In September of 1997 Bill and I went to pick tomatoes at our community garden plot on the South Side of Chicago. Those of you who remember the old Jim Croce song “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” will remember this area in the song being described as “the baddest part of town.” Indeed, it was a high crime area with a lot of poverty. A nun ran the community garden there next to the local Catholic church. As this was the closest plot to the apartment building where we lived as newlyweds, we drove on the expressway just to have our first garden together.
I grabbed a lunch-sized bag out of the car for picking the tomatoes. “Oh! Come here Weeks!” Bill whispered. Underneath a large cabbage leaf were five sets of tiny kitten eyes. The kittens were small enough to sit in the palm of my hand. There was a fence around the garden so it was clear that they had been born there. Their mother was nowhere in sight.
“I can’t come back and find these kittens dead,” I told Bill. “We need to find them homes.” We collected four of the five kittens and the fifth scurried under the fence, never to be seen again. All four kittens fit into the little lunch bag. In time we found homes for all of them but two came back to live with us. Mies (after the architect) with his cute white paws lived with us within a couple of days of being found and his fluffy sister Meg (named by a Japanese man with a crush on Meg Ryan) came to live with us when her owner returned to Japan.
Mies and Meg were delighted when we started FunQuilts. We were suddenly home all day and filled the studio with lots of soft place to nap. We negotiated many business deals with one or both of them lying on our laps or next to the speaker phone during a conference call.
When we returned from China with a 10-month-old girl who had never seen a cat, they didn’t flinch when she screamed upon seeing them. They patiently let her touch them and get used to them. Both cats proved to have magical calming properties for cranky toddlers and grown-ups alike.
Meg was a really smart cat. She had an incredibly mechanical mind. Instead of meowing when she wanted fresh food in the middle of the night, she would sit of the lid of the toilet and flush it over and over with her paw until she got her way. Although they sat on the back porch some of the day in good weather, we put them inside when we’d go out to run errands.
One sunny day we came home and Meg was sitting on her favorite chair outside and the back door was open. Later we figured out that she had jumped up, grabbed the door lever with her paws and let herself out! No one would believe that she had done this until a neighbor who was cat-sitting accidentally locked himself out. He was standing outside trying to figure out how to get back into the house when Meg jumped up on the lever and opened the door for him. Eventually we had to replace the lever so the back door to our house would not be opened whenever she was feeling naughty.
Meg was a world-class snuggler and seemed delighted whenever anyone was home sick in bed. She was the sentry of the sick and wouldn’t leave the bed until the patient had made a full recovery. But it turned out that it was she who was the sick one.
I took her for a routine blood test on December 23 and was stunned when the vet told me that she had advanced cancer of the liver. She quickly began to lose weight and energy. It was painful for all of us to watch. By Monday morning we realized that it was time to say goodbye.
We are lucky to have a compassionate vet who makes housecalls under these circumstances. It was a snowy day and Meg sat on my lap in her favorite chair next to the window while the vet gave her the shots. We cried and cried and said our goodbyes. The wise vet suggested that we bring Mies to see his sister so he would know that she had died. The vet warned us that he might become depressed. He spent the rest of the day and night making sad cat vocalizations putting into sounds what we were all feeling.
We decided before Meg died that since the ground is frozen, we would have her cremated and sprinkle her ashes eventually next to our compost pile which is a major gathering spot for field mice. In nice weather, Meg would hide under the shrubs and watch the mice. One day I went to let her into the house and she had brought a live one in her mouth with her! So we thought that it would be the perfect final resting spot for her.
On the night after Meg died, I snuggled in bed with our daughter and talked about what Meg might be up to in cat heaven. She’d find the warmest, softest place near the treats we decided. I don’t know whether our daughter will believe in an after-life in the years to come but as a sad parent I really needed to cling to the image of a healthy, happy Meg sleeping and purring the days away.