When my friend Lynn crept into my office with a loudly mewing straw tote bag, it was obvious that I was about to be played like a fiddle. My cat Slugger recently died, and Lynn knew that in my vulnerable kitty-less state, I’d have to get a peek at the little prisoner she was carrying.
The latch opened and out popped a gray and white face, with a tiny pink and brown nose in the shape of an upside down triangle, long white whiskers, and large emerald green eyes that had the appearance of a startled deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck.
One look at him and I was a goner.
“Oh how cute!” I exclaimed.
That was his cue to begin pedaling his best shtick, rubbing and weaving around my legs, while noisily purring like a Porsche.
He didn’t have to pedal very long before I put him back into the tote bag, and took him home.
Since he was the color of a summer rain cloud, I named him Stormy.
The new kitty wasted no time defining his role in our household. A mere ten minutes after we pulled into the driveway, he escaped through a patio door left slightly ajar. As I anxiously searched for him, I spotted a few weeds and bent over to pull them up. Just then Stormy leapt out of a bush and began digging at them too. From then on whenever I worked in the yard, my “Gardening Buddy” was ready to lend a paw. As he sat on the sidelines meowing amiably, scampering after bugs and lizards, chasing his tail, or cheerfully rolling around in the grass, the world seemed a brighter, happier place.
On hot Florida nights, Stormy kept cool by sleeping on the roof of our one story house. Each evening he’d leap onto the big ligustrum hedge alongside the patio. From there he’d hop up to the aluminum awning where his claws scraped and screeched until he found his footing. Then he’d cleanly catapult onto the shingled roof, landing with a pleasant ‘thump’.
However, his dismount was nothing short of a train wreck.
Plunging from the roof, he’d slide, scrape, and yowl down the awning until he plopped onto the hedge. There, more often than not he’d lose his balance, tumble off, and land with a graceless splat in the flowerbed below.
Amazingly, the only injuries Stormy ever sustained were blows to his pride.
If only my poor posies could say the same.
I’d always planted annuals and perennials in that particular spot because it had the perfect blend of sunlight, shade, and humidity. It was the one place in our yard where everything yearned to grow. During summer months when many plants wilted or burned to a crisp, it was the only bed that could be counted on for plenty of blooms.
Thus, I hoped that rooftop snoozing was merely a phase that Stormy would quickly outgrow.
No such luck.
After each “accident” I’d drive to the garden center, buy replacement annuals and replant. Nurseryman Bob would see me approach the cash register with six packs of flowers, and ask,
“You know for all the money you’ve spent on annuals, you could have bought some nice, sturdy, permanent flowering bushes right?”
“I know Bob. But I don’t want to put flowering bushes in an annual bed, because it would cease to be an annual bed.”
He’d sigh, shake his head, and take my money, no doubt believing that I wouldn’t recognize expert advice if I tripped over it.
But then Stormy changed his diet-and my annual bed was doomed for good.
Our next-door neighbor Mrs. Slark had taken quite a shine to Stormy, who in turn eagerly poured on the charm in a quest for handouts. She rarely disappointed him, often giving him tidbits of whatever she was fixing for dinner.
Then one day Stormy hit the mother lode when Mrs. Slark gave us four cases of canned herring purchased by her late husband Vern. She correctly assumed that Stormy would love it as much as Vern had, but warned us of its malodorous properties.
“That stuff is so stinky that I had to leave the windows open for two days to get the smell out of the house,” she insisted.
Stinky was an understatement. Every time I opened a can, the fumes made my eyes water and my throat gasp. It was worse than the hold of a shrimp boat in August.
It didn’t bother Stormy in the least. He wolfed can after can with the enthusiasm of a famished football player.
From then on, whenever I used the electric can opener, Stormy assumed that a helping of herring was on its way. If he were on the roof, he’d pulverize practically all of the plants in the annual bed in his bumbling haste to get down.
I’d hear a shrieked“Meow!!!!!” and my silly cat would sail past the window on his way to terra flora.
Clearly, I’d created a monster.
I tried closing the window before using the can opener. I even threw a towel over it to muffle the sound, but there was no duping Stormy. After two weeks of replacing crushed flowers, I gave in and bought some hibiscus bushes…much to the amusement of Nurseryman Bob.
“I knew sooner or later you’d see reason” he snickered.
Life with Stormy was never dull. He was my own court jester, so corny, and adorable, that I giggled each time I looked at him.
Over time my madcap Gardening Buddy began to slow down, succumbing to old age. He was less inclined to rush after every fluttering butterfly that crossed his path. His appetite began to fail, and he even quit sleeping on the roof.
Clearly the sun was setting on our friendship.
One autumn day I cuddled Stormy as he purred his last, laying him to rest in my former annual bed; after all the time he spent there it belonged to him more than it ever did to me. Blinking back tears I felt alone, really alone, a feeling I hadn’t known for years. I wanted my Gardening Buddy back, who’d made the most arduous chores seem fun, and brought me happiness.
By springtime planting, another Gardening Buddy meowed his way into my life. Though no one could ever replace Stormy, little Simon made quick work of filling my heart with joy. A soft, warm, white and black bag of spots, he irresistibly made me the center of his universe; dogging my footsteps, spooning against my back at night, becoming my constant companion. As Simon wriggles in the grass beckoning me to put down my trowel and smother his plump fuzzy tummy with kisses, I’m reminded that a loving cat is one of life’s greatest gifts, with the ability to heal old wounds and soften the sharp edges of a harsh world.
My grandmother once told me that “a good cat will cure what ails you."
If that’s true , my Gardening Buddies have made me an exceptionally healthy woman.