94: Ragtime Cat

94: Ragtime Cat

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

Ragtime Cat

If music be the food of love, play on.

~William Shakespeare

Eight-year-old Chris picked out the kitten, the runt of the litter, with soft black fur and a sweet face. We named her Emily, for Emily Dickinson, Belle of Amherst. Within a few weeks it became apparent that Emily was not a proper name for the sleek male of Siamese grace and lithe power that the kitten became. We decided to call him Amherst, since “Dick” didn’t suit him at all.

Amherst was very much his own cat, with distinct and sometimes unusual likes. His favorite yogurt flavor was raspberry, although he would lick any container if given the chance. He was greedy about sipping the leftover juice from any honeydew melon rind, but not at all interested in cantaloupe or Crenshaw melon. He worked for days perfecting his leap from the top of the refrigerator onto the kitchen table, despite being reprimanded every time he tried it.

His most unusual quirk, however, was his passion for the music of Scott Joplin. Whenever I sat down at the piano to play some ragtime, Amherst jumped immediately onto the piano next to the music rack, curled up and listened. If anyone had the audacity to leave, say, homework on his piano space, he would disdainfully sweep it to the floor. His very favorite rag was “The Cascades.” When I would play it, he couldn’t keep still. He would walk around the piano, ending up on my lap, pressing the top of his head under my chin, purring raggedly. Bliss!

When Amherst was nearly grown, we moved to a different house half a mile away. When the time came to load the car, Amherst was nowhere to be found. We looked and looked, and came back daily to the old house, armed with raspberry yogurt or honeydew melon, but we never found the cat.

Jump three years ahead; we’ve moved again, easily a mile from either of our former homes, across a busy highway. Chris came in from school one day and announced, “Amherst’s home. He’s on the front porch.” I accompanied him out to see and found a big bruiser of a tomcat, one ear slightly chewed, a disdainful expression on his big round face. “Oh, honey, I don’t see how this could be Amherst. Amherst was a much more Egyptian-looking cat, slender and long-legged. This fellow looks like John Wayne!” In any case, Chris — a cross between Dr. Dolittle and St. Francis of Assisi — fed the big black cat every day.

Whoever the cat was, he was polite, never asking to come inside. He just sat on the porch. One fine afternoon, a week or so after he had appeared, I decided I’d determine once and for all that this big cat was not Amherst. I propped the front door open, sat down at the piano, and proceeded to play “The Cascades.” The cat walked in, gathered his twenty-pound self up and sprang to the top of the piano. Alas, he didn’t fit in his favorite spot any more, nor was there adequate room for him on my lap, but he gave it every effort, purring vociferously. Later when the music was finished and he’d eaten half a carton of raspberry yogurt, I was convinced. I couldn’t wait for Chris to get home from school so I could tell him, “Chris — Amherst’s home!”

~Sue Zendt

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