Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Appreciating the Little Things, part 2

Like all family members, we had our differences. Over the years, there were fallings out, harsh words, hard feelings and the occasional regret. But there were also years of good times, lots of laughs and lots of memories. Small in size, but giant in personality and spirit, Pipkin was a cat that left her mark – in the hearts of some people and on the faces of some others. She was a cat who lived life on her own terms – as often as a cat can or is allowed to.

As I was crafting the last blog about appreciating the little things in life, tragedy struck. Pipkin, our sassy and feisty, almost-12-year-old cat, became sick. Within 24 hours of taking her to the vet for a diagnosis, we had to put her to sleep. It was not just unexpected but a shock, really– despite her age, she was the picture of health (svelte and active her whole life, I kind of expected her to be with us forever). The days immediately following her loss were surprisingly empty; I was startled at the void a six-pound cat was able to leave. Even two months later, I still think I see and hear her around the house. Her absence, as was her presence, is surprisingly everywhere. So, in keeping with appreciating the little things (and she was the littlest of things), I jotted some notes down in the aftermath of her loss, so as to not forget or lose track of all the reasons we appreciated this littlest of creatures.

Pipkin was the cat-equivalent of the crazy uncle so many families have – you know, the one with all the great stories who always lands in the midst of ridiculous adventures or is the instigator of hilarious hijinks. Nadia summed it all up one night when we were sitting around the table, trading stories and memories about silly things Pipkin had done or caused or been a part of, and Nadia said, “And she loved to dance.” Pipkin didn’t, of course, but I loved to dance with her (and this, I realize, says much more about me than her). We got into the habit when she was just a kitten. One day I decided she had the body of a dancer thanks to her litheness and fluidity of movement (I think I was unemployed at the time, by way of an explanation), and from that day forward, we would boogie down together if a rockin’ tune happened to come on. The look of disgust on her little face was palpable, yet she withstood it, quietly indignant. Something about her tolerance of it (and me, I suspect) endeared her to me; and she was my dance partner for the next decade+ (the poor cat).

Of course, there were many things about Pipkin, dance ability aside, that I find myself missing. * Sometimes, her tongue would hang out of her mouth, just a little bit. You’d walk by and there she was, looking like she was sticking her tongue out at you. Perhaps she was, as a protest for the dance torture…who can say? * She was so small when we got her from the pound (four weeks old, weighing in at eight ounces) that we had to use a dictionary as a step for her to be able to get into the litter box. * One Halloween, she wandered over to the door to see what the heck was going on and a kid in a clown costume honked his clown horn. That was the day we discovered clowns can incite terror across species. * As a kitten, she followed the Thanksgiving leftovers into the refrigerator (she always preferred fresh turkey to coldcuts) and spent some time, unnoticed, closed in the refrigerator. * She loved yogurt; strawberry was her favorite. If a container was open, she was there, waiting patiently for me to pass her the lid with some yogurt spooned on the top for her to lick up. She also loved milk and made a giant nuisance of herself, always on the table, sticking her feet into glasses of milk and then lapping the milk off her feet. She tormented my milk almost exclusively, which was quite possibly a deserved, purposeful retaliation for all the dancing. * While Mike and I slept, she would sometimes park herself inches away from one of our faces and would touch a bottom lip with her paw. You’d open your eyes, and there she was…scary close (along with the most offensive cat breath ever). Her breath alone could rouse you from sleep, without the claw on the lip. * She also loved to curl up in the crook of Mike’s legs while we slept and, if she had a super power, it was the ability to transform from a six-pound-cat into a 30-pound-anchor when asleep. Once she was settled, it was impossible to move her. * One time I walked into the kitchen and found her with her head in the garbage disposal. At the sound of her name, up she popped, with a fajita pepper in her mouth. * As a kitten, she had an allergic reaction to a shot and hopped around the house on three legs for an afternoon. * She had a raspy meow, like she’d been smoking and downing Southern Comforts for too many years.

Despite being “just a cat,” Pipkin was funny and quirky and an integral part of our family. She was our “kid” before we had kids. She was with us for almost 12 years, traveling from Missouri to Germany to New York and back to her Midwest roots in multiple homes in Kansas. She withstood our transient lifestyle and the addition of child after child, all without complaint. She was a small, bony shoulder to cry on, on occasion, and loved us unconditionally – or at least let us believe as much, thanks to her inability to talk and ruin all our misconceptions. And if that’s not something to appreciate and be grateful for, I don’t know what is.

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