“When Rome burned, the emperor’s cat still expected to be fed on time”
– Seanan McGuire
My husband, Rick, and I have cared for a long line of cats in 45 years. Sylvester, Poindexter, Ebenezer, Tracy, Bud, Peanut Butter, and Ruby have all been residents. Melvin was added to our menagerie of felines. He is the only one to have survived to the ripe old age of twelve. Sadly, all his predecessors, save Ruby, met with tragic ends. Automobiles, feline illness, or manufacturer-contaminated cat food claimed them. Ruby was “gifted” to a friend who lived in the country when she began to urinate in our heating vents (sorry, I know that’s disgusting). Such aberrant behavior had us stumped. The Speck children would be hesitant to reveal that 20 years ago, Ruby was stuffed in a Walmart bag and twirled around. “Fun” was their intention for her. Sadly, the bag did not hold, and she fell to the floor. Ruby plotted her revenge. Thus the heat vent debacle. Rick quickly traced the source of the unspeakable odor. Ruby went to her new country owner faster than you can say, “we’ll miss you!”
Melvin came to live with us following a phone call from a coworker. I had mentioned we (except Rick) might like another cat. Things were boring since Ruby had been exiled. The coworker spoke these magic words: “I think I’ve found a cat for you! We found him in our neighbor’s driveway. He was lying so still I thought he was dead. I’m sure he’s a stray. Would you like me to bring him to work tomorrow? You can take him home! ” The questions were rhetorical—tiny kitten adoption was a done deal.
I didn’t sleep too soundly that night. I knew I was about to commit the cardinal sin in marriage communication – If it’s surmised spouse doesn’t want another pet, don’t tell him you’re bringing one home. The next morning I decided Rick really should be apprised of my plan. A rule-following firstborn like myself couldn’t break the communication rule. A spirited discussion ensued. I listened to be polite, then delivered my ultimatum: “I’m bringing the cat home. You will need to get used to the idea.” Imagine my shock when Rick called me at work later that day to say, “I’ve been thinking about the cat situation. You never ask for much, so if you want the cat I’m on board.” The heavens opened. Angels sang. The new cat’s name would be Melvin.
The new fur baby quickly adapted and rapidly established a place in our hearts. Melvin had huge ears and paws. The veterinarian who first examined him told me he would be a huge adult cat. Before any of my grandchildren were born, Melvin weighed a “svelte” 15 pounds. He currently tips the scale at 16.5 pounds.
Melvin’s personality is “attitude” on steroids. He keeps a tiny circle of human friends, most importantly, those providing food and an empty lap to sit on. He has not been fond of our grandchildren. He has made all of them cry when they want to hug and cuddle. His intimidating modus operandi includes hissing and batting with his clawless front paws, evoking shocked expressions and frowns. Though not physically harmed, the feline rebuff dashes their expectations. They can’t hold the tears back. Our youngest grandchild, now six months old, has not met Melvin due to the COVID quarantine. I harbor a silly hope his first encounter with Melvin will be positive and tearless. I won’t be betting the farm on it.
Despite his antisocial behavior, Melvin is the “golden cat” in the line of succession for one reason: the attention, joy, and comfort he brought to my parents in their final years. My mother was enthralled with Melvin. He spent many hours snuggled up next to her in her favorite rocking chair. She would gently pet him and speak soft, affirming words. In her eyes, Melvin was brilliant. She insisted that he could count to ten with her by slapping his tail down with each number she spoke. I came home from work many times to find Melvin ensconced next to her. He would raise his eyes to me, his expression screaming, “Oh, you’re home. Big deal. I’ve got it made here.”
After mom passed away, Melvin’s attention switched to my Dad who wanted to claim the chore of feeding him. Let’s just say the portions were generous and did not support weight loss. I couldn’t bring myself to ask for more due diligence with food servings. He loved this four-legged friend, provider of entertainment, and emotional comfort. When dad lived at the care facility, he would call me every day just to visit. Without fail, he would ask after Melvin. More than once, I wanted to stuff Melvin in his crate and visit dad. Quarantine rules prevented that.
Truth be told, Melvin’s mission of comfort continues with me. The care facility called late one night in early November. Dad had tested positive for COVID. I was not able to return to sleep that night. I was shocked, frightened, and furious. I knew what the diagnosis could mean for a man eighty-nine years old. I crawled on the couch in our darkened living room and could not stop ugly, loud tears. Within minutes Melvin jumped on my lap, staying with me until morning. My feline confidant knew what I needed.