Growing up, our house served as home to all sorts of critters. We owned hamsters, bunnies, an ever-expanding tank of fish and a parakeet named Snickers. When my fourth grade teacher needed a home for our classroom mice, guess who cleared a shelf for the beloved rodents? My mom.
When I was 10, my sister and I saved our money ($17.50 each) to buy a white toy poodle. We named her Princess. (Why not?)
If it crawled, crept, chirped or barked, chances are we experienced the joy of that kind of pet. We had everything – except a cat.
My mom loved cats. They were her favorite critter in the whole world. She talked often of the cats she had while growing up on a farm. We even owned a kitten for a short while when I was very young. I vaguely remember the soft ball of purring fur, but not what she looked like. I do remember her name: Beauty. Our kitty lived with us for only a week before we had to give her to another family because Beauty made my dad sneeze.
Even though my mom loved cats, she loved my dad more. Our household moved on to other furry and fuzzy friends. We were critter people – just not cat ones.
My mom never forgot about her love of cats and she was (I believe) happy when I married a cat person. My husband and I got our first cat shortly after getting married. I became a full-fledged, card-carrying cat-lover.
The years went by. In addition to our cats, we got fish, tree frogs and a dog. My mom got Alzheimer’s. She passed away two years ago, and for months afterward I sensed her presence beside me.
At the time, our house had its fair share of critters, with no plans to add to the brood.
Then, I experienced a sudden and unexplained urge to get a kitten. My daughter and I went to the shelter – just to look (famous last words). My husband reminded us before leaving, “Look only at male kittens. Maybe a white or gray one,” he said. “Anything but black.”
(I understood his thinking. We’d always been a boy-cat family. The color request was practical in nature. Pets shed. We have a yellow (shedding) lab and light colored furniture to help hide the occasional pet hair. Black fur would not coordinate with our overall camouflaging technique.)
We held many kittens at the shelter that day but only one was available for immediate adoption. We returned home with a sweet purring ball of fur. A black female with radiant topaz eyes. We named her Gertrude. She’d been abandoned, but by the shelter’s estimates she’d been born around October 12 – my mom’s birthday.
Officially, we got the kitten for our youngest son, but she was my baby from day one. She showed a special attachment to me and I welcomed her attention. Having Gertrude helped me deal with the grief of losing my mom. I gradually stopped sensing her presence; I believe because I was finally ready to let my mom go.
This isn’t the end of the story. Recently, I found an old pile of photographs. As I flipped through, I came across one of my sister and me with the little kitten named Beauty we’d owned for a short time years and years ago. There, in the photograph, the bright topaz eyes of an exact replica of Gertrude stared back at me. I’d forgotten, but Beauty had been a black kitten too.
The coincidence made me catch my breath as I became conscious of something I’d already known: my kitty’s name may be Gertrude, but to me, she’s always been a Beauty. (Thanks, Mom!)