Cats, specifically, black ones

There is at this time nothing new on the ferry, except that the county put out a press release saying that on the 26 th of this month the ferry and crew will practice docking in Fairhaven, a voyage of over an hour through notoriously rough water.  On such a trip it could only carry 10 cars (in contrast to over 20 on its present 5 minute run to Gooseberry Point.)  The press release said this will happen “weather permitting.”

The warning “weather permitting” has implications for things like getting children to school, medical emergencies, power failures (which are frequent on the island) fuel deliveries, garbage removal, and so on.

Since I have nothing new on the ferry I thought of writing about recent world news:  the earthquake in Haiti, the election in Massachusetts, the Supreme Court ruling on corporate campaign spending.  But those things are so depressing to think about that when I finish I might have to plunge off the end of the ferry dock into the icy waters of Hales Passage.  Best not risk it.

So instead I am reminiscing about cats, especially black cats.

I have had a cat or cats all of my life, and I have had one or more black cats for about 25 years.   When I returned to the US from Germany in the 70’s I got a cat from the pound, not black, but striped (wild type).  I called her Maxine, after Max Planck, because in Germany I worked for the Max Planck Institute.  When I moved to Atlanta Maxine moved with me.  Soon my new husband and I got another cat, this time black with white paws, white paws with a number of extra toes (polydactyly.)  This cat we named Widetrack.  Maxine and Widetrack coexisted, though Maxine never really took to Widetrack.  He was rambunctious and often caused her to get huffy.  Widetrack died young, and my husband, who really loved him, cried.

About 1985 I acquired an all black cat.  I called her Blanch.  This was the most engaging cat I have ever had.  Maxine adored her.  They would lie lazily together, licking and nuzzling each other.  Blanche liked to play fetch.  Her favorite toy was a ball of aluminum foil which I would throw for her and she would run after, pounce on, and trot back to drop it at my feet so I would throw it again.  She also like to play tug of war with a bit of string.

Blanche was a good hunter.  From time to time I would see her with a squirrel or chipmunk in her mouth.  She didn’t bring them in; she ate them.  I suppose that is what killed her.  I think she got one that had been poisoned.

I mourned Blanch for a long time.  We moved to a house in the woods and one day in mid winter I found a tiny black kitten at the end of my driveway.  I have no idea how it got there; I suppose someone abandoned it.

It took me a week to catch it.  I worried about it because it was bitterly cold.  I put food out for it several times a day, and in the end got close enough to grab it.  I thought she was tiny because she was very young, but she hardly grew.   She never got a real name, but was always called Little Black.  Maxine hated Little Black from the beginning.  By this time Maxine was getting on in years.  I guess she was about 14.  The cats pretty much lived in our bedroom, which occupied the top floor of a 3 level house.  It was a big room with a balcony porch.

Maxine liked to spend her days on the balcony.  At first I put food there for her, but had to stop when it began attracting raccoons.  There were a lot of raccoons in those woods.  Our next door neighbor, the wife of a federal judge, used to feed them.  She thought they didn’t look sufficiently healthy so she started mixing worm medicine with the food she gave them.  They grew to be muscular and sleek, their fur was bushy and their eyes bright.

Every night a little cat ritual took place when I let Maxine in from the balcony (to avoid confrontations with raccoons.)  Little Black, who mostly stayed inside, would watch for signs that I was about to open the door for Maxine.  Then she would crouch in the corner behind the door, ready to pounce.  When I opened the door Maxine would hesitate nervously, then make a little dash for the inside.  Little Black always nailed her, and a little hissy cat spat would follow.

Maxine died at 17.  When we moved out west Little Black went with us.  She was so traumatized by the airplane trip that after we arrived at our new house she hid under the bed and stayed for a month.  I put a litter box and food for her there.  After about a week she started coming out at night and getting on our bed, but as soon as day broke she went back under.

Little black was the smallest adult cat I have ever seen.  When she was 10 years old people still asked me if she was a kitten.  She was a sweet pet, and got on well with our dog, a little white mutt named Zute.  One day she was sleeping curled up on my bed.  When I tried to pick her up I found she was dead.

I wanted to have a little black cat.  My lawyer daughter had taken in a feral cat, which had kittens despite my offer to pay for the cat to be spayed.  Two of the kittens were black.  Their hair was rather long, but in other ways they seemed like Little Black.  So I took both, thinking that if they were brought up together they would like each other.  At first they played, as kittens will, but as they grew – and grew – and grew – they became increasingly hostile to each other.   Ah, yes, their names:  Abelard and Heloise.  When I was married to a philosophy professor we were in the habit of naming our numerous pets after philosophers, and I always intended to get around to Abelard and Heloise.

Well, they grew.  They became enormous.  And their long fur made them look even bigger.  They were the biggest cats I have ever owned.  And they fought.



When they were kittens I took them to the vet to get their shots and be neutered. He advised me to keep them indoors.  I lived in suburbia at that time, and so I kept them in.  When I moved to a tiny house in the woods on the island keeping them inside was much more difficult, and they constantly yearned to be out.  One day a friend said to me, “Open the door, Anne, and let them out.”

Their personalities were quite different.  Abelard was feisty and playful and smart.  Some of my friends were scared of him.  Heloise was docile and timid.  Both of them were good hunters despite not being outside a house until they were 4 years old.



As they matured Abelard became a roamer, and spent half the night out tom catting (though he had no more equipment than his namesake), while Heloise just grew lazy and too fat to jump on anything higher than the bed.  Abelard usually came in through the window of my loft bedroom at about 2:30 or 3 in the morning.  He patrolled the rooftops.  He died about 4 years ago.  He had had several undiagnosable illnesses (“fever of unknown origin” according to the gigantic vet bill.)  Although he recovered, I never thought he looked really well again.  He disappeared when I was in England to the dismay of the cat sitter.  I never saw him again.

Heloise is still with me.  She is fat, but still able to jump on the bed.  I sleep sandwiched between her and Jerry.  There is not much room in the bed for me.

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9 Responses to Cats, specifically, black ones

  1. Kay Dennison says:

    Beautiful cats and I love their names!!!!

  2. I grew up with a big fat Siamese cat. Later I had a big black cat too. I haven’t, however, had a cat since my early twenties. It’s not safe to keep them where I live now … the bobcats, mountain lions and coyotes gobble them up. My neighbors had one that they tried to always keep indoors, but it got out one day and was never seen again. It’s not a safe neighborhood for cats!

  3. pauline says:

    I have just discovered your site through a comment you left (though now I can’t remember where) and am entranced with your stories. So glad you are writing them down and sharing them.

    We once had a black cat named Robespierre as he initiated a reign of terror in our house and a small striped cat named Roger (after a storybook mouse) even though he turned out to be female. Now I have Parker, a lovey-dovey Maine Coon cat that prefers being petted to anything else in life.

    I’ll be interested in the outcome of the ferry saga.

  4. Rain says:

    Your cats sound delightful. I currently have a long haired black male that looks like Heloise. We have two black cats at the moment, one short-haired. BB and Blackie get along with minor swatting spats and mostly a tolerance which tends to be the way of cats, I think. Both came as strays. I am in the mood to get a third although we did find having two was convenient when we traveled to Arizona last time and took them. Still I have usually had three or more and feel three is about right. BB, the long hair, is getting a lot of white in his muzzle, very distinguished but it reminds me he is getting old.

  5. Hattie says:

    So many cats have come and gone in my life. We also lived in Germany in the early 70’s and had a cat named Toni Maxine! Her mother was a Swiss barn cat.
    Our current cat, Freddie, is very vocal and a great hunter of rats and mice.

  6. Mage B says:

    I delight in cats, and I am charmed by this tail. I miss all my cats so much.

  7. wisewebwoman says:

    I had a huge black cat called Walter after Walter Matheau the actor. He grew up with our dogs so was positively canine in his behaviour. Came when called and went for walks with the dogs, much to the astonishment of people passing by.
    His best friend was a German Shepherd who lived two doors down and they would roll over each other on the lawn and lick each other senseless.
    If I didn’t bring his food fast enough he would cuff me in the legs.
    I miss him to this day. And I’m not a cat person, I prefer dogs. I called him my “Biker Boy”.
    Heloise looks so like him.

  8. Tessa says:

    Like you, Anne, I can’t imagine living without a cat. Which is surprising, because I grew up with working red setters, in a household of cat-haters. It was a huge revelation to me to discover they were such good company, when I found myself sharing an apartment in Birmingham, England, with three of them (and their owner/staff).

    When we first came to Canada, my son and I adopted a black cat and we called her Jesse Owens, because she was very fast. It was a toss-up between that and Amelia Earhart, because of her habit of taking off and disappearing. (What can I say? My son had a weird sense of humour from a very early age.)

    Jesse, who loved to roam outdoors, died when she was 12 years old and was succeeded by Lucy. (My son had moved out by then, so no more weird names!) She’s a tabby, very beautiful, quite fat and not at all friendly, although she likes to lie on me and knead any soft bits, every time I sit down. I never allow her outdoors, because I believe that is what shortened Jesse’s life. Sometimes I wonder if it’s cruel, but she seems quite happy, as long as she can sit out on the deck in the sun and hurl abuse at the squirrels.

  9. annie says:

    I once again have 2 cats, after several years without. I love cats, and dogs. I found a small feral kitten that I took in. I called her little Bear. She was black. I loved her but she was so sick and small probably only 4 weeks, even though I nursed her to health she died at about 7 months from FIP. That was my black cat. Thank you for your delightful stories.

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