Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Celebrating Sugar Plum

Happy Solstice! Normally I would be writing a post about it, but today is a very special day in my little fur-family, so I'm wholly focused on that (and eating the fudge that animal lovers Bill and Stephanie Keaton sent me).

Indulge me for a brief moment while I muse on a day long ago....

The black cat legacy began in 1989. My orange tabby, Sweetheart, died that year, and I was so grief-stricken without her, my teenaged daughter took it upon herself to comfort me by giving me a kitten—a tiny, mewling, big-eared goofy looking, fluffy, black kitten. "I picked the runt," my daughter said. "I knew that's the one you'd want." She does know me very well.

We christened her (the cat, not my daughter) Calpurnia. (That would be the Calpurnia from To Kill a Mockingbird, not Shakespeare's Calpurnia from Julius Ceasar.) She grew into a dainty little princess who slept on my bed at night. A few years later, along came the mini-panther, Boo (who has been written about extensively, both here and in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book). Suffice it to say, he was black as well.

Fast forward to 2006, the year Calpurnia died. Again I found myself grieving for the little dragon who would rule the bed at night with her teeth and claws, making sure Boo understood that his role was to guard my feet. As mean as she was to him at times, though, he missed her.

Which brings us to today's celebration.

Ten years ago (good grief, seriously? a decade?!?) I walked into the Petsmart in Upland and asked if they had "any black cats." I was directed to the tiny Plexiglas condos where the rescue group, H.O.P.E., kept kitties who were available for adoption on display. There was one black cat, a female... who looked like she'd been the runt of the litter.  She was stunted, with short little legs, and she was missing about two-thirds of her tail. (No, she wasn't born that way. Yes, there are people that cruel. Enough said on this happy post.)

At that point, the nice cat ladies at H.O.P.E. had been trying to find a home for her for a year. She and her kittens had been rescued from the street by a good Samaritan and handed over to H.O.P.E. Her two beautiful daughters had been adopted, but no one wanted the not-so-friendly mama who was still very touchous about anyone petting her near her tail.

"She'll bite you," they warned me.

"I'll take her!" I told them. "What's her name?"

"Sugar Plum," they said.

Oh good heavens. Who names a ferocious little black cat "Sugar Plum"? That's the stupidest name for a cat ever (except maybe Marshmallow for a white cat).

(My grandson, Ben, with his cat, Marshmallow... about 1998.)

I didn't say that to the nice cat ladies. I said, "Where do I sign?" and I took that little cat home.

The first night, she jumped right up on the bed, like she knew this was her place, and I sat musing about what to name her. That musing continued on for days. See, she was supposed to be "Scout." That would've been perfect, right? Following the To Kill a Mockingbird theme, she was a tough little girl. But my best buddy Doug had a cat named Scout already, and since he and I spent most of our time talking about our cats, it just would've been confusing. And so poor little Sugar Plum—now "Sug" or "Sugie" or "Black Devil Cat" (to Sgt. Thomas Tibbs)—was never renamed.

For years, she slept at the foot of the bed, and Boo slept on my chest or curled into my armpit.

And then Boo died. (Enough said and forgive me while I type really fast to get past this part.) And Sug began sleeping under the covers, curled into my side. Of course, by then we had moved to Mt. Baldy, and it was very cold at night from, say, October to, say, June. The longer we lived on the mountain, the more I realized how important it was that Sug had lived as a street thug prior to her life with me. It saved her life on at least one occasion. She faced down bears at the French doors. Chased raccoons off the back deck. And leaped high into trees when suddenly chased by the neighborhood Golden Retriever. Her favorite game when we lived there was to sneak down to the basement at night, scoop up a mouse in her jaws, carry it carefully up three flights of stairs to the loft where we slept, then let it go so she could chase it around the room. At midnight.

(Where she ended up after T.J. chased her.)

I've gotta say, I think she really missed that game when we moved back down the mountain.

Imagine: This little six-pound cat has lived somewhere on the street in Upland, in a tiny condo at Petsmart for many, many months, in a three-bedroom house in Rancho Cucamonga, in a 1600-square-foot cabin in Mt. Baldy, in another three-bedroom house in Ontario, and now here in Calimesa, where she is the smallest of my fur children and definitely the one in charge. We call her "the dowager queen," as she is aging but still has all power. In fact, on January 9 (a very special birth date in my extended family), she will be twelve years old.

Sug still plays. She loves her catnip mousies (which, to her small frame, are more like ratties). She also loves strings, ribbons, rubber bands, plastic bracelets and any paper I place on the table near her cat grass. She tells me what time to get up (4:00a.m.), what time to go to bed (8:00p.m.) and when to plug in her water fountain (every waking hour). She doesn't love her sister much (poor Purrl!) and she really hates having a dog in the house (especially after being chased and treed by T.J.), but she tolerates all this nonsense because she knows that twice a day—naptime and bedtime—I will lie down on the bed and she will assume her rightful place, purring me to sleep.

I have absolutely no doubt that when Sug decides she's had enough of this crazy world, Purrl will take over the queen's role. For now, though—and I hope for a very long time—things remain status quo. Cats are great friends. And black cats have always—always—brought me good luck in the form of love and companionship.

And as a further note here, I have to mention how proud I am of my grandchildren, two of which have recently adopted cats—black, of course. That's the way we roll in this family.

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