The One and Only, Phelicity Today

I am writing this in the summer of 2009 when Phelicity is 17 years old and doing very well, considering the health challenges she has. But this isn't about those, it is just about her.

To me, she's the most unique kitty that ever lived; though she's only a little, short, 6 to 7 pound muff of long silvery fur with nothing but a teeny tiny body to be found inside if you poked around hunting. She's also totally gorgeous, mystical, stubborn, somewhat less graceful than some, manipulative, angelic, loving, clingy, ultra-civilized, patient, forgiving, both wise and foolish, and the funniest thing I ever lived with. They truly broke the mold when they made her.

When she was a year old or less, and slept with her face crammed into my neck or shoulder, her purr was stupendous. She purred like a jackhammer. Her purr could shake the room. It was astonishing, one of the thousand things I 'll never forget. It was probably heard in the next county. Somehow by 17, the purr box was a little worn out; I'll never know how or why. Now it's a brave little ratta-tatta that I have to bend close to her to hear, like a toy whose battery was run almost out. But she still turns it on for me.

She is the best alarm clock ever invented. From her earliest days of crawling out from under the covers to greet me, to the insistent "aahooowwww"s by my bedside, to her later years of desperation tactics after I retired - such as patting my eyelids to make them open, the fluffy tail dustmopping my face, the cold wet nose on my nose, the sitting on my chest and begging petulantly, and most effective of all, the gagging sound of the hairball being deposited in my slipper.

She has the most innocent big blue eyes, to say "Who, me??" or "come here right now!" or she can bat them like the femme fatale she is. She has the longest whiskers I ever saw on a kitty, and the liveliest fluffy tail going "fwump fwump" most of the time, which, unlike most cats, doesn't mean she's displeased - not all the time, anyway. She just likes to fwump her tail.

She's put up with a lot from me, patiently if not silently, from my dancing around with her when she was young, to the baths and blow-dries, the travel, the moves, to my singing songs with made-up lyrics to her, to my inability to make long ribbons do what she wishes they'd do. And there's so much more to put up with these days, but she's still the same little super trooper.

And she's always been so funny. I guess I'd imagined that a pedigreed cat would be a serene little ornament of a cat. Not so, not for a minute. I had Eliza Doolittle hollering in the bathtub. I had a little race car crashing into the kitchen wall. I had an inexperienced Mouse Hunter getting stuck behind the microwave and scaring the mouse away with the clatter. I had an electrician and plumber's apprentice snooping in their tool boxes and belts. I had a hard-working seamstress who sat on the sewing machine to help me quilt and show me where the pillow ruffles went.

Her tastes were always unique. They run very little toward cat food or treats and much more to baby food meat, bread wrappers, tissue paper, plastic cleaner bags, packing tape, magazine pages, sewing patterns, curly paper ribbon, boxes, baskets and road maps. She was known to wrangle cupboard doors open to get herself in there and chomp on the roadmaps in times past. I have no idea how many of my lists of things to do she ate over the years. I do know I stopped making purses after she ate the pattern. And this was all in spite of my keeping a kitten-proof house all the years of her life - which was necessary - and giving up tinsel on Christmas trees forever on the her first Christmas. She would still throw up bits and pieces of things I had no idea where in the world she'd found. I would search the house for days trying to solve the mystery, and often never did. She even tried to eat tinfoil. Everything I owned that she could possibly get into her mouth was kept locked up, I swear it! But I would still catch her on the counter trying to eat the cinnamon bread wrapper or the tape off the Amazon box within seconds after I put it there. I have to move fast.

Only one thing was never allowed to proceed from in her mouth to swallowing. Pills. You've heard of cats that can't be pilled; well, meet the champ. Prying the little mouth open without getting wounded is only the first part. After wrapping her pretty much into a towel, that is, to avoid getting any blood (mine) on any fur (hers).Any tiny piece of pill I can pop in there, she can spit out ten ways from Sunday - pop in, spit out, pop in, urp out, while the pill gets smaller and wetter and eventually slimes away to nothing. I guarantee none of it went in her. Her medicines have to be a liquid, or crushable into a powder she Cannot Taste, or forget it. They won't be getting into her. So I've tried crushing pills into baby meat, butter, vitamin gel, broth and water, by syringe, by spoon, by finger, or by brute force. She outsmarts me every time. No, no pill popper thingie - the end of that thing is bigger than her tiny mouth, even when she's playing snapping turtle or drooling baby. Hide it in her food? She doesn't eat food, remember?

Actually, there is one kind of food she always wants; whatever smells good on my dinner plate. I eat on the couch, and she'll get up beside me to sniff my plate very closely and see if there's anything she wants. I'll share Thanksgiving dinner, steak strips, chicken, lamb, meatloaf (I've made it without any onion for years so she can have some), fish - anything she wants except pork. So of course pork is what she wants and begs for the most. I've solved that pretty well; I stopped eating pork. Stouffer's lasagne will bring her running, but I wouldn't let her have that, either.

So one evening I was eating the Stouffer's and got distracted, looked down, and she had her whole face in my dish, slurping away. I think it's the parmesan cheese, which she considers second only to catnip for heavenly smell. (Unless I sprinkle a bit on cat food to tempt her; then it's garbage.) Then there was the peanut butter episode. I was dining on peanut butter and crackers one night, and she was one inch away, very interested. So I held up the cracker to show her, just like I hold up a picture to show her sometimes. She licked the peanut butter right off of it. (Yes, I know. Try putting a pill in peanut butter. I'll remember that.)

Then there's hiding, one of her greatest gifts. No kitty could ever disappear like she can. From the day she discovered the empty boot box in the closet when she was 7, she's been on a quest for the most impossible, tiny, unreachable, unfathomable hidey places she can find. Long before she had any reason, like medicines and subcu fluids and syringe feeding, she had laid her groundwork as the champion escape artist of all time. Houdini had nothing on her. Inside a box in the porch. Smooshed into a 3 inch space on a box under a table. Under the bed, of course, in the one space of a few inches I'd neglected to block with boxes. Under the recliner. Under the daybed. Under a blanket on her old couch downstairs. Behind the tablecloth I protected the stereo speakers with. Sandwiched between the VCR and TV shelf. Behind the printer table sitting on the computer's phone connection she'd just pulled out. In a paper bag. And many other places I never discovered, from which she'll come meandering out just as I'm about to have a heart attack, looking very pleased with herself.

She jumped up on the ironing board (quilters always leave them up) or into windows or kitty seat or condo tops or curio cabinet top to nap, but any place in the house was fair game when she was younger. She did have to lower (literally) her destinations as she got older. When she was 9 or 10, she could get on top of the refrigerator. She's the only cat I ever had who I found looking down at me from the top of the refrigerator. We will not go into how she got there, but rather, how she got down. She hollered for me. No way was she foolish enough to take such a leap to the floor or to risk landing in the dish drainer, either. Holler for mom. In later years, she took to the top of a tall bookcase, but again, considering her options carefully, she hollered for me. Then it was the clothes dryer, a height that was nothing for her in her youth. But at 17 it's different. Get on clothes dryer, holler for mom.

She has triplicate (at least) everything - from water dishes to litter boxes. When I thought I might cut the litter boxes down to two, she informed me that no, she wants a powder room in every room. Okay. And she has enough toys for 20 kitties, plus having inherited everybody else's. But her favorite thing to chase (at present) is the safety pin that held "Da Bird" (feathers) on the cord from the wand. Never mind the bird feathers, she wanted the safety pin. She wanted ribbons tossed about by mom's sprained arm. She wanted a plastic tape measure dragged through the house. She wanted the tiny sparkle balls she'd lost and a pile of catnip on her scratch pads. But most of what she considers her fave toys have to be locked up like everything else so she doesn't eat them while I'm asleep.

She's very bossy, having learned as a kitten that she could get away with it, and a terrible nag - a very accomplished one, having been at it all her life. She starts early nagging me to come to bed, because she knows it's going to take a while. When she was younger, she got my attention (after the opening act bathtub hollering) by getting up on my dresser in the bedroom and calmly proceeding to knock little things off of it until something made a big enough splat that I came running. But at 17, she's less devoted to mischief and more to the point. Sit by me on the couch, bat her eyes at me, bump my arm with wet nose, pat my leg with paw, whine and nag. It's adorable. She gets so much loving that way, she'll usually lie down and take a nap until time to nag some more. She's so pleased when she gets me to bed that she'll walk back and forth over me, stand on my chest to communicate, and settle down to sleep. In the winter it's still under the covers.

She's been taking me on walks for years. Maybe it started when she noticed I was getting no exercise sitting at the computer, and she insisted I get up and walk with her across the kitchen, side trip into the bathroom comng back, over and over. Every evening she'll sit and turn the baby blues on me and it's time for a walk. As time goes on, the walks get shorter, sometimes they go around in circles, and sometimes she forgets where we were going, but she's never stopped. We walk anyway until she remembers. No matter how I limp or groan or sigh, we walk. Once or twice I've had to sit on the floor rather suddenly and explain to her about the usual length and time of walks. One destination point for ages was her brown paper grocery bag on the kitchen floor. Actually, we went through three bags, and I folded the edges in to keep her from eating them, but that bag laid on the floor for years while I explained to everyone who came in the house that it's Phelicity's bag and I dasn't move it.

I mentioned that she isn't big on cat food. When she was young, it was all fine, but when she got older and had little appetite, the counter demonstrations started. I put something expensive and yummy in her dish, she walks off in a huff because it wasn't a broiled lamb chop, and jumps onto the counter under the cat food cupboard. There she'll swish back and forth, sit and look at me reproachfully or, if she's really hungry, holler for me to come and get something better out of the cupboard. I take out a little can and show it to her. No, she doesn't want that one. (Did I mention that she can read?) Take out another little can, different color...would this be acceptable? If it is, she'll jump down and wait for me to put some of that one into another dish. More often than not, she walks off in a huff from that one, too. Alternately, she'll save herself the trouble and just disappear into thin air while I'm dishing it out. She has tasted and passed judgement on every cat food known to mankind, except the grocery store cheapies, Out of hundreds of them, she likes about one and a half now. I have the best fed garbage disposal in town, and I really need a stray cat in my back yard to receive all this bounty, but none has come and applied. Anyway, lots of cats are finicky and some may even take it to the high art that she does But what she wanted to do was sneak back when I wasn't looking and eat some of the chosen food so I wouldn't know she was willing. "Some" being defined as a teaspoon or so. She loves to think she fooled me. Correction; she loves to fool me.

I've always said she was a dancer, and she was, though she's sort of retired now. She was doing ballet steps at 2 and could pirouette with the best of them. Ballet is a pretty good trick with legs as short as hers. Then there was her version of the fox trot, the conga, and the Scottie dog tread. That one was her own invention. Her main dance was the first one she tried, the swish 'n bump. She still does that one and still does it in figure eights. If she had ice skates, she'd be skating it. For all I know, she is in her imagination. That little gleam of imagination has never left her eyes. She loves life.

I'm into my second half-century of always having cats, since I was a teenager, but I've only had one perpetual kitten, and that was Phelicity. Then very suddenly, as she turned 17, she got old. Her little face is a bit pinched, her complaints a little quieter, her manner more sedate, and she even abandoned the paper bag. It's hard for me to believe that this energetic bundle of wonderment and joy has decided to be old now. Of course, it's fine to have company in this universal condition. Habits set in stone are being discarded and not replaced with new ones as usual. Dozens of nap places are reduced to a few. She's downsized her life right in front of me, right where she's always done most things, so I have to admit it's happened.

"You mean it's quiet time now?" I ask my former noisy little Eliza Doolittle of the cockney yowls that made me laugh and come running. Yes, she seems to say, it is.

So these are the days of marathon naps, mostly right in places I can see her. The days of why search for exotic hidey places - she'll just sit under the sewing room chair and pretend to be invisible. Time for a true little creature of habit who never admitted it to get more and more predictable. And even time for habits to change for a kitty who never liked change. Time to reopen the geriatric kitties' nursing home I've run before, for my last little patient, who is very good about it all. Mostly.

Now she spends more time lying right next to me. Now she sits patting, rubbing, bumping, loving, right where I am, instead of insisting I follow her to some other room for all that. Sometimes it's a lavish expression of love and sometimes it's simple patience while she waits for me to get up so she can steal my seat. She's just creating a different time of love and wonderment that suits her now. As I have all her life, I fall right into it and stay.

But this morning I saw her on the ironing board.