22: A Couple of Strays

22: A Couple of Strays

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cat Did What?

A Couple of Strays

Our perfect companions never have fewer than four feet.

~Colette

“Don’t you dare feed that cat!” my mother would admonish us. “You feed a cat and it belongs to you forever.”

Mom could always find a stray’s rightful owner. “Instinct,” she’d call it. We thought she worked for the FBI.

My mother liked dogs. “They’re not so hoity-toity and full of themselves,” she’d say. “They appreciate you and give something back.”

And so it was that during our childhood we had dogs: a Poodle, two Greyhounds, and a Beagle.

Eventually we kids went off to college, married and started lives and homes of our own. For the next eight years my parents were free. They rekindled their courtship and traveled. No dogs and no kids. And then suddenly my father died.

My brother, his wife, and young son moved in to keep Mom company and look after her. She was grateful for their company, and although she wasn’t alone, she said she felt lonely.

On one of my frequent visits home, I went to the back yard to find my mother. She was busy collecting mangoes from the tree when a cat came by her feet.

“Shoo,” I said protectively. “Strays still coming around here?”

“Sort of,” she said matter-of-factly. She brought the mangoes inside and returned with a small dish of salmon. The cat was still meowing and pacing beside the sliding glass door.

I watched Mom place the dish on the patio floor. The cat gulped down the twelve-dollar-a-pound fish and then brushed against Mom’s leg.

“Mom, you’re feeding a cat? You’re a bona fide cat hater!” I protested.

“She comes around.” She shrugged. “I think she’s a she, I don’t know.”

“Does she have a name?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I call her Cat.”

Later that day, I found my mother and Cat nestled together asleep on the couch, my mother’s hand buried deep in Cat’s fur. I just shook my head and laughed.

“She’s all right,” my mother said simply. “We’re a couple of strays that found each other.” For four more years these “strays” lived together, each one giving and getting love in her own quiet way.

Then unexpectedly my mother died.

For another two years, my brother dutifully looked after Cat while Mom’s house was on the market. Finally we found a buyer.

On the night before closing my brother and I went out for dinner. We shared memories of our childhood and laughed and cried about Mom’s transformation from cat hater to cat lover. Then we agonized about what to do with Cat, since my brother’s wife had allergies and couldn’t bring her into their new home. We drove home to spend the last evening together in our house.

As we pulled into the driveway we saw Cat lying as she frequently did at the foot of the pathway. We walked by her, expecting her to get up, but she remained motionless. We bent down to pet her, but she was still. Cat had no visible injuries. She hadn’t been ill. She was lying there peacefully, although her body was already cold.

I remembered my mother’s admonition: “You feed a cat and it belongs to you forever.” How lovely, I thought. How simple. Love, devotion, loyalty, and companionship all for a little dish of food.

We buried Cat that night in our back yard — no longer a stray, she was home where she would belong forever.

~Tsgoyna Tanzman

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