He was booted from a moving car, an orange teenaged kitten given the heave-ho by some boys driving around in a beat-up Caprice. I’d just emerged from the fitness club where I was waging war with my belly fat. The Caprice came hurtling through the club parking lot. An arm shot out the window and out flew a squirming cat. It was the day before Thanksgiving, 1992.
The cat landed on his feet. Come here, kitty, I said. He was half-grown and lanky, a feline James Dean. He managed to exude a certain nonchalance I found admirable considering the situation. He came right over when I called. I petted him and picked him up. He immediately draped himself over my shoulder and burrowed his head into my neck.
I put the cat in a box I had in the car and drove directly to the nearest animal hospital. “Know this guy?” I asked. They didn’t. The doctor offered to do an exam and throw in free shots. I gave permission to neuter and said I’d pick him up the next day. The staff reminded me the next day was Thanksgiving and the animal hospital would be closed. I said I’d pick him up at 4 o’clock.
I called my husband and said we were getting a cat. He immediately protested.
“You’ll like this cat,” I said. “And if you don’t, we’ll find a new home for him after the weekend.” Then I went to meet the school bus.
My son was in first grade. He bounded off the bus clutching a construction paper turkey. His cheeks were red from cold and candy corn. His teacher that year taught math with Hershey kisses, candy corn, and Tic Tacs. “We’re getting a cat,” I told my son. “You can come with me to pick him up.”
The next day we were seven for Thanksgiving. That may not sound like a lot to you but it was too many for me. I was stressing because my aunt Adele brought a surprise guest, an attractive young foreign woman, a medical student, who had only been in the country a few weeks. We also invited our friend Neil, who lived in the city, a single guy who got upset whenever he thought we’re trying to fix him up. I was breaking a sweat from the heat of the oven. We were just about to sit down. The cat hissed from the top of the kitchen cabinets. At knee level our rescued terrier, Happy, ran in circles, barking. It wasn’t yet clear if Happy wished to play with the cat or destroy him.
Dinner was rough. Our foreign guest, an East Asian who had never experienced Thanksgiving mistakenly thought cat was on the menu. She thought he was hanging by the rafters to avoid a meeting with the cleaver. Happy persisted barking even when I stuffed his mouth with turkey. Aunt Adele launched into the full story of her operation. While I was scraping dishes in the kitchen Neil urgently whispered his desire to stay overnight to avoid having to travel back into the city with the foreign woman who clearly had eyes for him.
Later that evening, after we sent my aunt and the future doctor and Neil on their way, my son and my husband and I sat down to watch “Mary Poppins.” My husband was still fuming over what he described as “Your usual three-ring circus,” a remark I chose to ignore. Exhausted from 24 hours of nonstop barking and sedated by tryptophan, the dog curled himself into a ball on the rug before the fireplace. On silent feet the orange cat appeared at the entrance of the family room. He walked the perimeter of the room before leaping into my lap. Then he went over to the rug and lay down beside Happy, who opened one eye and then closed it.
“Look at that,” I said to my husband. My son beamed.
“Happy Thanksgiving, Mom,” my son said. “And thank you for getting Daddy and me a cat.”
We had that cat 16 years.