Tenacity and Chewing 101 – Instructor Name: L. Cat

“Just one more layer . . . and then I’m in!”

 . . . rattle, rattle, rattle . . . ripppp . . .  tearrrring sounds came from the other side of the door that leads to our basement. 

When I investigated, I discovered our cat Lexi sitting in the stair-step basket pictured above, filling up on kibble through the hole she’d torn in the bag of dry cat food we keep on the steps for the stray cat we feed. 

I disposed of the ruined bag and placed the remaining food in a tin can, with a lid I know Lexi can’t open. (I hope!) 

I couldn’t be angry with her. I suppose it wasn’t the best choice to store that bag of food on the stairway she loves to go up and down each day. Of course she would be drawn to the scent of food inside. 

She doesn’t act like other cats—we think this comes from a probable mistreated early life. She doesn’t jump up on dining tables or kitchen counters, and she’s never even attempted to lie on top of the piano—which is good—because she would lose that argument.

It tickled me to realize she has some pluck deep down. You would have to witness her frequent timid moments to fully appreciate my stance on today’s unexpected antic. 

The past 5 days have presented challenges for me. I’m a member of cast that is rehearsing for a historical play based on authentic pioneer letters and diaries that we’ll put on next weekend, and I’ve been sewing my pioneer-styled costume for the event. 

Three-hour rehearsals at night after full days are hard work, and last week’s rehearsals just weren’t cookin’ right. I could see it in the director’s face, and hear the exasperation in some of the players’ voices—and I felt worried and tense about it all. The chemistry and timing for all five of us performers needs to be “on,” if we are to convince our audience. 

There’s a massive amount of fussing with small details as the performance draws closer and it exacerbates the stress level.  

So — I’m sewing on this costume and I discover that I really could have cut the fitted vest I am to wear a wee bit larger than I did. It’ll fit, but I won’t be able to button it. The full can-can I will wear under my long skirt is too long for what I’d cut out, so that whole thing had to be pinned up, and I had to run to the fabric store and buy ruffled eyelet to stitch around the bottom of the skirt — whose circumference measures 104.5 inches — to add a bit more length. Back home as I’m stitching the eyelet to the hem—I run out; I’m 10 inches short. Dang it. And about then something wicked inside my head bellows: You know—you’re the opening act to this thing. Are you sure you can pull this off? 

I had a brief melt down. 

So back to the fabric store I went—to find more black eyelet—but I can’t find the same design (of course!) so I buy something else that is close. No one’s going to notice. And I finish the skirt. 

We do costume reviews and I acquire the hat I will wear, but I need to keep it on my head with some elastic banding, but I don’t have any– So I make another trip back to the fabric shop to buy some. 

And then my steam iron dies on me. The thing is less than two years old! If you sew, you have to have an iron, so I had to run out and find a replacement. How long could it take? It took 6 stops before I found something worth buying. I encountered a lot of store clerks who obviously don’t iron much. 

Our play is a bit long so we are continually cutting, editing and rewriting, which then changes some of the blocking (position of an actor at a given point). Not everyone is up on their lines as yet and that adds its own level of anxiety for the whole cast, but ticket reservations are coming in, and we need to make this work. And we haven’t even rehearsed with the musician who will be playing for us yet. 

We have full-dress rehearsals every night this week. I have article interviews scheduled during the week, other stories that I need to pursue so I don’t fall behind, and personal writing project deadlines that I want to submit. Those deadlines hover like a vulture over fresh kill. 

And then today I find the cat chewing through a bag to get to what she wants, and the message materializes: Just keep chewing your way through. You’ll get there. 

It’s not unlike taking on writing that first-ever newspaper article, or picking up the phone to arrange your first live interview, or standing before an audience to read the first story you published. 

When we want what’s inside the bag, all we have to do is keep chewing.

Special Vision–not Special Effects


      Tomorrow is Halloween. Some sort of black cat story seemed appropriate. This post is about 3 times longer than blog posts need to be, but I believe you’ll find it justified in the end. It is a true story. Hope you enjoy it. 


          My neighbor’s cats had three full-time jobs: eating, napping and hating each other, but when the time came, Puddy, Sambo and Hal knew what mattered.

        Our neighbor Bonnie suffered from Crohn’s Disease, an affliction that zapped her physical and mental energies. After their son left for college, she and her husband decided to get a cat to keep her company while he was away at work.

        Into their life came Puddy, a solid white, long-haired female cat with celadon eyes and full Prima Dona attitude. Nothing was too good for “the Puds” as Bonnie called her. A fancy collar, painted ceramic feeding dishes, real fur mice toys, pricey tinned food, and plenty of catnip. Puds’ eyes flashed psychedelic green after a “rolling taste” in the weed. Bonnie would spread a small pile of it on the carpet and Puds licked her paws before coating them with the kitty drug and ‘getting crazy,’ as they say. The weed transformed her into Wonder Cat as she pursued her dancing wire dangle toys and furry mice with evil passion. Those wild and crazy moments dulled the edge of daily solitude and delivered welcome fits of laughter for Bonnie.

        Puds frequently stretched out close to Bonnie in the TV room, resting companionably in the warm panes of sunshine through the double deck doors. Even more often, though, the cat burrowed in alongside Bonnie on the sofa, the two of them napping long afternoon hours away in front of movies playing on the television. Soap operas, talk shows and news programs cannot compete with a warm, snuggling animal.

        Bonnie’s deck was outfitted with numerous bird feeders dangling from bordering bushes and small fruit trees, along with bowls of food conveniently placed out there for visiting strays. This is how Sambo entered the picture. He started showing up on her deck every morning for breakfast. Puds watched him through the deck doors, tail twitching, hissing when he stuck his nose up to the screen. Sambo watched back unfazed by her attempts at intimidation.

        One day Bonnie noticed a tear in his ear. Sliding the double doors open she coaxed him inside. The wound was treated, healing soon after, and Sammie–as she called him–and Bonnie sealed a friendship. Puds didn’t approve of this, of course, but they learned to compromise. Puddy moved her cat-nap act into the formal front room of the house whenever Sambo was inside. Bonnie nicknamed it the “Throne Room.” Complete with mahogany furniture and brocade sofa and chairs, it seemed the perfect place for the White Princess. (No boys allowed!) And Sambo never tried. Being with Bonnie was enough for him.

        His beautiful moss-green eyes kept watch on the outside world while perched atop an oversized quilt next to Bonnie on the arm of the sofa. Come nightfall, however, he demanded—and received—egress out the patio doors for his favorite nighttime activities, but he always returned at daybreak to spend the day with her.

        I don’t remember exactly where Hal came from, or why Bonnie gave the young tiger-striped gray male that name. He just started showing up at the deck door each day, inspecting the feeding dish, and Bonnie couldn’t resist, of course. One morning the deck doors were opened and in he came–to stay.

        Sambo had conspicuous eagle talons for claws, and there isn’t a doubt in my mind that he could’ve whipped Puds or Hal with one paw tied behind his back, but he never did. I’d like to think they created a silent pact between them, possibly out of respect for the one who showered them with appropriate doses of love and vittles.

        Hal seemed relegated to “adopted cousin” status. He’d curl and respond under the love of Bonnie’s hand, but there was no pillow throne for him, and he didn’t seem sure where he stood in the household. Resembling a young, fun-loving teenager, he often tried to entice Sambo off his perch. Sambo eyed him with a “don’t you do it” green stare, but Hal kept pushing the envelope and finally the older, bigger cat would spring from his cushion, chasing the young punk out through the galley kitchen, around the sun porch, back through the kitchen, finally returning to Bonnie, who enjoyed bouts of hysterical laughter at such scenes.

        Point made, Hal would take up his only real seat in the room–Bonnie’s husband’s leather recliner. Sambo resumed his nap next to Bonnie, the brief entertainment over. But the circus could easily start up again if Hal decided to venture into the Throne Room, only to come flying back out with Prima Dona Puds close behind, hissing and spitting, poised to slap. Hal never really did get it: Throne Room: Puddy’s. Daytime pillow next to Bonnie: Sambo’s. Always.

        Bonnie’s body grew tired of its fight with the disease, and eventually a hospital bed was set up for her in the TV room. The cats took turns sniffing and inspecting this new dynamic in the room, but they never jumped up onto it with her. And then the day came when she no longer needed it.

        Several weeks later after her death I stopped to visit her husband, and he shared a fascinating story with me.

        As Bonnie’s breathing grew shallow the morning she died, all three cats walked into the room, lined up on the floor by the head of her bed and sat quietly looking up at her, and waited. Bonnie’s husband reminded me how those three had hated each other from the time they met and that he’d never seen them sit that close together before. After Bonnie released her last breath they got up and walked out of the room–each going their separate direction.

        The Creator gives animals special vision and talents to comfort, even teach, in mysterious ways that we humans lack for all of our ability to verbalize and rationalize what should be obvious. Puddy, Sambo and Hal put their differences on hold while they gave Bonnie one final gift: peaceful air in which to leave.

To Habit, or Not To Habit . . .

I promise I will not overpopulate this blog with stories about our cat, but she did something the other day that reminded me way too much about human behavior. Hang with me a moment and I’ll bring this full circle.

Lexi’s stomach is our clock. When it’s time to eat she will come and get us if we’ve failed to appear in her feeding area with tinned cat food in hand. She sits and watches while we open the can, scoop part of it into her dish and mash it with a spoon before she digs in.

The other day I was working in my office and noticed it was nearly time to feed her, so I thought I’d just put her food out a bit early and continue on with what I was doing. I figured she’d find it when she came upstairs.

A short while later there she was–sitting beside me mewing for her food. “It’s in your room. Go get it,” I told her. (Yes, I really do talk to the cat.) She continued to sit there and look at me, so I got up from my desk and walked to her feeding area with her close behind.

I pointed to her dish and she glanced at it, then looked back at me: ‘Why aren’t you putting my food in there?’

We stood watching each other for a moment and then I decided to experiment. I picked up the spoon we leave on the counter, chopped around in the food I’d already put out, banged the spoon on the side of her dish like I always do, and then backed away. She went right to it and started eating, and I thought: holy cow, cat–that is entirely too ritualistic!

I know there are all sorts of good habits and good reasons to maintain them, but it made me wonder about those habits that we humanoids finance that maybe, sorta’, kinda’ don’t serve us, or others around us, very well.

Isn’t it funny what one cat and a can of cat food will conjure up?

      Author Note: Perhaps you think our cat is brain damaged. She’s just a cat who didn’t have a very good life before we rescued her from the local shelter, and we love her dearly.