I was talking to my son the other day about the Siamese cats in The Cat Who books who almost sound like they are talking to people. Our former vet (who has since passed on) told us one time that our cat, Zorro, was most likely part Siamese because of how he spoke to us as he walked down the driveway to our old house, as well as some other physical attributes. I mentioned this tidbit of information to The Boy who said, “Oh! That reminds me, Grandpa thinks we found Zorro in the barn the other day.”
My expression froze, and my mouth dropped open.
You see, Zorro has been dead for anywhere from 12 to 15 years. That’s right. I don’t know how many years because I can’t remember when he died. Isn’t that awful?
The Boy’s eyes got big, and he literally gulped. “Um…I shouldn’t have said anything.”
My chest tightened and I felt tears pricking my eyes, though I don’t know why. I knew Zorro was gone, but it was still hard for me to imagine the cat I had from junior high until after I was married at 25, lying dead in the barn.
“Grandpa would have told me eventually,” I said.
“Probably not,” The Boy said with a shrug. “We found him last week. He was all curled up behind a dresser like he’d just gone to sleep.”
This revelation prompted me to call my mom because suddenly I couldn’t remember what happened to Zorro. In my head, he had been put to sleep after a kidney infection, but then I realized I must have been wrong. I felt awful that I didn’t remember how one of my favorite cats ever had died. Zorro had such an amazing personality. My mom is allergic to cats so she could never pet him or have him inside, but she talked to him in a sweet voice, and he talked back to her. He also rolled over as she was talking to him, just like she was petting him. It was as if he understood she wanted to pet him but would itch all over if she did.
When I called Mom, she realized she couldn’t remember what happened to Zorro either. After discussing it, with Dad offering his memories in the background, we concluded that Zorro had wandered off to pass away. He was quite old, over 15 years old, maybe close to 20, and had been having kidney issues for a long time. Dad blames himself for him wandering off, says he didn’t get him to the vet for his kidney issues, but I think Dad’s memory is off because thinking back, I do remember Dad taking him to the vet after I had moved out and was living with my husband. Zorro was on antibiotics and a special cat food for many years before he passed away.
After we brainstormed on what had happened to Zorro, we realized we couldn’t remember what had happened to our other cat, Leonardo, either. I named Leo after Leonardo DiCaprio. It was the around the same time the movie Romeo and Juliet with DiCaprio and Claire Danes came out. I was home from college one weekend when he arrived, if I remember right.
I picked out his name, despite the very vocal protest of my mom, who said she would never go out on that porch and call “Leonardo!” across the valley when it was time for him to be fed. The joke was on her. She totally did that, more than once, over the next decade, that cat was alive. She did it often the time he went missing for a week and we all figured he’d been hit by a car or chopped up in the hay baler when the neighbor cut down the hay in my grandma’s fields (we had moved in with my grandmother by that time). He hadn’t been killed, but instead had been trapped in the grain shed.
When my dad opened the door and he wandered out, he was about 10 pounds lighter (he was a fat cat before that) and my parents didn’t think it was him until he came to the patio door and stretched his full body up the door like he always did when he wanted to be fed.
My grandmother, who was in her late 80s at the time, was the only one who could pet Leo. Not only could she pet him but she could practically cuddle him while he laid across her lap. Mom said it was because the rest of us moved too much and Grandma simply sat still, which wasn’t usual for her either. My grandmother was on the move almost up until the day she died.
Leo did eventually wander off and pass away, as far as any of us know, much like Zorro had. The only cat we remembered being put to sleep after she became quite old (close to 20) and sick was Four, who I left with my parents after I got married. She was a rescue from my mother-in-law’s cat and flea infested home and had an orange four in her fur on her forehead.
Of course, I remember other cats we had in the past. We had a lot of cats over the years because there was a non-working chicken coup behind our house and I’m imagining people passing by thought it was a barn because they would often toss cats out near our property. There is a common misconception that cats can simply go live at a farm, but guess what? The farmer has to feed the cats along with every other animal, so it’s really not like the children’s books which suggest that barn cats are beneficial because they catch the mice in the barn.
The first cat I remember was a cat whose name I can’t remember. I was very young when we had him, but I remember he couldn’t meow. When he tried to meow, it came out as a whispered gasp. He got stuck in our burn barrel one day and I happened to hear his gasp and found a board to slide in so he could climb out. I’m guessing he fell in looking for old chicken bones. For the city-folk who read my blog, a burn barrel is a barrel where rural folk burn their trash (papers only please and thank you. Anything else and it starts to stink. We did burn chicken bones in there because otherwise we had to throw them out in with the food waste and cats or other animals would eat the chicken bones and possibly choke.)
The next pair of cats I remember is Morris and Marvin. They were brothers and I named Morris because he looked like the cat on the 9-Lives boxes. They were both orange cats and I have no idea how they ended up at our house. They used to sit on either side of our front door, like bookends, waiting for us when we came home.
Sadly, Morris was killed by a car and not long later, Marvin was hit by another one. We lived along a major highway so we lost a lot of cats this way. We really liked Marvin and wanted to save his life so my mom, who I mentioned is allergic to cats, rushed Marvin to our local vet. Our local vet said the cat needed surgery and suggested he either be put down or my mom drive him 30 miles to the animal hospital. Mom drove that cat 30 miles, crying most of the way while he cried in pain, scratching her face because he was itching.
Surgery was done, a $300 bill was wracked up (we were told never to tell my grandmother of this bill because in her day, which was during the Great Depression, they would never spend that kind of money on a cat. They drowned kittens in the creek to keep from having to feed them), and in the end Marvin passed away at our home anyhow. It was so heartbreaking, but Mom made a gallant effort for him, forever driving from our mind the idea that she wasn’t a fan of cats. She loves cats. She simply can’t be around them because of the allergy.
After Marvin and Morris, I remember Cleo, who I named because she looked like the cats in Egyptian hieroglyphics. Cleo came to us with another cat, who we didn’t name, and both of them were pregnant. They both also gave birth in our basement at the same time and we had 12-15 kittens then to give away. The kitten we didn’t give away, who we somehow fell in love with, was Zorro.
I should mention, as well, that Zorro was one of three black cats I have owned in my lifetime. The second black cat was my husband’s before I married him and we had her until she was 19-years-old. The third black cat is our current cat, Pixel. Have they brought us bad luck? I don’t believe so. We’ve had bad and good experiences throughout our lives, like anyone else.
I still hate the idea of Zorro cat dying alone in the barn, but it was one of his favorite places to hide out and it was probably how he wanted to go — alone and quiet, curling up and then drifting off to sleep.
Isn’t it weird that after all these years of him being gone, that I teared up when I wrote that previous sentence? Our pets stay with us for only a short time, but our memories of them last our lifetime.