C.W. Gusewell

THE KANSAS CITY STAR

From beginning to end, a dignified friend

Some years ago, a colleague of mine – upon being awarded a regular column in the paper – posted a note on the office bulletin board promising never to write about cats or dogs.

Not only is he a fine journalist, I also consider him a friend. So I took no umbrage at that sly dig.

But neither, as the piece that follows here will demonstrate, did I consider even for a minute giving up the longtime habit of rhapsodizing, whenever possible, about my furred companions.

And there have been a considerable number – not only of animals but also of columns.

This one is in memory of a wonderful black cat very recently deceased. He was born 20 years ago under the bed of a different colleague, a good man, also gone now, who had taken in a stray, not knowing she was enceinte , as the French say, which indicates the approach of a blessed event.

I came back from traveling somewhere in the world – Russia, I believe it was – when, knowing that my family all fancied cats, he cornered me with a desperate look.

That foundling from the street had birthed a litter of six or eight. For mercy’s sake, would I please taken one of them?

They were a mix of colors. I chose a little male, all black. And because of his connection to newspapering, we named him Scoop.

Though tiny, he was incredibly athletic. But as the only kitten in the house, separated from his litter mates, he seemed a bit lonely.

A pet supply store advertised an adoption event for cats needing homes. So I took home a little gray one we named Tommy. They bonded immediately, romped tirelessly, slept curled together and grew up inseparable chums.

Scoop grew to be an especially large and striking adult, with a glossy coat, entirely black except for five white whiskers, and unblinking golden eyes in a long, intelligent face. He was regal, but also playful.

Somewhere in the house he found three braided yellow cords, which he would drag out and display to announce he was ready for some chasing and pouncing play.

He often sat in the chair next to mine, fascinated by quick little movements on the TV screen as we watched sporting events together.

His one defect that I know of was his foot fetish. Any visitor sleeping in the guest bedroom had to be warned to keep their lower members covered or else be awakened by something nibbling on their toes.

Scoop had a kind of dignity. He liked attention, but he didn’t stoop to begging for it. And he exited this world in the way any one of us would prefer to leave.

That morning he’d eaten his breakfast as usual, made his customary rounds of the house and stopped at a hallway bench to sniff some potted daisies my wife intended to plant in her outdoor garden.

Then he’d gone upstairs to poach a bit, as he often did, hoping he might find some scraps of leftover cat rations in a dish on the bathroom counter.

My wife, in the kitchen below, heard a curious thump. She went up to investigate. Then she came down, her distress plain, to give me the news.

“I think Scoop has died,” she said.

We went up together.

He was lying where he’d fallen, on his side as if sleeping – still warm, and handsome as ever, but unresponsive to the touch. A hurried trip to the vet confirmed there was no heartbeat.

That was 10 days ago.

This past week I picked up the small box that holds his ashes. It will go on a shelf with several other similar containers, each one holding a named sorrow of which there have been too many.

Tommy, also 20, is with us still, visibly confused and troubled by the absence of his lifetime chum. We’re comforting him as best we can by giving him the extra attention and stroking he plainly needs.

I know very well that life holds many greater kinds of loss than this one. But grief is grief. It can’t be easily quantified.