Thursday, October 1, 2015

Farewell, Smudge


Smudge avec Gargoyle


By Hank Parmer

Smudge, unlike the rest of our feline overlords, wasn't so much a foundling as a visitor who never left: There was a really bad cold snap that winter, fifteen years ago, and the guy who lived in the little house behind us at the time needed to bring his dogs inside. They were large dogs, not used to cats, so he was worried they might kill this kitten which, if I recall correctly, he was (sort of) looking after. He asked us to keep her for a few days, until the dogs could stay outside again.

I think he was probably well aware what he was doing: He knew we already had one cat -- Puck, the Van cat -- and really, as if anyone could have a devastatingly cute, feisty and affectionate two-month-old salt-and-pepper calico kitten with the most amazing green eyes around for a few days and not fall head-over-heels in love with it. He certainly didn't object to our keeping her. Somewhere among all the photos I haven't gotten around to scanning yet there's one of her comfortably perched on my shoulder, while I'm sitting at the computer. (I am fairly broad-shouldered, but this should still give you an idea how tiny a thing she was.)

Puck, who was well into his middle years by then, accepted her immediately. But of course, he was the friendliest, sweetest-natured feline I've ever known, incredibly tolerant of this manic ball of fur who would come streaking out of hiding with such gleeful ferocity she'd bowl him right over. Until he pinned her down with a foreleg and started grooming her, while she wriggled and protested. Yeah, I know: too damn cute for their own good. If I could have caught them on video, it probably would have garnered millions of hits on YouTube by now.

Smudge wasn't a big cat; she never weighed more than 8 or 9 pounds. In contrast to her outgoing kitten personality, as an adult she was occasionally affectionate, but mostly rather aloof and self-contained, with a real knack for finding the most unlikely places to take a nap, often way up on top of something. (Or, if she wasn't in a mood to cooperate, in some inaccessible corner of our cluttered house.) Many's the time I would be in a room, thinking I was alone, and then slowly come to realize I was being scrutinized from some high vantage by a pair of cool green eyes. Every cat knows it's the center of the universe, but I've never met another who exuded so much quiet confidence in the fact. She was the Empress of all she surveyed, far too dignified to wish to amuse her humans with cute cat tricks.

She was also the stubbornest cat of my acquaintance. When Fred, the big Maine Coon, joined our household, once again Puck was happy to have a new friend, and they got along famously. Smudge, however, instantly decided he was the essence of evil. For the rest of her life, she bullied him mercilessly.

If you ever met Fred, you'd know as well as I he could have done nothing to directly provoke this; as far as I could ever determine, she simply resented the fact of his existence. Sometimes she would pause while crossing the room, then with no warning at all dart over to the poor guy where he was curled up deep in slumber, and hiss and smack him on the nose. I guess she felt he deserved a whack, just on general principles. All he'd do is blink at her sleepily, with this "What'd I do?" expression. In fact, never once did I see this low-slung bruiser of a cat -- who weighed nearly twice as much as his tormentor -- retaliate against the little termagant. She had him completely buffaloed, .

And it really was personal; when several years later two more half-grown kittens found a home with us, about a year apart, Smudge just ignored them so long as they didn't pester her. She even allowed them to sleep with her on the waterbed -- if they maintained a respectful distance -- which was something she never permitted Fred.

For a frail, diabetic 15-year-old cat who had to have insulin twice a day -- that is, if she deigned to appear at injection time -- she was in fairly good health up until the last. I won't go into the details of what forced us to have her put to sleep, just that the onset was shockingly sudden, and we were there with her when what had to be done was done.

Like all her clan, she was a unique, often endearing and at times frustrating creature. Things just aren't the same, without this cantankerous gremlin who I suspect was a grande dame in some former life, as well as this one.

11 comments:

Carl said...

What a beautiful girl. My deepest condolences, Hank. I've lost five cats across the course of my life, and there isn't a one I wouldn't give up a kidney to spend another day with in full health.

heydave said...

Eloquently put. I'm fairly new to the concept of loving or pet friends as much as we do, but I related closely to your warm story. Thanks for sharing the sad moment.

Katy Williams said...

I want to say something profound and witty, but I can't think of a thing. I'm so sorry for your loss, I know how badly it hurts!

Li'l Innocent said...

That's as fine a loving, admiring, descriptive tribute to a splendid personality as any grand duchess could desire, Hank. We had a small, dark calico that had some of those same imponderable qualities -- the self-containment, the unflappable intelligence, the gift for finding unexpected cozy places removed from the vulgar hurly-burly of daily household doings. I was nodding to myself all the way through your post. All my sympathy.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

R.I.P. Smudge, you sweet thing.
~

Hank said...

Thanks, everybody, for your kind words and sympathy. They mean a lot to me.

maryclev said...

Hank, my first dear little cat was a tortie like Smudge. Unlike Smudge, she had a lame name. I blame my mom, who taught her to come to the name "Kitty". I wanted something more LOTR like, but it was not to be. She was my best friend for 19 years. There is something special about torties. When I got her, we already had a miniature (not toy) poodle who just loved her to death. She was terrified of him. In no time at all they became great friends and when he passed, she would tolerate the others who came after, but that's all. She was a one dog cat.

Losing your fur baby is never easy. It never will be easy. But, thinking about how awesome they were during your time together, makes it hurt just a bit less.

Hank said...

There is something special about torties.

Our vet called it "tortitude". And Smudge had it, in spades.

I remember now that I was wrong about her not doing cute cat tricks. She did have one: In the winter months we keep a knitted afghan at the foot of the bed, and she loved to burrow under it until she was completely hidden. Of course, the loud purr coming from that lump in the afghan was always something of a giveaway ....

Kitty sounds like she was a great cat, too.

What you wrote reminded me of Puck the Van cat, who was very attached to our dog Pete. Heck, they were almost a matched pair, since both of them had fluffy white fur with winter-grass-tan spots.

The two slept and played together. Their favorite game was enacted in the kitchen, where Puck could take advantage of the linoleum floor: He would flop on his side and try to scoot under Pete, while he attacked his legs and batted up at his belly. And Pete would respond by dancing aside and nipping at him playfully, tail furiously wagging all the while.

Puck, though, was perfectly willing to strike up a new friendship with the next dog that came into our household, about a year after Pete passed on. I believe he really missed the old fellow, and was terribly disappointed that Blanche didn't know the scoot game. Nor did she show any interest in it. (In fact, Blanche almost backed out of her harness that day I rescued her, when I brought her in the house and the first thing she saw was Puck and Smudge sitting there side by side, a few feet from the door. She regarded both of them with obvious mistrust, but fortunately, she adapted quickly.)

Looking back, I'm not so sure why all our dogs' names were so conventional. The reason why we named this one "Blanche" was that shortly after being rescued, the tests came back from our vet and we found out she had heartworm. [Cue smell of rapidly combusting wads of cash.] So she really did depend upon the kindness of strangers, not just for a home but her continued existence.

Thanks for the memories, Mary, yours and the ones you evoked. We've been through this more times than I care to count, and it never gets any easier. But you're right that remembrance helps, even if moistens the eye.

Anonymous said...

ANNTI sez...

Hank, I wish that I'd known Smudge, and Puck, and Blanche, and your entire menagerie, 'cause they surely sound like some damned happy critters. No better dogs on earth than those who were raised by cats, and vice versa.

You have my most sincere condolences. I know how hollow your chest must feel, when you expect to see Smudge in one of her spots or walk into a room, expecting to see her. Seems like it will never not hurt. I hope that you & yours can soon smile more than you cry, over all of your furry chirren. And thank you for sharing them with us.

XOXOXO
L,
J/ASC

Anonymous said...

ANNTI sez...

Hank, I wish that I'd known Smudge, and Puck, and Blanche, and your entire menagerie, 'cause they surely sound like some damned happy critters. No better dogs on earth than those who were raised by cats, and vice versa.

You have my most sincere condolences. I know how hollow your chest must feel, when you expect to see Smudge in one of her spots or walk into a room, expecting to see her. Seems like it will never not hurt. I hope that you & yours can soon smile more than you cry, over all of your furry chirren. And thank you for sharing them with us.

XOXOXO
L,
J/ASC

Anonymous said...

"Things just aren't the same"

I think that's the thing that got me the most when my best cat passed.

Anyway, no trite saying or deep insight will help. Only time...