim’s brow scrunched into those deep furrows that indicated considerable concern. “Don’t forget, we’re not getting attached,” he said. “As of tomorrow, Pickles belongs to Gramps.”

A beautiful, sunny Christmas Day dawned and shortly before noon Dad arrived. With Pickles hidden in my basement office and cedar logs crackling in the fireplace, we welcomed my father into our toasty family room and gathered around the tree to present him with the preliminary gifts.

“What’s all this?” he asked. “You’d think I had a cat or something.”

That was the perfect intro, as the kids marched into the family room with Pickles sporting a big red bow on his gray-and-white head.

“You have a cat now, Gramps,” said my son Chris. “Merry Christmas.”

Pickles took quickly to my father and at day’s end the two of them left for home. I was elated that my father had a companion and new chores to add to his daily routine. The next morning I resisted the urge to call and check on the two of them. But I could imagine the scene — an adorable kitty and a dear old man playing and bonding. I decided to wait for our New Year’s Day brunch for an update.

Then the doorbell rang. It was my father, cat carrier in one hand, and shopping bag in the other. I opened the door to a litany of complaints: “He’s swinging on the drapes, scratching the furniture, scratching me, and that litter box is more than I bargained for. I can’t keep him. I love you all for caring about me, but I really don’t want a pet right now. Sure wish you had asked me first.”

“You have to give him a chance to settle in, Dad,” I said. “Oh, please try it for a few more days. He’ll be such good company, you’ll see.”

Dad put his two hands on my shoulders and focused his warm, blue eyes on mine. His voice was gentle. “I need to find my own way, figure out decisions by myself and that includes pet ownership. Now give your old dad a hug.”

Jim was first down the stairs. The kids followed right behind. I had my back against the front door, the kitten in his carrier at my feet, and the bag of supplies in my arms. Dad waved as he backed out of the driveway. Jim’s sigh was deep and long and accepting.

“How about some eggnog for breakfast, Pickles?” he mumbled, picking up the cat carrier on his way into the kitchen.

~Carole Marshall

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