Waiting for Death, with Dignity
By Gordon Cherr
She was a little ball of fire, seemingly identical to her sisters, and she picked us out without a moment’s hesitation. Cats are like that. You don’t choose. If you are fortunate, you are the chosen. Dara named her Ruby, whether for her fur of fiery orange marmalade, or for “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town,” which was popular back then. I thought that it was for “Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday.” It didn’t matter. Ruby it was and Ruby it stayed.
Despite her diminutive size, she immediately whipped the residents of the house into shape, serving early notice that she was the one in charge here. The dogs, many times her size, avoided her at all costs, cringing into the corners when she floated by on silent slippers. Sneak attacks on their unprotected rear quarters and tails were not unheard of, no reason given, no reason needed, for she was a cat. Yowling night time cat fights were the norm in the woods around the house too. And while she may have met more than her match in the big Siamese Tom who lived up the road, she asked no quarter and gave none either. He sent her scurrying more often then not, but he surely knew that he had been in a tough scuffle, and that if he chose to expand his turf to her yard that night, well, his challenge would never go unanswered. And it never did. If it was a fight he wanted, then it was a fight he would get. Strangers to our home were barely tolerated by the mistress. Their friendly advances were all but ignored, nipped fingers were the rule and not the exception.
We lived far out in the country, she excelled at being a good mouser and she more than earned her keep. The very nasty big black rat who had gnawed his way into the kitchen under the sink and who sent the rest of us scurrying atop the kitchen counters, was simply child’s play for her. Any morning I might find nothing but the rear legs and hindquarters of a rabbit or a squirrel outside the bedroom porch doors. Here, Boss, a little present for you! Just to let you know I’ve been doing my job. More often it was the bloody entrails after she had eaten her fill. Her silent efficiency was remarkable. These gifts consistently appeared out of nowhere.
Ruby adored Corey and for the most part she kept the rest of us at bay. They were thick as thieves, his room was her room, his bed was her bed, it didn’t matter where or when, if he called her she magically appeared out of thin air, yowling back at him. The food he fed her was obviously better than the junk we tried to get her to eat as far as she was concerned. But she did get more flexible about this when he left for college in Michigan. No fool, this little cat.
She helped us raise our children well, in her mysterious cat ways. But after Corey left for college, followed a few years later by Dara, Ruby became downright mellow by cat standards. You’ve got to adapt, you know. She gave in very little to the advance of the years, except to declare peace on the still surviving wildlife, and to sleep in more at night, usually on our big bed in the master bedroom. I awoke many nights with her perched on my chest, purring loudly, staring into my eyes from about 6 inches away. Just what did she see, staring back at her? Sometimes she might slowly extend one front leg and place her paw (with those terrible claws carefully sheathed) gently on my forehead and look me in the eye. It was a sure sign of trust and surely of her cat love and it did not go unrecognized nor was it ever taken for granted. Or else she would shoehorn herself in-between Sharri and I and purr contentedly between us until we kicked her off the bed for all the noise she might make.
The years are relentless on all of God’s creatures. I guess Dara was 3 when she was picked by Ruby. Dara is now 21. Ruby has adopted Sharri fulltime now, often sleeping under her chair in the bead studio, all day long. We have a little framed cat picture with a contented looking feline, which says “How wonderful it is to do nothing all day and to sleep afterwards” and that often seems to sum it up.
Her hearing is about gone and she wobbles some when she walks. And I know that her hips aren’t quite the same, sometimes she swallows her cat pride and asks for help, to be picked up and put into a high place that cats so adore. But she does so with grace and always with dignity. And while her eyes remain bright, in the core of my being I feel that our days together are numbered now. Please excuse my eyes that well with tears when I contemplate that thought.
Come wrestle us, Grim Reaper, we fear you not. It has been a very good life and you will not take it so easily.