Allowing for the difference in average life span, it is said that it is possible for a caring human being to share their time on earth with a succession of nine cats. For me there have only been two; the one who more recently passed away after sharing his home with me for 18 loyal years, and the one who preceded him and lived for a much shorter span.
That other cat was named Smudgie, in honor of another Siamese adopted by my mother when I was but a small boy, and whose image he reflected to a remarkable degree. My Smudgie was not what one would call a social animal; he tolerated other people without much enthusiasm. He chose friends with intimidating discrimination, treating many with undisguised disdain. But for reasons which could only be explained by animal psychologists, (and possibly not even by them,) he loved me with a devotion unusual to that highly independent and self-contained breed. He was a constant and forgiving companion in whose eyes I could do no wrong. His affection was total and without condition.
We kept Smudgie’s feed and water dishes beside the refrigerator in our kitchen, and like all cats, this particular place together with the feeding accessories became his property, and he viewed them with a cat-hearted propriortorialness. At about the same time, one of our young sons was working his way through the ranks of the Cub Scouts one assignment of which was to construct a lanyard by weaving gold beads on a blue cord. A surplus bead became first a plaything, and then a possession of our cat. In time we noticed something unusual. Whenever Smudgie’s food dish was empty and in need of a refill, we would find the gold bead resting there – all by itself. We might lose track of where the bead might end up after a day of “cativities” – under a sofa, chair or some neglected corner of the room - but sooner or later it would have mysteriously found its way back to the empty cat food dish, carefully carried and placed there by mouth. We never saw him do it, but it became an article of faith in his routine. And in ours.
In what should have been the prime of his cat life, Smudgie developed an inner ear infection which became cancerous. Despite all our efforts, including a radical and seldom-performed surgical oblation, the quality of his life deteriorated to a point where our only recourse became painfully apparent. The kindly veterinarian who had become a personal friend, suggested that he perform the final procedure out of my presence. “It will be easier that way”, he assured me. But that just didn’t seem right. I owed Smudgie more than that in return for the years of unmitigated devotion he had shown me. In the end, he died peacefully in my arms.
I buried Smudgie the cat in our front yard at the base of a scrub oak which had been his favorite haunt. And with him, I buried the gold bead.
All of that happened more than twenty years ago, and my tender feelings have had all those gently falling years in which to heal. Until our final weeks in the home we left behind to move south. We had decided to replace the worn carpet in our kitchen and nearby stairway with a more trendy and practical floor covering. “After all”, my wife kept telling me, “the new owners will appreciate it.”
When I returned home from my office the day she and a grandson had removed the old carpet she said, “guess what we found, hidden under the edge of the carpet?” She was holding in her hand a familiar gold bead. Until then I had forgotten all about Smudgie’s “backup” bead, the one he always kept hidden somewhere, for use when he couldn’t locate the first one.
In the days following that serendipitous discovery, it all came flooding back, into my mind and into my heart, as if it had all happened just yesterday. And in those mystical moments when such thoughts are allowed to intrude on a more ordered and prosaic world, I am still left to wonder if Smudgie intentionally planted that shiny gold bead knowing that at some future time in my own cascading years, I would need to be reminded of the eternal nature of love.