My Life In Cats, Part I: Kirby
When I was a little kid in Lemoore, we briefly had a dog named Max. Max was pretty much a playful, energetic mutt. Fun dog, hyperactive, and our neigborhood just could not contain him. On a regular basis he would escape our back yard and roam the streets. Soon, me and my friends were chasing Max around, trying, fruitlessly, to catch him. Max would let you catch him at a point of his choosing. Max was just too much too handle, and eventually my dad decided to take him out to a farm in the country. Yeah, I know what you're thinking. "Um, Jerry, that's just what your parents told you. He probably Old Yeller'ed Max." Thing is, I went with them to the farm to drop Max off. So unless my parents were part of a grand conspiracy to protect my already sad heart, Max lived the rest of his days happily frolicking on a farm. At least that's what I choose to believe.
That was when I was like 10 or something. For the next 6 or 7 years, our household was petless. I never really thought about having any sort of pets; I was fine being a surrogate to my friend Chad's cat, T.J.
And then Kirby came.
Kirby sort just showed up in our backyard. I'd give her some food. She'd eat and be on her way. This continued on and on until one day she was just "our" cat. When it was decided that this new addition needed a name, "Tony" and "Gwynn" were the obvious top contenders, seeing how that part of my life was devoted to Tony Gwynn worship. But that seemed a little too obvious, so I went with my second favorite player, Kirby Puckett.
I never thought of myself too much as a cat person, but I took to Kirby right away. Maybe it was because she liked to ignore me, a pattern with females which follows me to this day. Kirby was sort of a mean cat to everyone, especially the occasional gopher or bird that chose to cross her path. Everyone, that is, but my dad.
That, I will never understand. No matter how much I played with her, fed her treats, or pet her, she would not hang out or sleep anywhere near me. My dad, on the other hand, made it a point not to become attached to the cat (that would change), and was rewarded with a warm cat curled up at his feet in bed every night.
I think Kirby just had a long-term charm offensive strategy, because my dad would eventually come around. If Kirby didn't come home at night, my dad would pretty obviously get stressed out, going outside in his robe and yelling for her. It was actually really sweet. Don't get all emo on me.
I think my mom liked Kirby. I know for sure she liked to cuss Kirby out in German. "Out with the filthy cat!" was a favorite, but she never really meant it. But in 1989, my mom passed away. My sister and brothers had been out of the house for years at this point, so it was just me, dad, and Kirby. I was in my senior year and had college to think about. I didn't feel right leaving my dad, and I was probably scared to be alone myself, so I decided to attend a JC about two miles from home. After two years there, I probably could have transferred to almost any college I wanted, but man, I still couldn't fathom being away from my dad. So I moved to Fresno, went to Fresno State, came home almost every weekend, and that was that.
During this time, my dad and Kirby did some serious bonding. I missed living with that ungrateful beast. Kirby, not my dad. I mean I missed him to, dammit you know what I mean. My girlfriend at the time offered to get me a cat of my own, but I felt like I'd be "cheating" on Kirby. Eventually, I would adopt another stray in Fresno (that's part II, whenever I get around to it), but Kirby was still gato numero uno.
After college, I decided to stick around in Fresno. Back in Lemoore, my dad's health was getting worse, and who could blame him? My mom was gone, and in 1994 my brother Phil passed away. My dad was never one to show a whole lot of emotion, but by this point he had pretty much been emotionally devasted. It's pretty easy for me to believe that, alone in the house that since the early 70's had been home to love, loss, happiness, sadness, yelling, cops, fights, parties, drama, calm, but never utter silence, that Kirby was his daily reminder of what once was. I know my dad was depressed those last few years, but I think without Kirby it would have been much, much worse.
So, as if to prove their bond, as my dad's health deteriorated, so did Kirby's. By this time I had moved to San Diego for grad school, and my visits went from weekly to monthly. On one of my visits, Kirby had developed a large fleshy lump on his head. She was dizzy and could not walk straight. I had to leave before I could find out what was wrong with her, but I know after a visit to the vet she had disappeared. Since his memory was going, my dad began keeping a daily diary, in which he logged things as "Still no sign of Kirby". A few days later, the entry read, "Don (my sister's husband) found Kirby". Kirby had passed away. Don buried her in the back yard.