Lou and I grew up with cats. The cats we had our whole lives informed the kind of cat we wanted for our very own and therefore why we settled on little Wintermuse.
As it happens, when I met Lou over 7 years ago, he plied me with photos of his family’s new Maine Coon kitten. I guess it worked! Our kitty love started early.
Rocky managed to survive his wire chewing phase to grow up to be a humongous Maine Coon.
Before Rocky, there were Cleo and Sassy. Cleo was a multi-colored tortoiseshell cat with a mean disposition. She hated everyone but Lou. Sassy, on the other hand, was like Gumby, draping over anyone who would say hello to her. Sassy made cuddling too easy- and Cleo made it impossible. Rocky was not mean nor cuddly, just aloof, as if his fur ensconced him in his own world.
Then there was Judy. Judy was a Norwegian Forest cat that Lou and his sister gave to his parents for Christmas. She is beautiful, clever, and, unfortunately, a little aloof as well. She likes people more than Rocky, but this silky cat would rather play than be picked up. Still, we adore her.
Judy and Rocky started to set the stage for us to consider more exotic breeds of cats. Though my house was positively brimming with cats and kittens when I was a child, they were all domestic short-hairs that were mostly strays. Krissy, the longest lasting of them all, was so wild that when we finally tricked her into the house after months of feeding, she flipped out and run up a wall. She managed to get stuck between the paneling and the sheet rock. She fought against every stage of domestication, and I had the scars to prove it. She was also an outdoor cat, so she had fleas, got dirty, went into heat, and occasionally snuck out through our air ducts. She was independent and made sure you knew it. She never played with anything, and if we did see her late at night batting at something, she would immediately stop. She was great in her own way.
When she died, my mother got another American Shorthair, Ella, who was also born of a literally feral mother. Then came Jamie.
One night, Lou and I were out walking by my home very late at night and we saw a wee little kitten who was incredibly friendly. It allowed us to pet it and cuddle it, but it seemed very hungry. I ran into the house and got some food, which it ate gustily until its stomach swelled. I didn’t know what to do – I wanted to take it in, but it was my mother’s house, at which I was a guest, so I didn’t think I had the right to bring a stray cat in. It didn’t matter in a way, because the kitten, dubbed James, was on a mission. After eating and more petting, he trotted off down the street, intent on his destination. A true stay wouldn’t have a destination, right? This cat was definitely going somewhere.. and yet who would let a 3-4 month old kitten outside?
So James left, and we were sad. We both loved James and felt a real connection to him, but he didn’t come back. Fast forward a few months, and my mom told me about a stray who is incredibly friendly that she has started to feed. She believed the cat had another family because she was too well-mannered to be un-homed, and she always disappeared. When I saw this cat, she was a domestic tabby like James. The friendly disposition was the same. I didn’t know if it was really possible it could be the same cat, but I just felt in some way it was, so I called her Jamie since she was not a he.
Jamie is wonderfully cuddly. She loves to be pet and had an endearing quality of nibbling on your fingers if she liked you. She always seemed to like me best and vice versa – always happy to see me. Whereas Ella was wild and slovenly, with hair sticking out all over the place, Jamie was refined and well-groomed. Ella therefore hated Jamie yet wanted to be doing what she was doing, in that little-sister way.
So, between the two of us, almost all our cats were slightly aloof or downright mean with strong personality quirks.
Then came Sally.
In spring 2010, when walking to work one day in our town, I noticed a cat in the window of a dog groomer’s shop. I stopped to take a look and she instantly started kneading her paws at me and let out a silent mew behind the glass. It was adorable. I texted Louis to tell him to look for her. The next day, he had a sighting, and so began a love affair of several months.
In the morning and evening, we’d both walk by the dog groomer’s on our way to work, and we’d see Sally in the window. When she saw us approach, she’d get up, pawing at the glass, stretching, mewing, kneading, and generally leading us to hate the person who invented windows.
I know her name was Sally because I was walking by the shop one day when it was still open, and the owner walked out. I asked her about the cat, subtly asked if it was for sale, and told her how happy it made us to see her every day. She didn’t seem to think I was creepy, which was a plus.
Thus began a months-long love affair. We lingered over Sally in the window every morning, exchanging photos and generally being cat stalkers. I ran at night for exercise and if I was in the area, I would swing by her window because she seemed lonelier at night. It was hard knowing this beloved cat of ours was alone every evening and on the weekends. She spent the day in the company of her human, but was alone in the dark at night. It wasn’t really that bad because most people leave their cats home when they go to work every day, but still, we joked about ‘time-sharing’ her or kidnapping her.
If Sally had been for sale, we would have bought her, no question.
This was the tipping point for getting a cat for us. While we loved Jamie, Judy, Rocky, Cleo, Sassy, and Ella, we could see them a few times a year, but we could never meet Sally – never pet her or pick her up or play with her. She belonged to a stranger behind a pane of glass. It was here where we thought it might be nice to have a cat of our own, available to us at any time, as sweet and friendly as Sally, as regal as Jamie, and as playful as Judy.