Rainy Days, Afghans, and Toe-Beans . . .
We’ve had rainy days here in Paris for close to a week. It’s been a relatively mild winter, mostly dry, no snow but it seems like every other week it rains just enough to kill a good nature outing or a long walk. Since the pandemic, our activities (when it’s grey and wet) consist of cooking, taking in an occasional museum, reading, writing and streaming.
Mickey likes the latter best of all. As soon as he hears the television in the study -- whether it’s a concert from Berlin’s digital concert hall, Opéra from Metropolitan On Demand, ‘live' theatre from London’s National Theatre Home, or a movie or bingable TV séries (any language suits him just fine) from Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, PBS SoCal, HBO Max, Disney+ (originally subscribed to just for Hamilton) --
our little tiger apparently can envision the two of us with our legs up in our reclining loveseat with the Afghan that I had knitted spread over our legs, with a spot in between us just perfect for him to cuddle up in to keep warm. These are precious moments with Mickey, times where he’s so relaxed and so content that he even allows me to massage what cat people call his ’toe-beans.’ I have never really understood why these knitted blankets are called
afghans, but when I was in my early teens, living with my father and stepmother in New York, my stepmother taught me how to crochet and knit a blanket trimmed with ruffles or tassels, both decorative and utilitarian -- a soft, attractive and colorful accessory to drape over a couch or a chair and to provide warmth and comfort when one is sitting and reading or watching television. It’s also a wonderful blanket for a cat to knead on, reminding him of good times at the breast with mother before a peaceful sleep. As for 'toe beans,’ another term I didn’t understand until recently, this term refers to the soft, squishy pads on the underside of a cat's paws. Anyone who's taken a close look at a kitty's paw pads can recognize their resemblance to jelly beans.
Note the dark toe beans on the bottom of Mickey's back paws in this photo of him seated in his favorite chair. Actually, just about any chair in the house is “Mickey’s favorite chair.”
Cats are great companions for writers. When I was writing my doctoral dissertation, I had a three-pound tabby cat called Tiger-Lilly. She kept me company late into the night, sleeping on my desk under the warm light on a pile of paper while I scribbled the galleys for the next day’s delivery to our secretary for word processing.
Tiger was the most canny, intelligent, and wiley feline I've ever known. She came to me when I was living on the horse ranch. The property was situated on a corner of a huge expanse of land that had belonged to the famed film actor Joel McCrea, whose career spanned a wide variety of genres over almost five decades, including comedy, drama, romance, thrillers, adventures, and Westerns, for which he had become best known until he retired in 1975.
McCrea appeared in over one hundred films, starring in over eighty, among them Alfred Hitchcock's espionage thriller Foreign Correspondent (1940), Preston Sturges' comedy classics Sullivan's Travels (1941), and The Palm Beach Story (1942), the romance film Bird of Paradise (1932), the adventure classic The Most Dangerous Game (1932), Gregory La Cava's bawdy comedy Bed of Roses (1933), George Stevens' six-time Academy Award-nominated romantic comedy The More the Merrier(1943), William Wyler's These Three, Come and Get It (both 1936) and Dead End (1937), Howard Hawks' Barbary Coast (1935), and a number of western films, including Wichita (1955) in which he played Wyatt Earp, and Sam Peckinpah's Ride the High Country (1962).
I had grown up watching reruns of his films on TV and 'Ride the High Country’ in the movie theatre with my father. Coincidentally, when I was seeking a large piece of land on which to build my home and horse ranch, I happened to find fifteen acres that McCrea was selling off from his 1,000 acre ranch in the North end of Thousand Oaks. This piece of land was just over the hillside from the McCrea home and overlooked the beautiful Tierra Rejada Valley, a winter refuge for Canadian geese surrounded by fruit and vegetable farms and avocado orchards.
The McCreas were terrific neighbors, once I grew accustomed to their eldest son, Jody, who frequently rode his horse over the hillside, tethered it to the carport post, and walked into the house to help himself to something cold to drink or a sandwich! The first time I came up from the barn below and found this stranger happily seated with his lunch in the breakfast nook in my kitchen, I was startled, until he introduced himself as Joel’s son Jody. He seemed harmless enough and life went on.
Another oddity connected with the property was that it appeared that the city folk in Thousand Oaks had chosen the orchard across the road from my place to abandon their cats. Our barn always had plenty of room for these wonderful animals that the reknowned British psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion had once described as “self-cleaning mouse traps.” So adoptee number 27 was Tiger, as cheeky as they come and so smart that she managed to find her way through the dog-door at the back of the house and took up residence inside our home. No matter how many times I would introduce her to the barn and the other cats who welcomed her, she'd return to what she clearly thought was her rightful abode. When our vet assured us that there was no way to disabuse her of her convictions, we gave in and took her down to the clinic to be spayed shortly after she’d become a member of the family.At this point we all estimated that Tiger was about 3-4 months old.
At home, I received a phone call from the vet."Could you remind me of what Tiger-Lilly is here for,” he asked. I replied that she was there to be spayed. "That’s what I thought, but in spite of her immature size and stature, it appears that Tiger had already been spayed and from the looks of it, she is about a year old,” he said, and sent her home to recuperate.
Tiger Lilly moved with me and my Australian Shepard DeeDee to live in Malibu lake when I resumed my college education at UCLA, and made the adaptation to this new home where she could freely roam the woods and reenter the house through a small flap that I had cut in the screen in the window beside my bed.
She was content with her friend and they both made an excellent adaptation when I moved with Ted into Beverly Hills to be closer to school and work.Tiger had lived with me at the ranch, had survived bobcats, coyotes, hawks and owls, and she’d made a rapid adjustment when I moved with Ted to the city in both our first and second apartments.
Then, one day she was suddenly lost.
All during the first night DeeDee paced back and forth looking out the front window while I laid awake, going out in my robe and slippers to look for my tiny girl every hour, but still no Tiger. She was such a clever cat, looking first in one direction and then the other before crossing a street. How could anything happen to her? The next morning over coffee, Ted and I fretted. I wondered if she curled up in the gardener’s back seat and didn’t wake up before he drove away to God knows where. We wondered if she could possibly find her way home.
Ted was consoling, helpful, and kind and made posters and nailed them up all over the neighborhood, in case someone had seen or heard her. The landlord was away for the week, so there was no way to get the gardener’s phone number to inquire about which route he’d taken after he'd left our place. Three days went by and we still called out for her, walking the neighborhood endlessly with DeeDee.
We received calls from several people as far away as La Cienega Boulevard, a good mile East of us. All were convinced that they’d seen and heard a very small, grey tabby cat, walking westward. They described her as tired and drawn, but not accepting any offers of food, shelter or water. Could this be our lass attempting to come home? On the third night after her disappearance, I awoke to a very weak meow at the front door, and I ran barefoot to open it. There she was, so thin and wan, happy for me to pick her up and hold her in my warm arms and still purring.
Ted and DeeDee were right beside me as soon as they heard the door close. We sat on the floor with Tiger on her mat in the kitchen as she drank water and warm milk, little by little over what seemed like a long stretch of time. She ate a bit of tuna and nibbled at her favorite kibble, with little strength for chewing either one for very long.
DeeDee stretched out beside her, and when Tiger had finished eating and drinking as much as she could, she curled up against her big fluffy friend and finally went to sleep, once again in the safety of her own home. How Tiger Lilly had found her way back to us was the stuff of children’s story books, a collie named Lassie, or a War Horse, but we’d never heard stories of a cat finding its way home through heavy city traffic over a long distance.
Tiger went on to live a long life after that, unlike our DeeDee who passed away at age fifteen, leaving the three of us brokenhearted the year before our next move.Tiger made it with us to our first condominium on the top floor of a four-story building, just southwest of UCLA. Living in a penthouse left no opportunity for her to continue her in-and-out lifestyle, but in her older years she enjoyed the safety and serenity of her garden of boxed geraniums edging the curved front balcony where she loved to lie on a cushioned chair and watch the birds fly by. When her time came, we humanely had her euthanized before she could suffer from the kidney failure that almost always ends a cat’s life. She was twenty when we laid her to rest alongside her friend DeeDee and my first broodmare Divinity beneath a wide oak tree on a friend's farm.
Compared to these unbidden memories of loss, I certainly can’t complain about rainy days in Paris.
After all, I haven’t yet been able to bring myself to write about my most recent losses and those still to come in the near future.
Maybe sometime later.