The naming of cats is a difficult matter,
It isn't just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
(What IS it with cats and bags?)
When Sugar Plum died in May, I started chanting "I don't want another cat." I said it when my beloved little ginger cat, Sweetheart, died in 1988. But my daughter gifted me with Calpurnia anyway. And Cal was enough; I never wanted to bring Boo home, but what else could I do? It was a matter of life or death for him. I said it again when Boo died and it was just me and Sug alone together way up there in the wilderness in Mt. Baldy... but then came Purrl. I tried not to take Purrl, but no one else would and she desperately needed a home. When Sug was gone, I thought it would be enough for Purrl to hang with her best buddy Thomas, but she cried and cried for Sug, going to the door and emitting the most piteous cries of grief.
And so, two weeks ago, I sent up a quick request to Sug and the Universe to guide me, then headed out to Friends of Upland AnimalShelter because the word was out via social media that the shelter had been inundated with kitties. Specifically black kitties, still the hardest to place. (Why?? Who would not want a beautiful mini-panther running around the house?)
I took a stroll through the dog kennels (just to see who was there), came back out to the hallway, saw a little black female cat in a cage, talked to her for about five minutes, took her picture, and told her I'd be right back. The name on her kennel card was Jenny. I made a polite but cursory examination of the other kitties in the cat room, then went up front and told them I wanted to adopt Jenny. (We did do a mandatory "meet & greet" that lasted less than five minutes as she promptly ran and hid under the bench where I was sitting. "I'll take her!" I told the very helpful employee. Twenty minutes later she was in my cat carrier, and we were on our way home.
Despite having a list of cute names all prepared to try on her, "Jenny" stuck because, when I sent my kids her photo, they loved her name. How could I change it? She is "Jenny" when I'm calling her, looking for her all over the house because she's small enough to fit in tiny places. "Jenny-fur" if she has done something naughty like knocking all my pencils off the drafting table or jumping up on the kitchen counter. "The Little Minion" to Thomas, who is still anxious around her, expecting to be swatted or swiped at—because that's what Sug would do. By the time she is old and fat I will no doubt be calling her "Jen" or "Mini" or some other diminutive.
She is "Jennyanydots," of course, when she is being a Gumbie Cat—as described by T.S. Eliot in his delightful book of poetry, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats:
I have a Gumbie Cat in mind, her name is Jennyanydots;
The curtain-cord she likes to wind, and tie it into sailor-knots.
(She definitely has a sense of humor.)
How I knew that Sugar Plum picked her out:
1. The first thing I noticed about her was her long beautiful tail. In my morning meditations, Sug has, on several occasions, reminded me that while she is no longer with me to hold my paw in life, she is quite happy where she is, and she has her whole tail back again. Jenny's is quite lovely.
2. On the second day after I brought her home, I opened the bathroom door (where she was confined for the first few days until Purrl could get over telling her in profanity-laced language to "get out of the house") to find her curled up and sleeping in the sink. One of my favorite pictures of Sug shows her curled nicely in my bathroom sink.
(Sug not Jenny)
(Definitely Jenny; see the tail?)
3. On the first day she was allowed to explore the whole house, all doors open, I was making dinner, listening with one ear to the rustle and bump noises a new cat makes when squeezing in and out of spaces, when I heard a particular sound that froze me in my tracks. We are all aware that a certain sound, just like a certain scent, can evoke deep and vivid memories. On this day, for me, it was the sound of a small, hard rubber ball bouncing on the laminate flooring. I hadn't heard that sound in nearly a year. When I did, I had to stop what I was doing and grab a tissue. Somewhere in the den, way back behind my big writing desk, Jenny had found Sug's ball. It was Sugar Plum's favorite toy. When I lived on the mountain, I would often go up to the loft to read or write. Sug would follow me up, and as I sat on the bed and tried to focus on the material at hand, she would chase that little ball around the room, her stubby little legs pumping, her claws scratching their way across the slippery surface. It was a happy sound.
4. Jenny played with the ball until she finally chased it under the couch. (I had to move all the furniture the next day to retrieve it, but I needed to vacuum under there anyway.) Later that night when it was time for all of us to go to bed, I found my new cat in the den, sprawled across the top of the writing desk (just like Sug used to do), her long tail swishing back and forth across the photos of Sug I've placed there so I can still keep her close when I'm writing. "Jenny," I said. She winked at me.
So here is yet another 'extra add on' cat in my life. Each one I've brought home has had a specific role to play. Calpurnia was my constant snuggler in the horrible year that I got divorced (for the second time) and also navigated through a bout with cancer. Boo was my comfort when Cal passed, just as Sug was my comfort when Boo passed. Purrl came only months before Thomas arrived, but she has only ever offered him comfort, as she offered it to me when Sug died. Since Purrl is only five and Jenny is two, they have the next decade or so to become close friends. I hope they do. Because I don't want another cat.