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I have been thinking today of the furry friends that have been a large part of my life, some briefly, but some for many wonderful years. Most of mine were cats, because Daddy always said that if your yard was small enough that you had to pick up after your dog, you didn’t have a big enough yard. And we didn’t.

But there were always cats. Tippy, my very first cat, came along when I was about four years old. She was all black, with four white paws…hence her name. Tippy would eat lunch each day with the construction crews building homes in our neighborhood; as far as we know, she went home with a builder one day. Then there were two little black litter mates who gave me ringworm — I was brokenhearted when Daddy took them to the pound. But he wouldn’t keep them around carrying disease.

Our most famous cats were probably Suzy and George, the tiger siblings we got for Melody’s second birthday. Suzy was Melody’s kitten, and George (her brother) was mine. I’ll never forget the look on Melody’s face when she heard a tiny meow from the kitchen. She just froze, and whispered, “Kitty?” We were devastated when Suzy became ill and had to be put to sleep. I moped around because George missed his companion, and ended up being scolded by Daddy for being so self-centered. After all, it was Melody who had lost her pet. A few months later George delivered a healthy litter of kittens, and was renamed Georgia. And no, I did not name my daughter after my cat, no matter what she tells you. She was named after a relative!

There was Willie, too, the big black Persian who sat on the piano bench next to me during my lessons. He belonged to Mrs. Prothero, and is the central figure in her painting, “American Folk Song”, hanging on my bedroom wall. His golden eyes are the only spots of color in the otherwise black and white picture.

In Arroyo Grande we had a small zoo for a while, with bunnies, kittens, and a desert tortoise all hanging out together. I have pictures in my album of a kitten riding across the lawn on the back of the tortoise.

I brought a tiny little kitten home from the Cal Poly Farm…Tiger’s mother had been killed, and all the other kittens nuzzled into his little neck and wore all the fur off his throat. With Tiger we saw our own version of a Disney True Life Adventure, as the big tomcat next door taught the little orphaned kitten how to hunt and how to play. So patiently the tom demonstrated how to crouch down and stalk prey, and Tiger would hunker down low, then wiggle his little behind and leap into the air after a butterfly. Sometimes the tom would get disgusted and smack him, sending Tiger flying sideways and then bringing him back to the task at hand. The first time I remember seeing Daddy cry was the afternoon Mom and Daddy came home from shopping and Tiger ran right under the wheels of the car in our driveway. We were making jam, and I’ll never forget stirring the boiling fruit and crying, and stirring and crying. So much love, and so much sadness.

We had the nappy haired black kitten we called The Pickaninny, which was shortened by Donnie to Pickle, and renamed Pickle Pickaninny when she moved away to college with me. She was my shadow, always by my side when I was home, until the first time my later-to-become husband came to visit. Pickle was fickle…she fell in love with Ken way before I did and was his from then on. At one point after our marriage we had two mama cats and their assorted seven kittens, plus an orphan we adopted into the family — in a one-bedroom apartment, no less!

There were others along the way…some who came, hung out for a while, then moved on…some we loved for years. Toddler Georgia named her calico kitten Killer (for no apparent reason); when Killer disappeared she named Killer’s replacement (an orange tabby) ‘Nother Killer. Killer returned after a six-month absence, and shared our lives for 18 years.

Sarah, the tortoiseshell who loved to play in the street, let us know first-hand the kindness of animal people. She was hit by a car and injured terribly…we had no money for vet bills and I didn’t even know who to call. Our neighbors who did animal rescue contacted the emergency vet, helped me take her to him, and then put the bill on their credit card for me to pay off when I could. Sarah had to have her face wired back into place, and always looked a bit lopsided afterwards.

Killer was joined late in life by Big Foot, a huge rasty tom who wandered into our yard and hearts and didn’t leave. They were buried side-by-side under the rose bushes in the front yard, and the cat-angel representing them has moved with me each time since then.

But the cat first and foremost in my thoughts tonight isn’t even one of my own. Little One, my niece’s precious kitty, crossed over the rainbow bridge yesterday at 18 years old. Little One has been Leah’s companion, partner-in-crime, child, and best friend since she was a girl, and I know her arms are very empty tonight. I hope that someday another lonely little kitten will worm her way into Leah’s heart; until then, we all have happy memories of a rambunctious kitten who still remembered how to be playful in his old age, and loved Leah with all his being. You were loved, Little One.