80: Lost in Memories

80: Lost in Memories

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: I Can't Believe My Cat Did That!

Lost in Memories

Cats were put into the world to disprove the dogma that all things were created to serve man.

~Paul Gray

“You get the cat,” I said to my wife Dotty. “I’ll load the car and buckle the kids.” She nodded.

Fifteen minutes later, when Dotty hadn’t appeared with our rambunctious cat, I felt the flush on my face. Where was she? I wanted to go into the house and release some of my anger. We had a long trip ahead of us to get to Longboat Key on the west coast of Florida, the opposite coast from where we lived.

We were starting a one-week vacation and were supposed to meet another couple and their children for dinner. I shifted my weight in the driver’s seat, but remained seated. I didn’t want to leave our seven-year-old son and five-year-old daughter alone, and I was too lazy to unbuckle them and take them with me back into the house.

Instead, I hit the horn with a fervor that surely would get Dotty’s attention. When she came out empty-handed, I was about to go into a diatribe about what was taking her so long until I noticed the tears in her eyes.

“I can’t find the cat,” she said. “Maybe she ran out when we opened the door.”

“I doubt that. She’s an indoor cat and has never gone out before. You stay with the kids and let me go look.”

“I really searched everywhere,” Dotty said. “She’s not there.”

I shrugged and put my arm around my wife. “We’ll find her. Maybe fresh eyes will be able to spot today’s hiding place.”

Our cat had hidden a number of times before, but on each occasion we found her in short order. It was like she was playing hide-and-seek with us. When she appeared, the black spot on her white muzzle elongated as her cheeks puffed into a smile. At least, that’s the way it always seemed to me.

As I walked into the house, I remembered that Dotty was usually good at sniffing out the cat. There was a lot of tumult getting ready for this trip, and our furry friend might not want to be found. Maybe she sensed this sojourn would entail her going into her cat carrying case, an event she never embraced. I hoped this wasn’t the case, for it would make finding her difficult. I knew my wife, the animal lover, wouldn’t leave without her. Truth be told, neither would I.

I checked the cat’s usual haunts — behind the refrigerator, behind the washer and dryer, and on the shelves in my son’s closet. I had no success. By then Dotty had brought the kids back into the house and was sitting at the kitchen table playing Candy Land.

I assured them, with little conviction, that I would find the cat before long. I initiated a room-by-room search for our feline. I checked under the beds, in the closets, behind the living room couch, and even behind the toilets and in the showers. I squeezed my hands together and shook my arms to relieve tension. After checking all possible hiding places in the family room, I sat on the couch, bent over and buried my face in my hands. I thought back to when we acquired this rambunctious cat. Maybe I should have left her where I found her.

• • •

I had just finished my residency in pediatrics, and as the Vietnam War had heated up, I was required to spend two years in the armed services. I would be stationed at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi, but first I had to spend three weeks getting some very basic training in Wichita Falls, Texas. We were put up in a motel with maid service while I attended classes in proper military conduct.

I only had three days of actual field training in the blazing heat of the Red River Valley. I guess they knew that was all the physical exercise that out-of-shape physicians who had just finished their medical training could handle. Most days, I was finished by late afternoon, and then Dotty, my infant son and I went to the mess hall for dinner.

One day, before supper, Dotty asked me to go downstairs and fill up the ice bucket. When I reached the machine, I heard a weak meowing sound. I looked around, and seeing nothing, I filled the bucket with ice. As I walked away, the meowing grew louder and more urgent. I still didn’t see anything, but followed the noise to a bush on the side of the parking lot. Separating the leaves, I noticed a black-and-white fur ball with a black spot on its white muzzle, hiding in the branches. The meowing intensified, and she lifted up her head and stared into my eyes, beseeching me to help her. As frightened as she must have been, she emerged from the bush and rubbed against my leg. I poured the ice into the bush, scooped up the kitten and petted her as I placed her in the bucket.

When Dotty saw the kitten, she smiled. “How cute.”

I told her how I had found the cat. “Why don’t I go down and get her some milk? Then we’ll put her back.”

Dotty stroked the kitten under the chin, “No way. You know we wanted a pet. This one’s so cute and sweet. Why don’t we keep her? What do you say?”

“Are you sure?”

Dotty nodded. “We’ll name her Wichita after where we found her.”

I smiled. “I guess we’ve acquired a pet.”

• • •

As I sat on the couch, I continued wondering if we had made the right decision. Look at all the trouble Wichita was giving us now. Then I remembered all the joy she brought — how she lay on our bed and purred as we stroked her; how she frolicked with the children, jumping up and down and licking their smiling faces; how she had won our hearts and had become a full-fledged member of our family.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the curtain behind me rustle. Wichita pranced out and rubbed against my leg. She looked up and her black spot elongated as her cheeks puffed into a smile. It was as if she knew I was thinking good thoughts about her.

I reached down and scratched her under the neck as she purred. “I’m glad I put you in the ice bucket,” I whispered into her ear.

~Paul Winick, M.D.

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