That Darn Cat!

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That Darn Cat! Hayley Mills starred in the 1965 Disney classic movie of that name. I remember going as a seven-year-old with the neighborhood kids, my mom and another mom, all of us piled into one station wagon, no buckling in back then, sliding into each other as we drove, laughing and full of excitement. In the movie, Mills straps her watch with a message on it onto that darn cat to get word out successfully that she has been kidnapped. The cat saves the day! Am I asking too much of my father-in-law’s semi-feral cat to do likewise?

My husband and I live with his father who is elderly and has dementia. His dementia has resulted in little short-term memory, repetitive actions, and an inability to connect the dots of what’s happening around him. For instance, he’ll go to the front door, calling for the cat he just petted on the staircase. We want him to live out his years, 86 so far, in the quaint, beachside house he loves. The home he bought with his late wife in the mid-1960s. To do so, we know we are entering his world and have to accept the things Tom Sr loves, even those we don’t.

Chief among the don’ts is his darn cat.

The black and white cat is a semi-feral one, descended from the semi-feral cat before him, and no doubt, the one before that one. In this house and this part of town, the drum beats to a rhythm of come-as-you-are and come-and-go-as-you-please. It’s a good time in my life to adopt this lifestyle. I’ve slowed down and am no longer the persnickety person I once was, thank goodness. This semi-feral cat could be the poster child for this laidback way of life, with a tinge of my-way-or-the-highway attitude thrown in.

Tom Sr calls the cat Max, but I suspect Maxine might be the more fitting name. True to form, Max is more comfortable outside than in, regardless of the weather. He is demonstrably not a cuddler. He trusts Tom Sr completely and seems to be coming around, albeit cautiously, to my husband and me. Max doesn’t bite and doesn’t scratch. At worst he’ll give a hiss that lets me know, he doesn’t want to be pet or held, and lady, you better just let me out. I abide.

Early on, we realized Tom Sr calls the cat in each night and the pair snooze nearly side by side. To keep Tom healthy, it follows, we must keep Max healthy too. As the hand that feeds who sets out daily bowls of cat food, I have earned some access to Max. As such, I took on the duty of capturing the feline for monthly doses of flea and tick prevention and, with the help of a visiting vet, the annual rabies shot. It’s a game of finesse, luring Max in and working quickly to dab the potion between his shoulders or poke him with the needle. He runs for his life when it’s all said and done, but eventually returns to resume his whim of a routine.

Where things get sticky is the cat’s coming in at night. If he were a teenager, he’d be grounded. Boy, I’d give him an earful. But that’s not an option. My father-in-law is in and out of bed throughout the night. (Thank you, dementia.) Particularly when he is not sure the cat is in. He goes to the front door and calls out “Kitty! Kitty! Kitty!” into the frigid night air. When the cat does not respond, he leaves the door open, slightly, so the cat can come in at some later point. My father-in-law is a generous, loving soul. He is unable to connect that he is also freezing the house out. (Again, thank you, dementia.)

Unlike my husband who heads to the office each morning, I work from home with a flexible daytime schedule and therefore am the best candidate for securing the left-open door, at all hours. This responsibility is self-imposed, my husband would prefer I just go to sleep and we’ll deal with it in the morning. Seems I am still a bit persnickety.

If only this cat, like Hayley Mills’ cat, would wear a watch. In my reverie, I imagine the watch alarm sounding nightly at 9:00 pm. Wherever he is, whatever he’s doing, the cat stops and marches straight to the house like the Pavlov dog I long for him to be. In sync, I go to the front door, behold the cat, and let him in. Dutifully, he heads up to my father-in-law’s bedroom for the night. A slight nod of acknowledgment as he passes by would be nice but I know I’m asking for too much. I have gotten what I want - his furry little butt is in the house. I can lock up and go to bed in peace.

But That Darn Cat! was a movie with scripted actions and retakes. With our darn cat, it’s real life. Happening as it happens.

So I hit the hay each night listening for Tom Sr’s shuffle, the creak of the front door, and his call Kitty! Kitty! Kitty! In response, I get out of bed, slink down the stairs, and remedy the situation. Some nights, I get lucky. The cat has come in. In which case, I close and lock the door and, to divert Tom Sr’s nightly routine, post a large hand-written sign that reads, “The cat is upstairs!”

On these nights, the promise of eight-straight is real. And my sleep is made sweeter by the sound of Tom Sr’s sing-song voice whispering, “I love Max, I love my Max” as he pets his soft fur. Followed, I know, by a barely audible low, long purr. Then, at last, the solitary click off of the last light on in the house. We have warmth, we have peace, we have each other.


About the Author, Ann Lukegord  ~

After decades of seemingly rushing around the planet to be where and who I thought I needed to be, I have finally put my feet up and settled down with my husband Tom in the Gloucester MA village of Lanesville. Along the way, I’ve spent my years skiing in Colorado, running a restaurant in Oregon, writing for a Massachusetts governor, pitching Boston and environs as a destination to Hollywood producers, working with the press at the JFK Library, and teaching high school English. My favorite role has been that of aunt to a niece and two nephews, a role that has happily expanded to stepmother, daughter-in-law, and grandmother.




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