Last May at the New Hamburg MCC Relief Sale, Sam and I searched through the quilted wall hangings on offer, looking for ones we could afford to bid on.
Our first picks quickly surged beyond our price range. Eventually we settled on one called “Cat Nap,” which intrigued us as former cat owners. Plus, its predominantly orange and brown hues were “my colours” exactly!
For a while I used it as a lap quilt, channeling the various cats who had purred there over the years. Eventually we hung it in the dining room. As I kept looking at it, I hatched the idea of attaching a name to each cat on the quilt, calling to mind our most noteworthy felines. I thought of the hanging as a tribute to them and the gentle or humorous (or occasionally frustrating) ways they nourished our spirits.
First on the list, of course, was Sam’s cat as a little boy on the farm – Fluffy by name. And then of course Fluffy #2 (son of Fluffy), who made the move into town with the family but – alas – was run over by a car shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, a thorough search has yielded no extant photos of either of those short-haired cats!
Next we selected five of our jointly-owned cats. It was fascinating to recall their names, giving a clue about things that preoccupied us at the time.
Of course we included our first two felines, Balthasar and Ervine, whom we acquired in the fall of 1973. Balthasar, named after 16th century Anabaptist leader Balthasar Hubmaier, reflected Sam’s scholarly interests at that time. That cat was actually our smartest one ever, with the skill to answer the phone and to fetch and return a cloth ball.
Ervine, initially misnamed Ervin, showed our fascination with U.S. Senator Sam Ervin of Watergate fame. We had been glued to the TV that summer as the Watergate hearings unfolded.
Frank H. Epp, Sam’s boss at Conrad Grebel College, rightly guessed that our next cat, Frank, was named after him!
As for Gus, I was reading the theologian Augustine when we brought him home. Since he enjoyed sitting on books, he was likely well named.
Our last cat, Maggie, held a special place in my heart as our best lap cat and was difficult to release as her health declined. We found her not long after I discovered my maternal grandmother Magdelena Moyer Derstine through letters she and her girlfriends wrote to each other as young adults. [I had never met my grandmother in person because she died when my mother was 10.]
So…that takes care of seven cats, but what names would we give to the 11 other felines waiting on the wall?
It struck us that though various friends had been cat lovers over the years, only one couple still had cats! I sent out e-mails, asking about this cat or that one. I could feel between the lines their joy in those bygone cats. I also heard some great stories!
Snuggles was a house cat on a family farm who belonged to our friend Philip as a five-year-old. But Mother got tired of that cat being underfoot, and gave Snuggles to the neighbours. Soon she missed the cat, and wanted it back. So she sent Philip into the neighbour’s barn to steal Snuggles back. He saw the cat perched there and nabbed it. Mother told the neighbor the cat had found its way home…and Philip got his Snuggles back!
Ellen writes, “These two cats, from the same litter, were my first cats. Their names come from the exploratory traits they demonstrated as young kittens. Amelia comes from famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart, and Ferdinand from world circumnavigator Ferdinand Magellen. Unlike many cats, they went to greet my guests at the door. They were my best cats ever, although other fine cats followed their paw prints in my heart.”
I asked Marg about that large elderly cat curled up when a prayer group met at her house years ago, calming the room. She recalled George as the “purring patriarch of a large loving family. He enjoyed life till he was 20…Beloved of our youngest daughter, who pleaded with Santa in a letter when she was 10 for a friendly cat that she would love forever.”
Lynne remembered Liza Jane, who “loved listening to Mozart and would twitch her tail in time to the music.” David reminded me that their large cat Lenny was of course dressed in black like his namesake Leonard Cohen.
I’m especially drawn to Shadow, a lovely upstate New York kitty who unwittingly became a prop in our informal 25th anniversary photos in 1994. Sitting comfortably on a little table between us on her own front deck, Shadow was even willing to have us touch her, showing the way cats have nourished our spirits….
Question for Reflection:
Which family pets – if any – have nourished the spirits of your family? Might you remember them fondly as part of your family Christmas gathering?
Next week: Unwelcome news