[It’s difficult to believe it’s been five years this month since we lost our long-time pet, a Maine coon cat named Palmer. He was part of the family for 20 years and we still catch ourselves sometimes looking for him around the house. This is my post written in memory of him from January 2011.]
His spirit still lingers in the house.
He came into our lives in 1991, a tiny ball of fluff with a big attitude, and my three-year-old daughter immediately bonded with him. Even though the kitten hissed whenever anyone went near him, he was hungry and so she fed him cat food at the end of a stick to avoid his needle-sharp teeth and claws. He was a long-haired Maine Coon with gray and white markings … we guessed he was around six or seven weeks old … and he was cute although we were not looking for a pet. But what do you do when your adorable child latches onto an animal? And so he stayed.
We named him Palmer after the town in Alaska where my sister lived. He was a barn kitty that was born to the old barn cat on the farm where we lived. We began to feed him and he kind of let us adopt him. He was, however, wild at heart and wild in spirit and so he lived outside on the 100 acres in North Carolina, roaming the fields and barn, and showing up to visit us at the house when he felt like it.
Palmer remained wild and was not a lap cat in his early years, preferring to strike out on his own to supplement his diet with field mice. We let him roam and, when we moved to a house about 10 miles away from the farm, he disappeared for a week before reappearing. We figured he had made his way back to the farm during that time and then returned to the new house.
We eventually moved back home to Virginia and made him an indoor cat to prevent him from becoming disoriented and lost, and to save him from being a snack for the coyotes, black bears, and other wild critters in the western part of Augusta County.
By then he was five years old and had calmed down, becoming that lap kitty my daughter wanted. She hugged him, brushed him, bathed him, snuggled with him, and lavished as much love on him as any creature could have. Acting like a typical cat, he sometimes purred in contentment and other times acted uninterested but he was, purely and simply, her kitty, and he followed her everywhere.
He also had reign of the entire house, curling up on the sofa or a bed or the living room floor in front of a sunny window … it all was his domain. He still hunted in the back yard and played with catnip mice, pieces of string, jumped into empty paper bags, and chased ping pong balls around the floor, and he still occasionally pounced on unsuspecting feet as they walked past him. If our daughter was packing for a trip, he would sit in her suitcase and pout, staring at her with what she called “suitcase face.”
He began to slow down a bit the past couple of years but was still the lovable old kitty, spending more of his hours curled up asleep at some location around the house with occasional frisky outbursts. Our daughter, by that time a young lady, would come in the front door, see him asleep on the sofa, and scoop him up into her arms, hugging and loving on him, and he would purr and soak in the adoration.
This past summer his age really began to catch up with him. He was moving slower … he lost his hearing … one eye was blind. He snoozed most of the time but enjoyed our company. And then, just before Christmas, his other eye went blind and he was plunged into a dark world … no sound, no sight. We moved his food dish, water, and litter box into the bathroom and allowed him a limited area to roam, and that briefly worked. We made it through the holidays … but he was fading from us and we could see it.
We realized we were holding on for us but it was not doing him any good. He was, after all, simply existing and so the extremely difficult decision was made. It was time to let go. Our daughter said her goodbyes before leaving for work, not an easy thing for her to do with her old friend who had been around for most of her life. After she left, I rubbed his head and smoothed his fur … he meowed softy but seemed confused. I was reassured we were making the right decision.
I slipped off his collar and tags and, one last time, we put him in his cat carrier and gently set him in our vehicle. It was his last ride and he meowed once, softly, on the way to the vet. Usually such a ride would have had him curiously peering out the window or meowing out of indignation from having to ride in his cage. Not this time.
He came home from the vet in a box and Mr. Mitchell dug a hole in the not-quite-frozen ground in 28-degree weather and lowered the box into the Virginia soil in our daughter’s flower garden. It was the spot she had chosen for his final resting place … right beside Pepe the fish. It was done … he was gone.
It’s hard to believe he’s not curled up on the sofa or rubbing up against our legs after being a part of our family for two decades. Our daughter’s life was richer for having her furry friend and she loved him in a way that will not be repeated. The wild kitten became the tame lap cat who needed her … and she needed him.
Twenty-four hours later, his spirit still lingers in the house. Rest in peace, Palmer … and thanks for the memories.
titled this photo, “Sushi for dinner.”