Monday, November 24, 2008

The Year the Cat Died During Le Jour de L'action de Grâce Dinner

On Thanksgiving Day 2004 I was hosting about 10 guests for a buffet Thanksgiving dinner. I am embarrassed to say that there was a slightly pretentious menu published in advance in French celebrating the first Le Jour de L'action de Grâce Dinner between les Pilgrims and les Indiens d'Amérique.

Lucy the 19 year old cat looked particularly frail that morning when she turned her back on my rushing around and made her way into the basement. No begging for turkey ( dinde). No perching on the stool watching me cook. No attempts to jump on the forbidden couch that had been temporarily stripped of the Lucy-proof aluminum foil in order to welcome guests bearing Haricots Verts in Beurre Blanc Casserole.

Lucy had been in my life for for almost 17 years and at times the skinny purring furball was the best cat in the world.

Except when she wasn’t.

Her favorite trick was to chase a foam ball and drop it in front of me to toss again for her to fetch back in her best dog fashion. Being a cat though, she refused to ever do this trick when there were witnesses and gave me a disgusted look when I commanded "Lucy, fetch" in front of others.

She could also be the most evil creature this side of a Star Jones divorce affidavit if she was displeased with you.

The first time I stayed out all night I returned to find a token of Lucy's disaffection in the middle of the glass topped coffee table. As my mother Pug would say, "That's not an accident, that's a purposeful." (This makes more sense when said in a soft Kentucky accent and perhaps after knocking back a couple of bourbons.) Lucy continued to express her disapproval of me and my lifestyle over the years through her digestive system with elaborate purposefuls on furniture, shoes, suitcases, bedding and once on a quickly short-lived radio.

For five years I traveled back and forth between DC and Pittsburgh for work much to her disgust. She initially destroyed the white leather living room furniture upset that I was leaving her during the work week although one could make a case that she was judging my Miami Vice-like taste in furniture. I tried taking her to Pittsburgh during the week and she demonstrated her outage by urinating into two handset phones taking down an entire home phone system in my rented house in the Steel City. (Just in case you are wondering, Verizon Customer Support does not have a code for “Cat Urine in the Phone” when taking service requests).

Finally Lucy and I eventually developed a mutual trusting relationship where I kept most of the furniture covered in aluminum foil and all phones wall mounted and she pinky-paw promised to keep her purposefuls to a minimum and occasionally play fetch with me as long as I kept her in Fancy Feast, her fetch secret safe and didn't make her travel to Pittsburgh any more.

In 2004 she had begun a gradual decline--the usual things that happen to a cat that old, slow kidney failure, hearing loss and general lack of energy. It just seemed like there was less and less of Lucy every day and rarely were there any purposefuls any more. She seemed content and not in pain although sometimes she was a bit befuddled. Most days she would slowly make her way down the steps to the basement to find her favorite red cushion next to the furnace and spent her days warming her bones and purring to some far off memory of a private game of fetch.

Perhaps I contributed to hastening her demise by adopting Lucy and Lizzie the dogs early in 2003. I had planned on changing their names to avoid pet confusion but Lucy and Lizzie are, well let's go on and say it, a few Milk Bones short of a box. Attaching the command "NO, we do not eat leather belts" to any name besides Lucy and Lizzie seemed unrealistic. Lucy the cat's last year of her life was a confusing cacophony of "Lucy, no not you, the OTHER Lucy. The one chewing the Christmas lights" so perhaps it was a blessing that she was losing her hearing.

Before Thanksgiving Dinner I checked on her in the basement and she stared at me with a look of confusion as I interrupted her vigil by the furnace. She was purring but the poor thing had not quite made it to her soft red pillow and was on the cold cement basement floor. I gently helped her onto her pillow and noticed how even skinnier and frailer she had become.

"Please Lucy," I recall thinking, "Don't leave today. Not on Thanksgiving."

I'm not saying that Lucy did a final purposeful, but she did depart this world sometime during Thanksgiving Dinner between the turkey, I mean la dinde, and la tarte à la pumpkin with Les Cool Whip. Sneaking downstairs I found her peacefully curled up in a ball next to the furnace but no longer purring and no longer on her red cushion. She was gone; however, the Lucy I knew had been gone for several weeks and mercifully her body was catching up with her soul.

Saying a little prayer, I thanked her for 17 years of companionship and fetch playing and apologized for the dogs and Pittsburgh. I put her back on her red cushion one last time. There may have been a tear that I later attributed to an overly spicy la farce les pèlerins.

"Where's Lucy," guests asked later.

"There she is" I would say a little too quickly and loudly, pointing at Lucy la chienne in mid-bite of a tasty Thanksgiving electrical cord.

"No, the cat."

"Uhm, she's in the basement."

I mean really what could I say? I didn't want to ruin Thanksgiving for others or have guests worriedly whispering to one another "Did the cat eat any of that la dinde this morning?"

Lucy did have one final road trip. The pet crematorium didn't open until 8:30 am the next day so Lucy and her beloved red cushion made a 4:00 am Black Friday trip in the back seat of my SUV to Wal-Mart. I always like to think that she enjoyed it. I kept the car nice and warm and Northern Virginia is definitely not Pittsburgh.

Happy Thanksgiving Lucy! No, not that Lucy. The PURPOSEFUL Lucy. I hope you are somewhere playing fetch with a special friend and yes, your fetch secret is always safe with me.


lacochran said...

That's a very nice tribute. I've lost cats and it's not easy, at any age (theirs or ours).

Strangely enough, my post references cats today (I don't think I ever have before) but in a very different way. Global interconnectedness and all that. Huh.

Bob said...

What a nice holiday tribute to Lucy (the cat)... and, if memory serves me right, that was a good Thanksgiving dinner! But I didn't know you took her to Wal-mart the next morning?!? Couldn't you find a Target?!?

Titania said...

I want to think that I can understand your sadness, this is a wonderful tribute to your Lucy. I have never had cats, since I am extremely allergic. But have 2 dogs and 2 birds right now, that is my own little zoo. My heart breaks in many pieces whenever I have lost any of my animals. 2 of them, who grew up together and with me, departed about 15 years ago. My beloved Faustina, the cockatiel, departed last year during the summer, I still feel pain thinking of her...

LiLu said...

I also had a cat who would only fetch when family members were there! It was so frustrating, I finally taped it just so I could prove it to people. Sad that it took me so worth to outsmart a cat... but they are wily critters!

Malnurtured Snay said...

That's so sad! I'm sorry for your loss.

Elizabeth Douglas said...

I know this is two years old, but I'm sorry about the loss of your Lucy. I lost my kitty, Oreo, earlier this year after 19 years and well, your story made me cry, but also smile. They're wonderful things, our pets, and most definitely purposeful!