One bright summer day 14 years ago, she arrived. She wasn’t here when I left to run errands but when I returned there she was, frolicking with my three kids in our country home yard.
“She just showed up,” my 18-year-old daughter said. And her younger sister and brother agreed in unison, “Yeah, she just walked into our yard.”
I looked her over – she was young but she was well-groomed and certainly did not appear to be homeless. No, she had been well-loved by someone and she had just lost her way.
“Can we keep her?” my 12-year-old son pleaded.
“No, we can’t. She belongs to someone,” was my reply.
We searched for her family and waited patiently thinking surely whoever lost her would come seeking and reclaim her. But as each day passed, she worked her magic – making us love her -and she readily became a part of our family.
And who wouldn’t love her? She was a kitten, probably around four or five months old. Clean as could be, no sign of fleas, no tangles in her thick soft, multi-colored fur, no signs of being outdoors for very long. She was a gorgeous calico cat with splotches of brilliant white, ebony black, and dark orange and beautiful golden eyes. And she loved to be held and petted, so much so that she would climb in your lap and curl herself up to your neck as closely as possible. She couldn’t get enough cuddling. This was no ordinary stray cat.
No one ever called or came to claim her so she became ours and the kids named her Callie the Calico Cat. She was not a typical cat. She didn’t want to be alone, she wanted to be with you, on you, purring in your ear, lying in your lap, pushing her head into your hand demanding to be stroked. She was especially fond of our son, curling up on him while he was asleep to nap with him, and nuzzling against his neck so she could lick his ears when he was awake.
She was well-behaved and rarely scratched either us or the furniture but did use the wooden deck posts outside as her favorite scratching place. She fit right into our family and was so very sociable, not aloof and independent like some felines are. She always wanted to be in our midst and when I was recuperating from cancer surgery, she was constantly at my side purring and gazing into my eyes. Almost like she was asking me: Are you going to be okay?
She watched as one by one each of our children went off to college and she always warmly welcomed them back home. She wanted to be a part of our celebrations, activities, and even games, a part of our very lives. And she was. When this nest emptied out, she became Mama and Papa’s constant companion.
Not only was she the most loving cat I ever owned, she was the smartest. She learned to ring a bell on a string tied to the door that led from our family room to the garage where her litter box sat. When she wanted back inside, she rang the bell. She learned to perform some ‘tricks’ for treats like sitting, dancing (spinning in a circle), begging, and reaching into the treat jar to retrieve her own goodie.
If she desired to venture outside, she would find me and gently reach up with her paw, tap me to get my attention, and lead me to the door. She rarely meowed and when she did, it was a quiet and gentile me-ahh. She loved stretching out and napping in the warm sunshine on the deck in the afternoons. She didn’t like rain or snow and refused to go outside in either kind of weather. She loved sitting on our master bedroom window sill at night and peering out over the front yard. She guarded our property like a watchdog yet was extremely frightened of the road and traffic. We often thought she might be pretending to be a jungle cat when she stalked her way through the garden.
She loved her life here at our house and only strayed away from home once. She came back and soon produced six precious kittens to our kids’ delight and my dismay. She was a good mother, but that would be her first and last litter. She loved new toys and especially chasing her laser mouse and she was attracted by all things shiny even if they were on your person. She was a real girly-girl, known to ‘borrow’ earrings, bracelets, necklaces, and even my diamond engagement ring once because glittery things fascinated her and she just had to have them!
She enjoyed her toys especially the glittery ones and her favorite had to be the mouse laser; she was determined to catch that elusive red dot! But I have to believe she loved us more than anything else. We were her people and she wasn’t happy unless she was with us.
All of that ended Monday evening. She became very sick quickly, not eating or drinking, and her breathing became laborious. Papa and I realized that we were losing her. I checked on her often throughout the day and each time as I stroked her silky fur and crooned sweet words to her, she found the strength to purr as loudly as she could. She waited until Papa got home from work so he could say his goodbye and then she slipped away.
Today, this empty nest seems so much emptier without our faithful Callie in it. I’ve owned several cats in my lifetime but this cat was different. I’m not an ardent animal lover yet I find myself grieving for her more than I ever imagined I would. Tears slide down my cheeks like they have for no other animal. She wasn’t just a pet, she was a member of our family, and our kids are just as shocked and saddened by her death as Mama and Papa are. From time to time, I think I hear the little bell on her glimmering pink collar and I find myself looking for her.
She was special. She was one of a kind. There will never be another cat like her. And she was meant to be ours. Callie was a gift to us and she’ll always be in our hearts.
“Not the least hard thing to bear when they go from us, these quiet friends, is that they carry away with them so many years of our own lives.” ~ John Galsworthy, English novelist and playwright