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A Few Words About A Furball

(Photo by Lee Martindale)

He came into my life on Valentine's Day 1986 - a roughly five-month old bundle of gray, black and white. Of all the young cats in the adoption center, he seemed the most laid-back, happily responding to the get-acquainted overtures without trying to sell himself too hard. And he had the loudest purr of any cat I'd ever met. The center had named him "Joker", but a steady diet of Heinlein and a dark grey spot on an otherwise pink nose renamed him before he was home. Pixel.

He adapted to change fairly readily, and in the course of his life, I put him through a few. The addition of a "little sister", whom he tolerated, and with whom he made up the Laurel and Hardy of catdom. Changes of residence (5 in all) and changes in human co-residents (not as many). He took them all in his impossibly long stride.

For most of his life, Pixel was one of those cats who evaporate when strangers came in, and took his own sweet and deliberate time making friends. The running joke was "I have two cats... really!" There were only two exceptions to his disappearing acts.

Both took place in 1989. In the first incident, a fellow I knew only casually dropped by for some reason I don't remember. Instead of his usual routine, Pixel took up station between me and the visitor - stiff-legged, back arched and GROWLING. In the second, I was being picked up by a date, whom I directed to the couch while I went to get my coat and purse. When I came back to the living room less than a minute later, Pixel was curled up on the date's lap, purring and otherwise thoroughly content.

In both cases, Pixel turned out to be an excellent judge of character. I ended up having to explain to the first man, shortly thereafter and rather physically, that "no" meant "no". The second man was George.

The cat who came into my life on one holiday left it on another - Thanksgiving 2000. And I think I knew that I was saying Goodbye when I said goodbye on my way out the door to another con appearance. Pixel allowed me to pick him up and cuddle him (something he never did), and his purring was quiet. When I left because I had to, Chiya, the "little sister" he tolerated, was grooming him. He was purring again, softly.

Pixel was an indoor cat all his life, chittering at birds and watching the world through whatever became his favorite window wherever he lived. His last "favorite window" looked out over the back yard, to a spot between a big tree and a rose bush. I often see Chiya at that window now, chittering at birds and watching over the spot.

Christmas Kittens

(Photo by George Martindale)

A few days after Pixel's passing, I called George at work. "I'm worried about Chiya. She's alternating between staring out the window and hunting the house for her brother. I'm worried about me, too. It's too quiet around here to write. And I was just over at the city pound's website, they're awash in kittens and cats and begging for people to come adopt."

"You want to adopt another kitten, don't you?"

"I was thinking two. The pound's open late tonight. Can't we just go look?" So we went to "just look"...with one of the cat carriers in the back of the van. (Does my husband know me or what?)

The pound was, indeed, awash in felines of all sizes, ages and types. Including the undisputed biggest cat I'd ever seen outside of a zoo; at least 30 lbs. of gorgoues orange beast that would, I had no doubt, turn Chiya into a handball in nothing flat. And then we saw these two little faces peering out. The tag said they were nearly three months old, both females, and littermates.

We looked at all the available adoptees, but we kept coming back to the two little females. And brought them home.

Mistletoe is the grey and black tabby. She reminds me a lot of Pixel; she's already very long-legged and she's going to be tall. She's also very talkative, and has brilliantly green eyes. Eggnog is built low to the ground, with a long body, short legs, and amber eyes the exact color of her markings. She's the quieter of the two; we only hear her tiny voice when she wakes up alone and goes looking for Mistletoe or us.

The settling-in process went fairly smoothly, with Chiya establishing herself as "alpha cat" with lots of growling and hissing but no bloodshed. She "tolerates" the kittens, much as Pixel "tolerated" her. We've all survived the rounds of shots and spaying. (George became an instant favorite with the vet's office staff, who thought a big fuzzy guy with an adorable kitten on each shoulder was "cute".) And it is no longer "too quiet to write".

Cute kittens have a way of growing up into handsome cats, and mine are no exception. Here are "the girls" two years later.

(Photo by George Martindale)

A Few Words About Another Furball

(Photo by Lee Martindale)

Twenty years ago, when Pixel was about a year old, a fellow that my then-Significant Other worked with found himself the unexpected grandparent to a litter of kittens. This coincided with a decision we'd made that a second cat would be a good thing, and so it was that we found ourselves standing in this fellow's garage, watching five six-week-old spring-loaded dustbunnies bouncing around and being adorable. The sixth one was sitting squarely in front of us, calmly looking up at us.

She was about half the size of her siblings, and she looked like nothing so much as a tabby dandelion puffball. What she lacked in size, she more than made up for in attitude, evidenced by the look she was giving us that said, very plainly, "You're laughing at their antics, but it's *me* you're gonna take home." My S.O. reached down and picked her up, putting her in the palm of one hand and raising said palm to a eight that put him eye-to-eye with its passenger. She sat there in perfect calm for a 30 seconds before she leaned forward and licked his nose.

I was reading Marion Zimmer Bradley at the time. The kitten's diminutive stature caused her to be dubbed "Chiya", an endearment from the Darkover novels meaning “little girl”.

Pixel didn't take too kindly to having a sister, and the introduction process went slowly. It took a couple of weeks, but finally Chiya and Pixel came to the understanding that Pixel was Alpha and Chiya would be tolerated as long as she remembered that. Somewhere between then and the end of the relationship, the two became inseparable, as we found out when we tried to split them up. I ended up with custody of both, for which I will always be grateful.

Chiya was a cuddle-slut, pure and simple. If you made a lap, she was in it. She never met a stranger, and any visitor was a new opportunity to make a new friend. Two things made that a foregone conclusion with all but the most cat-averse or allergic: size, build, and manner that, until she was close to twelve years old, made people think she was a kitten less than a year old, and a trick she had of purring in anticipation of being petted, because *of course* you were going to pet her. She soaked up love like a sponge and thrived on it. And gave it back many times over.

Pixel's passing and the adoption of Mistletoe and Eggnog, when she was fourteen and starting to act her years, had an almost miraculous effect. She established herself as Alpha, a role she'd never gotten to play before and relished, and she started playing again.

A few months ago, she started to decline. She didn't appear to be pain, and continued keeping the youngsters in their place, patrolling the house, and crawling up into George's lap or mine even when her hipjoints stiffened and movement became difficult. But it was evident that her years were catching up with her, and that the skein of her life was running out. Then, one day, she stopped eating, and the day after, she refused water. We did the only things we could do; we cuddled her, talked to her, and told her it was okay to let go.

Chiya The Perpetual Kitten, constant feline presence for twenty years, passed beyond the veil at just after 9am on August 9, 2006 - peacefully in her sleep, without distress, and surrounded by love. Pixel has been reunited with his "little sister", and the spot between the big tree and two rose bushes that she watched over so faithfully since Thanksgiving 2000 is now being watched over by Mistletoe and Eggnog.

Rest in peace, little girl.

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