Saturday, October 31, 2015

In Memory of Poncho

            Our beautiful cat, Poncho, died last night, October 30, 2015, on the eve of Halloween, as I was holding him. He seemed fine yesterday. He had all the usual behaviors. He ate, he wanted affection, he used his cat box, he nuzzled the dogs, he meowed for treats, and he found a sunny spot on the floor to sleep. Then, about nine o’clock all hell broke loose. He urinated all over the leather ottoman and began agonized breathing. Just like that! When my husband tried to pick him up, he scratched him. Never has Poncho done that. I grabbed an old towel, wrapped Poncho in it and picked him up. He peed all over me and continued to gasp for air. With my arms still around him, and with my husband alongside petting him, we placed him in his basket and held him until he took his last breath. And, yes, we cried.
            “He was only a cat,” some might say, but this cat was special. I have had many cats, but none quite like Poncho. Here’s his story.

When I was teaching at Casa Grande High School the school secretary brought a tiny kitten into the office one morning.
            “I have to find a home for this kitten. I found him this morning behind my washer and dryer in my garage,” she said. “Another feral cat, I guess. And look at his nose. There’s hardly any hair. It’s scarred. Looks as though he was burned.”
            “Poor little guy,” I said. “And he’s sick.”
            “Yes,” the secretary replied. “I took him to the vet. He said I should put him down, but I thought I’d bring him here just in case someone wanted him.”
            “Who would want that ugly cat,” another teacher spat.
            “I’ll take him to my classroom for the day,” I offered. “Maybe a student will want him.”
            As it turns out, the kitty stayed in my lap or arms most of the day. He even attended an English Department meeting after school. Fortuitously a colleague said she’d take him home. She had cats already.
            The next day, the cat was back at school.
            “My cats hated him,” my teacher friend told me. “They attacked him.”
            “Oh dear. Guess I’ll have to find someone else.”
            It was mid-week. I had two more days to find a home before the weekend, but for the night, the cat went home with me. I seriously had not intended to keep him. We already had three cats and four dogs. (Yes, we love animals.) The minute my husband saw him however, he said, “Ah. Look at you. You’re going to have a good home here.”
            That was it. This scrawny little kitty with the burnt nose, that was so sick he was blowing bubbles of mucus from each nostril had found a home. And he was ravenous. He ate and ate. A few antibiotics from the vet, lots and lots of cat food, and a good dose of affection made all the difference.
            “I’m naming him Poncho,” I said. He has to be wild and strong like Poncho Villa to have survived whatever he’s been through and look at his markings. His fur is marked so that he looks as though he’s wearing a black poncho.”
            Poncho made himself right at home. Everyone adored him and within weeks his coat had grown full and fluffy. He was so handsome.
            We did have a scare early on. I was at school, my husband came home for lunch, and Poncho got out. He ran to a field nearby (feral instincts, perhaps) and my husband, foregoing his lunch, went searching. He was quite panicked and he knew I’d be upset if we lost Poncho the first month. Eventually, Poncho was located, back in my husband’s arms, and safely at home. He became an indoor cat after that, venturing outside only on rare occasions.
            Poncho was quite demanding. He meowed for his food and begged like a dog. He often would find a place beside my husband or me on the bench beside the kitchen table. He actually would reach up and tap us on the arm. “Feed me!”
            He also would reach for our faces and with retracted claws, pat us over and over. It was so sweet. It was as if he were saying, “Thank you for taking me. You guys are the best.” He might not have thought that on the day he was neutered, but he didn’t hold a grudge.
            Now, my husband , Rick, is an eye doctor. He takes notice of eyes all the time, even cats’ eyes. One day, he said, “I think we have a problem with Poncho. I think he has a squamous cell carcinoma on his eyelid. A trip to our vet and then to a specialist veterinarian who was a cat ophthalmologist confirmed what we expected. Surgery was done to the tune of $1500 and Poncho came home to heal.
            “It will come back,” the ophthalmologist warned. “I tried to get it all, but it’s likely to return.”
            It did.
            Two years later, Rick noticed a change in the eyelid again. “It’s back,” he said.
            Another trip to the ophthalmologist gave us the worst news. The only hope for saving Poncho’s life was to enucleate the eye entirely. Though the surgery cost $2500, we could not say no to our precious, little orphan. I’ll never forget bringing him home after surgery. He was still wobbly from the anesthetic and had to wear the glorious, Elizabethan collar; once on the ground he staggered sideways and bumped into everything. In time, the incision healed, Poncho adapted to his altered vision, and we began affectionately to call him Poncho – Our $4000 One-eyed Cat.
            “I believe I was able to get clean borders,” the ophthalmologist told us after the surgery, “but this cancer is still likely to come back. Be prepared.”
            As far as we know, the cancer did not return, but time does go by. Years passed and we assumed we would have Poncho many more  - until last night.
Poncho simply always has been here. He tolerated our other cats and was actually quite fond of our dogs. One by one, our dogs passed away too, and then we brought home puppies, a German shepherd and a Brittney/Lab mix. Poncho made sure both knew he was in charge. From the moment they arrived until yesterday when Poncho died at the approximate age of just over 16, they were best friends.
            We buried Poncho today in the orchard. Rest in Peace little buddy. We miss you already. You were the best.  


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Something About Calvin
            Creating a character simply because . . .

Calvin had three loves – his one hundred pound, pot-bellied pig, Chopper, his gun collection, and speed. Chopper was the third potbelly Calvin had owned, each of the other two having lived out a normal life under his attentive care. All three had been named Chopper. Calvin said it was easier that way. New names confused his mother who had lived with him his whole life. The current pig was grey and white, its enormous stomach nearly dragging on the floor as it circled the kitchen of Calvin’s house or when it wandered, squealing toward Bertha, his mother, who constantly fed the animal bits of food she stored in the pocket of her apron. Chopper was smart. He manipulated the household.
No one was able to get too close to Calvin’s place either, because Chopper, a humongous male, spent a great deal of time rooting up the front yard and issuing a barking sound that warned if someone came near.
 “Why he’s as good as any watch dog,” Calvin bragged and was probably correct. One look at the pig’s mud-encrusted nose nudging the front gate of the property was enough to keep any would-be visitor at bay.
Calvin spent hours perched in a rocking chair on his front porch, watching Chopper go about his business, all the while polishing his guns and daring anyone to venture into the yard. Seems it was the only power Calvin gleaned over anyone or anything else for that matter, aside from his old, rusty, pickup that he drove like a maniac all over the county. When Calvin was on the road, folks stayed clear.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Conversation Between A Mother And Daughter (See Blog 10/16)

            And oh, how the feelings change.

“Where will you be staying, Jenny?” Martha asked at dinner later. “You simply can’t waltz into San Francisco with no where to stay. And you’ll need a job, and what about school? Are you satisfied with only a high school education?”
“Courtney and I have figured things out,” Jenny replied. “Her aunt has a house near the ocean, with extra rooms downstairs. She said we could stay there, rent free until we find jobs.”
“How generous,” Martha said, wondering. Is anything in this life free? Already she was worried. Her eyes darted and she bit her bottom lip. It was a give-away.
“Have you met this woman?” she asked. “Is she married?”
“Divorced. Look, don’t go worrying, Mom,” Jenny said. “No, I haven’t met her, but Courtney says she’s cool. She works for some rich ass attorney. Drives a Mercedes.”
Drives a Mercedes. Well, that’s important. Martha bit her tongue and simply nodded. Her throat had tightened. Jenny Miller was a central California valley girl, na├»ve and young. She had not one iota of experience with city life, nor did Courtney, for all Martha knew. This doesn’t feel right. She said nothing.
“Look, Mom. I need to do this,” Jenny said. “We’ll be fine. Courtney and I are best friends.”
“And what are Courtney’s parents saying about this?”
“I don’t know how they feel, but Courtney will do whatever she wants. She’s never taken no for an answer from her parents about anything.”
“That’s not too reassuring,” Martha replied.
“It’s their fault,” Jenny said. “They’re rich. They give her everything. Besides, they’re gone half the time. They don’t give a shit.” Jenny tilted her head and grinned. “Maybe that’s why we’re friends. You care too much sometimes and her parents don’t at all. We fill up each other’s holes.” 
“That’s an interesting concept,” Martha said, wondering where Zach fit into Jenny’s thinking. She was one parent down. Had Martha overcompensated for his absence?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

What Happened To Now?

            Now. It’s a tiny word, or an elusive notion, that holds so many possibilities. Why can’t we stay here, in the now?
Now. It is propped up by the past and teeters on the future. Who can balance there? Few of us can for very long. Instead, we survey the past, our emotions augmenting countless recollections. What if, we imagine, and tumble backward. A quagmire of ancient history holds us hostage, and now disappears in an instant.
Conversely how many times have we put now behind us in order to look to the future? Our plans, anticipations, and intentions take hold as we envisage our tomorrows. With emotions in high gear, we look ahead. We are excited or eager, anxious or afraid. No matter our feelings, how often do we find ourselves drawn away from now into unfamiliar territory? Why is that? Why is now so difficult to capture?
Life is a series of now after now after now, I suppose, but to be able to stop and savor one moment in time, to forget the past and ignore the future, for just a second seems a positive exercise. Be here now. Stop and smell the roses. Free your mind. You have arrived. Take it one step at a time. So many sayings fit, I imagine, but after struggling to write this blog, I found two quotations (below) that I like the best. They made me stop, and they made me think, about how to deal with the concept of now.