Monday, April 07, 2008

Thomas 2003-2008


It's been a hard year for my pets. First Octavia and then Augie my beloved Newfoundlands who appear in the photo to the right passed away. Now this morning came more bad news: Thomas who had been living with my mother-in-law was hit by a car last night. He was killed instantly.


Tommy had been a stray. When I first laid eyes on him, it was a fine spring day, not unlike this one. I was sitting in my living room looking out the window when I noticed a very small orange kitten making his way down the block. This was not particularly unusual. We lived in a slightly rough neighborhood at the time and loose cats were common as dirt. What was unusual was what he was doing. He was going from door to door, climbing up on each porch and howling at the top of his lungs. One after another each neighbor would answer the door and shoo him away. Unflappable, he would simply move on to the next house. At some point in his young life he had decided that he wanted to be adopted and he wasn't about to be deterred by a few doors slammed in his face.


In time he made his way to our little bungalow at the end of the block and I came out on the porch to give him a looking over. He was obviously quite young, malnourished and absolutely covered in fleas. He was also unusually friendly for a stray cat. He adored human companionship and in many ways was really more like a dog than a cat. After a brief consultation with the wife, Tommy was given a huge feast (which he loved) and a flea bath (which he didn't). Despite the indignity of being bathed in the kitchen sink, Tommie looked us over and decided to keep us.


A few weeks later we moved to a larger house in a much grander neighborhood. When we first brought him there he was thrilled. It was perfect for a cat: a big old place with lots of window sills, nooks and crannys. He romped around from room to room exploring the place and we imagined that in his mind, he had hit the kitty jackpot. Still, at some level I think he craved the freedom that he had when he was wandering the mean streets of Lincoln Nebraska (that's a joke-there are no mean streets in Lincoln Nebraska). After a few months and with some hesitation, we began letting him out and the result was somewhat magical.


He had always been quite friendly, but now he positively bloomed. He would spend summer days exploring the neighborhood, looking for adventures and quite simply having a wonderful time. One of his favorite pastimes was to lie on the sidewalk sunning himself. Every now again a passerby would be seduced into petting him and they couldn't help but notice what a friendly cat this was. More than once I watched one of these folks wrestle with the idea of bringing Tommy home, but if they tried to pick him he would always wiggle free and return to us. He had already chosen his family and had no need of another.


Tommy quickly came to view the neighborhood as his. I don't mean he felt at home. I mean he regarded several square blocks as his personal property. Two doors down from us was a large Congregational Church. It's a strikingly beautiful place, built in the 1920's. Anyway, when the weather was pleasant they'd leave the great doors of the place open. Tommy of course regarded this as an invitation. Each Sunday he'd wait for services to start and then halfway through he march right down the aisle, come to the front of the congregation and start rolling around on his back to the endless amusement of the children. Reverend Young was nothing if not patient but after five weeks of this the Congregationalists were faced with a grim choice: let the cat disrupt the sermon each week or close the doors and swelter in the heat of a Nebraska August. In the end they chose neither. Guards were posted to keep Tommy out, at least until after the service. Still he was probably the biggest attraction they ever had. Sometimes I'd be working in my garden and I'd hear children walking to church asking their parents "Mommy will the cat be there?". He always was.


He had other adventures of course. He would regard an open window or door as an opportunity. Time and again I received calls from the neighbors that Tommy was sleeping on their bed or drinking from the dripping faucet in their kitchen sink. "Are you missing a cat?" they would ask. "Whats he done now?" I'd reply with bemusement.


If he was famous for one thing though it was going for walks. I'm not sure how it started really but each day, several times a day I'd take the dogs for a quick stroll around the block. At some point he began to follow us, not laying back furtively tailing us, but proudly joining our group, as if he were part of some kind of pet parade. Soon our other cats joined in and this bizarre menagerie would follow us wherever we went. If my neighbors were content to stare in disbelief, their children were not. Usually the kids would join the troop and we'd have to do an extra lap to return them to their homes.


If he was unusually friendly with people, he was an absolute killing machine when it came to wildlife. During his tenure in that neighborhood the squirrel, bird and rabbit populations took a serious hit. Even worse, when he got done playing with his victims he'd leave them just lying around (on the stairs, in your bed and so on). Frequently they weren't dead. Still, all who knew him forgave him for this. He was a charmer. When we were in the process of moving to California my neighbor Bob Armstrong asked if we could leave him behind, so popular had he become.


He was also freakishly smart. One time Bill Wayne told me he was out in his yard and he noticed a crow pecking at a rabbit who had been hit by a car. Thomas noticed this too. While Bill tended to his plants, he watched Tommy slowly reason it out. Each time a car came along the crows would fly away only to return to their feast a few moments latter. Slowly he began his stalk, moving from parked car to parked car until finally he had concealed himself behind the tire nearest the dead rabbit. The crow didn't have a chance.


After we moved to California, Tommy went to live with my mother-in-law Joanne (we were short on space and two giant dogs plus four cats was just a little much-besides she only lived five minutes away). I think this may have been the happiest time of his life. Like our old house in Lincoln, Joanne's place is a cat paradise with plenty of opportunities for adventure. There is a large yard, pool and a pond, and most importantly the warehouse. "Warehouse" is really something of a misnomer. It's really more of a carriage house in Joanne's back yard. More importantly it's where the Pasadena Boys Choir has their practices. Needless to say he attended regularly.


He also became friends with the neighbor girl Martha. They would catch mice together and Martha would dangle the rodents by their tails just out of Tommy's reach. From what I've heard they had a heck of a time together.


He'll be greatly missed.

3 comments:

Lady Hampton said...

Rest in peace, Thomas. You'll be missed...

Indy Jane said...

What a beautiful eulogy to Thomas. He sounds like he was a wonderful cat. I am sorry for your loss.

admiral burns said...

Thomas was a great Cat among cats. I remember joining Mike on his walks through Lincoln, there were two little girls on the block who would always come out with their father to say hello to Thomas. They didn't seem to notice the rest of us.