Three Cats

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They couldn’t be more different in character, though two are quasi-calico, the third and youngest, Julia, is black and white, a tuxedo cat. My kidding quasi son-in-law informs me she’s a kitler or cat with Hitler moustache. Like humans,our cats display quirks probably inborn (we weren’t there at their unveiling) but also have made adjustments to sometimes disappointing real world situations–i.e., Maggie being the middle cat when she’d really much rather be the solo.

The oldest, Mathilda or Tillie, we brought home squirming from cat rescue. She’d spent her childhood, so we were told, on the cellar ceiling, hunched on water pipes out of reach of the foster family kids. When she was small, she would leap from the top of our grand piano to the highest drapery rod and perch there, a furry gargoyle. Leaping is her forte, she was born with tall legs, long tail and a graceful balance. She will not be held, and even though she craves affectionate touch, even brushing with an emery board (her long fur comes off easily and the emery board doesn’t snag), and she will not settle onto a lap. As I write this she is curled up behind me in the chair, where I reach back occasionally to stroke and scratch her chin and ears.

Maggie the Chunk used to eat way too much until we discovered the marvels of morning baby food–chicken or turkey variety. It seemed to give her a protein boost (or something special) that kept her from gorging on other kinds of food. Still she’s created a ritual patting place, her head in the bowl of nibblets where only she eats–beside the bathtub upstairs. Otherwise, now that it’s colder, she’ll choose Fran’s lap as he drapes himself with a comforter in his lounge chair. She purrs but not so loud as Tilly. And she and I have designated late evening, after-stretching time for play. Then the other two are usually gone, and Maggie and I have the bathroom to ourselves. She claws ferociously at the carpet, bats around a ball, and if I send it bouncing down the stairs, she’ll sometimes rush after it and spend minutes semi-yowling on the first floor, her prize in her mouth. She, we think, was meant to be a great hunter.

Julia the adorable, named after John Lennon’s song, is our teenage mom, so we were told. How this has affected her in her celibate adulthood I’m guessing is displayed in her gentle but effective killing of many ribbon bunches. These are bird stand-ins, caught as they dip toward her, then brought low in her jaws, held under her body and tromped to death by back paws. It’s a behavior neither of the other, housebred cats display, wild-cat behavior developed in necessity, and now used in play.

What does the educator in me learn from these cat persons:
* that early childhood sets certain phobias and skills in place, which will show in adulthood no matter what the circumstances. I see hints of this in Fran’s two grandsons, aged 5 and 2.5. The older was born with unusual large-motor skills, can track a ball and hit and catch it like a much older child, but his close-in interests have not much to do with identifying letters or words, though what’s beginning to show are interests in numbering, counting, sorting small items from the natural world. He knows names of shells far beyond what a midcontinent kid would normally pick up in casual day-to-day life–product of games played outside with a washtub full of water and Florida shells, then some books identifying them.

* birth order and family circumstance affect us all, furred and skinned. What my sister remembers from our childhood is sometimes mysterious to me–younger, she stayed at home after I left for college; she stayed at home when I was out flouncing around; she saw the puppies born in the shed. I arrived only after they were curled up in little balls beside Tippy, their mother. I paid almost no attention. This was a traumatic event for her, whose effect I wouldn’t begin to guess.

* talk, touch, routine, accommodation–all crucial in cat care, human care. All three cats have accommodated each other, though they haven’t allowed themselves to curl up together. Fran insists if we weren’t around much, they’d be far more cat-oriented. He’s probably right. I see myself as a large cat, some of the time, and play with them on the floor, though I haven’t yet been able to mimic a tail.

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