My mother wrote me a comment today, after seeing the picture of me blowing out the candles on my cake when I was 16. I finally told her a few years ago, that the only thing I ever wished for on a birthday cake, was a cat. If I were to be more specific, I wished most of the time for a white cat named snowball. I honestly don’t remember wishing for anything else.
Well, on April 13 of 1979 I got my wish. I had left college and moved back to the Lansing area where I had a restaurant job. I got a tiny efficiency apartment in a complex that would allow me to have a cat if I paid a special fee up front. I was delighted. I moved in to that apartment in January, and by April I had my kitty.
I went with a friend to the animal shelter. She was the type of person who would walk down the street, and cats would come out of hiding to follow her. I felt it would be good for her energy to be with me when I got my kitty.
It was a pretty depressing place, near the wastewater treatment plant. The building was old and mostly cement. They took me to the room where there were perhaps a dozen or 20 cages with kittens and cats in them. The woman let a handful of kittens out to play around on the floor. My friend and I started “trying out’ the kittens to see who had the best personality. She picked up a little scrawny black thing right away, and he climbed up on her shoulder and purred into her ear.
I found myself trying out all the “pretty”ones. There were no white ones, but there were several with tortiseshell markings who were beautiful. But my friend encouraged me to hold this tiny runt of a black furball, and he just sat on my shoulder and purred into my ear, rubbing his face against my head. He had the best personality of all of them, by far. It was clear who was going to come home with me.
I had never had a pet before, so I had spent several months reading up about how to take care of a kitten. For example, it never would have occurred to me that a kitten would have baby teeth. I was very happy to have read good information on my “baby” before jumping in head first.
I named the kitty Muffett, after my grandmother. I had been told he was a she at the shelter, but I guess at about 5 weeks you really can not tell boy and girl kitties apart. Grandma’s whole name was Illa Muffet Caldwell Bakken. Her father was a bit of a “card,” as mom would say, and he tried valiently to get his wife to name their first child Little Miss Muffet. He got as far as Muffet for a middle name. (He also talked his wife into getting married on Leap Year Day, telling friends that he would only need to remember his anniversary every 4 years.)
At the time I got Muffett, my grandmother was living in East Lansing and she was not doing very well. Her Parkinson’s disease was getting the upper hand. But she was staying at a private care place, and I asked if I could bring the kitty in to see her. They agreed.
I brought my kitty in to “Gramma Illa’s” hospital bed, and he walked around on her and purred. I told her that I had named the kitty after her. She was just waking up and not all the way with it, but tried to touch him a little. After we left, my mother went to see Gramma, and Gramma asked if I had perhaps brought in a kitten, if she remembered that right. My mother told her that yes, indeed, I had, and that I’d named the cat after Gramma.
My Gramma Illa didn’t live much longer, and the cat was a comfort at that time for me. And then Muffett got very ill, suddenly. I took him to the vet and she said that he had probably picked up a respiratory virus when he had been in the shelter. She warned me that he might not make it through the night. I was just devastated. I stayed up with him as much as I could… and somehow he made it through.
Muffett was very tiny, he had been weaned too soon. He never weighed more than about 8.5 pounds, and when he was that big he looked nearly pregnant. He usually was more like 7.5-8 pounds most of the time. For about 10 years we lived in a place where he could go outdoors during the day and come in via a cat door in a window if it was bad weather. He was a very good hunter, once bringing home a mole, ugh. But what a prize that must be for a cat, to wait for a mole to come up? Wowie. I didn’t like his presents much but hey, he was a cat, the answer to my dream after all those years.
Once during those outdoor days, he went away and didn’t come for two days. When he did come home, he was missing a bit of his tail. I speculate he got caught in someone’s garage or something. After that, we couldn’t tell when he was getting irritated as you can with most cats, when the little tip starts flicking back and forth. You only got warning when the tail went Whop! Whop! wholeheartedly. We learned to back off quickly at that point.
In 1991 I moved into the city and didn’t let Muffett out any more. However, once in 1995 he walked away, somehow getting out of the front door and wandering away. By then his eyesight was not good at all, and once he got too far he couldn’t find his way home. He found his way to a porch two doors down, where he could hide from the weather. He was gone two days again. I was sick with worry and finally put up a sign. A neighbor across the street had seen him and was feeding him, knowing he was a pet. He didn’t have a collar at that point since he never went out. I was sooo glad to get my baby back!
During Muffett’s last few years, I had a lot of days off from work. In good weather, I would make a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of tea, and Muffett and I would go out on the porch for breakfast. I would sit in my hammock and he would sit on my lap, purring. I would eat my breakfast and he didn’t go anywhere. He couldn’t see far enough to jump down on the porch floor so he sat contentedly on my lap. I still sometimes miss him when I’m on my hammock, even though now I have a new porch and a new hammock.
In the end, we were fortunate that Muffett had only one bad day. He had very severe kidney failure and Brian and I stayed up with him at night. Brian is very allergic to most cats but he did better with Muffett. He held Muffett long enough for me to get dressed so we could go to the vet. The vet had no good news for us and so I sadly decided to have him euthanized. That part of pet ownership had not been in any of the cat books I had read. I still have deep pain about the loss and how it all went at the end. I told Muffett I loved him, and I know he knew.
It’s funny. I didn’t know how much I anticipated seeing my furry friend each day until he was gone. I would start thinking about him as I turned onto the street where I lived. Slowly it would change, where I’d think of him as I turned into the driveway, and later when I opened the door. He was so constant for me, I had him before, during and after my difficult first long relationship/marriage, and during my single days and my engagement to Brian.
I really think that Muffett held on as long as he could, because he was making sure I would be OK. When he could tell Brian would take good care of me, he could let go. He was an old man cat by that time, 17 years old. I had to feed him baby food twice a day for the last 6 months (because he had bad teeth), and it was worth it. You do what you must, for someone you love.
When Muffett was first gone and I was grieving, I wrote a poem to express my loss. It does contain a few strong words, but it does accurately reflect my feelings at the time. I still cry when I read it.
The photo here I took in the last 3 or 4 years of Muffett’s life. I tried so many times to take pictures of him, but it was like trying to take a picture of black velvet. You need good light, and a camera’s flash is not a good light for that sort of thing. Somewhere I have a picture of him riding around on my shoulder when he was a wee thing, a terrible picture of me but I adore the pose of my kitty. If I find it I’ll have to endure embarrassment so you can see the sweet furbaby on my shoulder.