CATS IN MY WRITING LIFE
Mornings are quieter as I write, sitting on the glider. The geese are gone. They left on schedule the first week of August. I miss their chatter as I put out their cracked corn and their contented hum as they waddle back to the pond. The egret still comes, and the heron, but the birds seem fewer, and for the first time, a yellow finch is on the thistle feeder. Fall is coming.
And there goes Janet picking her way across the stone wall. Janet, the traitor. For awhile, I thought she was our cat. She’d still like us to think so. But I took a walk last winter and there she was, sitting in a window, washing one paw, glancing at me as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. Her name isn’t even Janet. (I’m reminded of a wonderful picture book called SIX DINNER SID by Inga Moore.)
Cats! Wendy, my editor, wants to know why there’s a cat in almost all of my books. I’ve had cats forever, along with dogs, fish, canaries, parakeets, and hermit crabs. But three cats stand out. The first, Bonnie, appeared on my doorstep when my children were young. I gave her milk and told her to go home. She sat there for awhile, meowing pitifully, and then she disappeared. The boy next door told me that her family had moved to California and left her. Just left her!
I don’t remember the reward I offered, but everyone searched. Two days later, we opened the door for her, and she spent the next nineteen years with us, especially loving my daughter, Alice. Of course, Bonnie was pregnant; J.R. Fiddle was born a short time later. Feisty and fresh, he lived for nineteen years, too, ruling the roost with an iron paw; he slept on our bed, nipping at my toes if I disturbed his sleep, then giving me a quick apologetic lick.
Ah, then along came Jake. Coal black and beautiful, he wandered in one day, but J.R. wouldn’t have him. So we ordered a cat door for entry into the garage; we gave him a heated pillow in a big armchair, and Jake moved in. He followed me everywhere, my friend and my writing companion, and eventually lived in our house. When he died, I mourned for him, and buried him near the gazebo where I wrote.
So why cats in my books? I think it must be because cats have an undeserved reputation as non-lovers. I don’t want kids to believe that for a moment. I loved those cats, and they loved me. And I want to say, too, even more importantly, that we have a responsibility to all of the creatures that come along and grace us with their presence. I’m so grateful for that, thankful that so many have enriched my life.