We first noticed a flash of white in the backyard the summer before last. A streak of fur zooming from the woodshed to protection behind a tree. Some new creature was living in our yard but it never slowed down long enough for any of us to figure out what it was.
Then winter came and along with the snow and the ice there were occasionally fresh footprints along the sidewalk next to the garage. Tiny footprints that told us that the streak of white was actually a cat, a small cat that appeared to be living somewhere in the vicinity and who had to be beyond freezing. Naturally, we started putting food out for our guest and just as naturally the neighborhood raccoons did everything but leave us a thank you note. But the cat must have been getting a little bit of the food because she survived.
Winter turned into spring and the white flash became a more and more frequent visitor, finally perching on the ledge of our living room window and peering in with an expression usually associated with orphans in old Frank Capra movies pressing their noses against plate glass bakery windows. Attempts to coax her to get closer to us were rebuffed and we decided that the white cat seemed to be destined to be our permanent outdoor cat.
Not that we were lacking for indoor cats. At that time we had four cats: Jack, Polly, Boo and Garfield. Jack, Polly and Boo stayed mainly indoors but Garfield was our wanderer. An enormous orange tabby, Garfield had the personality of Jackie Gleason in cat form and loved nothing more than getting into trouble. Such as the time he came home with one of his back legs skinned down to the muscle. The veterinarian guessed that Garfield had gotten caught in a trap somewhere and had managed to escape. Or the time Garfield chased a mouse INTO the house instead of out of it and then proceeded to calmly dine on cat food while I stood on top of the kitchen table yelling at him to eat the mouse. Or the time Garfield found himself stuck in a garage that wasn’t his own for three days before sauntering back, eyes wide as he seemed to wonder why we were making such a fuss over him. Over the years Garfield got into more scrapes and near misses than our other three cats combined but he always came home.
Until the last time.
It was inevitable that one day Garfield’s luck was going to run out. That day happened a few months ago. A neighbor called to tell us that she thought our cat had been hit by a car and was in her driveway. My much braver husband went to investigate and came back with the sad news that Garfield had indeed used up his last life. It was with heavy hearts that we went to bed that night without Garfield asleep in his usual spot.
A few days after losing Garfield, I was sitting on our front steps when our mysterious outdoor cat decided to become my friend. A ball of dirty white fur appeared from behind an evergreen and climbed onto my lap. A little hesitant (when I was 10 a neighborhood cat I didn’t know decided to bury its teeth in my arm and hang on for about five minutes. I still have the teeth marks on my right arm) I waited to see what this cat would do.
What she did was purr. And then follow me inside to see what was for dinner. Then it was bedtime in Garfield’s old spot.
We took the white cat, now called Lucy, to the vet and Lucy became the newest member of our family. After her rough life outdoors, she became the most indoor of indoor cats, not even looking out the windows when she walked past them. I suspect that she had enough of the Great Outdoors to last her the rest of her life, which unfortunately didn’t turn out to be very long.
The older I get, the more bittersweet life seems to become. Lucy spent almost exactly one year with us before getting sick and leaving us for good. We are thankful that Lucy finally decided to come into our house. We are also thankful that we had Garfield for as long as we did. And we wonder if God didn’t send Lucy because He knew that Garfield had left a big, orange cat shaped hole in our lives. Whatever the reason, we were so happy to have her, even if it wasn’t for very long.
We loved Garfield, we loved Lucy and I know, once our hearts heal, we’ll love our next cat too because the joy of loving them almost makes up for the pain of losing them.