I like cats. I've never owned one myself, as my mom is a dog person (we had a Spitz and then a Sheltie when I was growing up), and since then I've lived in dorms which allowed no pets but fish, and apartments with exorbitant pet fees. The closest I've come to living with cats was with Chico and Eleanor, belonging to my ex-roommate Sean (My other ex-roommate Rob wrote one poem about both cats, and Eleanor was eulogized in a different one.) and my step-mother's cats Duchess, Contessa, Stranger (now wandered off the same way she showed up) and Cosmo. Since Rob covered Eleanor and Chico, I figured I'd immortalize the ones I'm staying with now.

The Feline Members of My Dad's Family

Duchess is an old cat, around 15 years of age. A paranoid old woman, uncomfortable and looking suspicious of anyone except her beloved human Melinda. It's understandable that she's on edge; she's ill (irritable bowel syndrome) and elderly in a house full of kids. But even before that, she hid in the shadows, the gray and brown splotches of her coat allowing her to blend in. She hisses at the young one, feline or human, who dares to come too near, and runs away from those too big to scare. But she has one human in her life who she loves and that's enough.

Contessa is about Duchess's age, but wears it differently. Thin, elegantly moving about the house on her little white mitts, with a white jabot against her otherwise plain gray coat, green eyes boring through you as she delicately angles her head to receive a scratch. She'll spend time in the company of anyone who's willing to treat her politely, even the kids -- if they start being unpleasant to her, she calmly walks away. Contessa (nicknamed 'Punky' at some younger point) meows for food or company and begs for food persistently at the table, but all with such dignity that her ladylike image is never spoiled, even when she's being called affectionate nicknames in baby talk. Her grace is not even spoiled when her claws have come out to threaten some impudent young tail-puller; even a lady can defend herself.

Cosmo is the young whippersnapper of the bunch, and also the only male. You can tell, just by the sprightliness of his step, the basket of toys which no longer even have any pretense of belonging to the other cats, and the cries of "Cosmo! Get down from there!" whenever a particularly meaty-smelling dish is prepared. He doesn't have the patience to beg at the table, but he's famous for bringing dead or dying bugs into the house, and at least one baby bird into the garage. Mostly black on top and white below, he's on OK terms with people but not as charming as Contessa -- he hasn't exhausted the rest of the world yet, doesn't need us to keep him amused. But he will play with a child holding a rattle as neither of the other cats would, or be chased, or even tolerate being picked up by the middle. He curls up on the couch and brings the promise of a feline presence in this house long past the eventual decline of the other cats.

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