Wednesday, March 14, 2012

End of an Era

It’s time to admit it…she’s gone. As mysteriously as she appeared all those years ago, she has now disappeared. I need to get beyond expecting to find her somewhere. She’s just gone. Gone, but not forgotten.

I guess I should begin at the beginning...

It wasn’t too long after we moved here on the hill that we saw her for the first time. A small, black cat was stealing a piece of buttered bread from the bucket of scraps for the chickens on the back porch. It didn’t matter to her that the homemade butter was way “past its prime” and someone had decided it wasn’t worth eating. No, this kitty was very pregnant and very hungry.

We saw her more often as it got closer to the time for the kittens. She became my little companion in the milking stall, waiting patiently for me to fill her small bowl with milk when I was finished my task. I learned that despite what you hear, or see in the movies, some cats do NOT like to be squirted with milk.

She became a permanent barn fixture and had her second batch of kittens INSIDE the stack of hay bales. Later, as they came out of their kitty nest, you could see their little eyes peering out curiously through the bales. As they became bigger, they tumbled out, playing endlessly as only kittens can. We kept a couple of the kittens to be barn kitties with their mom. A trip to the vet put an end to the “kitten factory”.

With kitten rearing behind her, Miss Kitty was a regular part of the farm team. She would follow me to any part of the garden and sit and “talk” while I worked. Sometimes she would complain, other times she would just “mert” in a contented way. If she got hot, she would lie down under the shade of the plants until I was finished, and then escort me to the next job. The girls often referred to her as the supervisor, because she would invariably show up for any outside job with some type of comment.

She outlived her offspring, and then became house cat for a while. In the midst of a very cold, snowy spell, she was bitten by something and both her eyes were swollen shut. The Boss took pity on her and she came inside.
She got used to it very quickly, and kept my feet warm on many a cold night. Actually, she kept everything warm. It was amazing how something so small could generate so much heat.

Eventually, she moved back outside; where she took charge of the barn once more. There never was a mouser like “mama-cat”.

She tolerated the arrival of Jed. They never quite bonded, but she didn’t seem to mind him. Ellie’s arrival was a different story. Apparently, Ellie had been taught that cats were the consummate evil, and she wanted to eat Miss Kitty. After I went all “alpha wolf” on Ellie (just one time) they quickly learned to co-exist. The appearance of Squeekie was another adjustment, but nothing that “mama-cat” couldn’t take in stride. When Squeekie had her kittens, Miss Kitty took over the role of tolerant granny cat. Although, she didn’t hesitate to swat a badly behaved youngster. In her twilight years, she was treated with near kindness by Ellie Mae.

The older she got, the more time she spent in the warmth and relative safety of the hoophouse. She would sleep in a little nest in an old hayfeeder in the barn, and then wander to the hoophouse for the sun after breakfast. It was unusual to walk in the hoophouse without her coming to greet me with her friendly little “mert” sound.

Fifteen years is a long time. It’s even longer if you’re talking about a barn cat. For some time, we have watched her failing health with the sad knowledge that “the time” was fast approaching. There was nothing that could be done…she was just an old, old cat. We could make her as comfortable as possible, grant her easy access to food, water and shelter…but, that was all.

Recently, she had become so frail and seemingly senile, I figured she would just fade away there in the hoophouse, and we would find her one morning. However, that was not to be…

Monday, she went missing. I have looked high and low, searched the farm from top to bottom. She is nowhere to be found. So, we assume she went off somewhere to die.

This makes me sad, sadder than I care to admit. While death on the farm is a given, and we even choose it for some of the animals, it is not without a great deal of consideration. In the case of the pets and breeding stock, the sense of loss is enormous.

I never had a pet for as long as the time Miss Kitty lived here on the farm. I never had an animal make it apparent that I was “its person”. “Mert” granted me a lot of comfort during some hard times here on the farm when she would show up at let me snuggle with her when things were going very, very wrong. …she had the softest fur ever…

While I never would have picked a small, pure black cat with one white whisker to be my special pet, I was touched by the companionship she so willingly offered me.

So long little furry friend…I really wish I knew what happened to you…I hope that we indeed did all we could to be good stewards.

It will be a long time before I go in the hoophouse without expecting to hear that little “mert” of greeting. And, the barn seems just a little emptier.

RIP Miss Kitty. You will be missed.

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