Saralee Perel

Award-winning columnist, Saralee Perel, can be reached at sperel@saraleeperel.com 


Her novel, Raw Nerves, is now available as a paperback and an e-book on Amazon.com.



Gracie's Nemesis: The Cat With Chutzpah






 



 

Our big brave shepherd/collie, Gracie, hated our cat, Eddie. Every morning he got a kick out of doing a swan dive from our bedroom window right onto Gracie’s belly, at which point she’d panic, jump on our bed, plop herself on my husband’s belly and whimper.

That’s when Bob would get out of bed and feed the animals their breakfast, which of course was Eddie’s whole point.

Everyone would go to the kitchen except for Gracie and me. Knowing that I had an injury, she always looked after me and waited until I could get out of bed before she’d eat.

I can still picture the morning we adopted Eddie. I was sitting with a dozen mewing kittens at the local Animal Rescue League in Brewster, MA. There was a slight movement between two pillows on the far side of the cage. That’s where I found Eddie. He was on his back trying to get some sleep “in this lousy joint” as I imagined an independent cat like him would say.

He was a plain gray tabby, as common as a housefly.

“He’s the one,” I said to Bob.

Eddie swaggered to the food bowl, pushing four kittens out of the way.

“But he’s so ratty looking,” Bob said, picking him up. “And he only has one whisker.”

Eddie tenderly pressed his face against mine. Then he put his sharp baby teeth around my gold earring and yanked with the strength of a sumo wrestler.

Why did I fall for him so quickly? This cat had chutzpah and he knew how to use it. I would soon find out that there were other vital reasons he was perfect for me.

That first night home, he was restless. I calmed him with a song from the musical, “Oliver,” which was normally sung in a boisterous fashion. Instead I sang it very softly as a slow ballad, “Food glorious food, hot sausage and mustard.” He closed his eyes and purred. From then on, that song always soothed him.

That next morning Eddie got up before we did. I knew that from the sound of breaking glass.

We found him on the mantel where my favorite crystal plate used to be. The floor was covered with glass shards. He quickly put his paw behind a blue china vase and chucked that off the mantel too.

At first I felt bad. But that didn’t last. Things are just things. Pets are family.

Our solution? Velcro. And no more glass on the mantel. Instead we stuck on fake fruit. So attractive.

 










Early in his life, I had a spinal cord injury. There were thousands of things I was certain would be impossible for me to ever do again. Eddie’s attitude was what I needed. But that required believing I could learn from a cat.

Well, I did learn  . . .  a lot. I learned that the word “impossible” was nothing other than a word which only carried meaning if I allowed it to. Eddie believed nothing was impossible. And by watching him, nothing was.

At the beginning of my life after my surgery, I saw obstacles as just that – obstacles. And therefore put them on my “can’t do” list.

But Eddie never accepted obstacles as anything other than challenges.

He opened cabinets by putting his paws around the knobs and pulling. Vitamin bottles made great rattling noises on crash landings.

We bought child-proof magnets at the hardware store. Eddie simply tugged a little harder.

Back to the hardware store for hook and eye locks. Eddie flipped the hooks open with one paw.

Back to the hardware store for deadbolt locks. He easily slid the bolts to the side.

The guy at the hardware store already had combination locks on the counter.

I’m in awe of Eddie’s tenacity. When barriers thwarted him, he never quit trying.

To him, anything could be a toy. He’d unravel entire rolls of toilet paper. So we had to keep ours in a coffee can.

One day years ago, he found something that should surely go down in the “History of Best Cat Toys” book.

I was on the phone with a rabbi. He was asking me about my mother’s interests for his sermon at her funeral. I said, “My mother loved painting and ---”

That’s when Eddie came running in with something in his mouth. He had opened the new box of tampons I bought that morning. He was flinging the tampon in the air like it was a toy mouse.

The rabbi asked if I was all right because not only had I stopped talking in the middle of a sentence, I was having an earsplitting laughing fit that I just could not control.

He assumed I was having a traumatic stress reaction and said, “When we lose a loved one, we’re often not in control of our emotions and that’s okay. It’s fine to laugh.”

That cracked me up even more. I managed to blurt out, “She made jewelry!” before seeing the tampon go flying across the room. Then I hung up – on a rabbi yet. Oy vay.

For the past two years, Eddie has been sick. I spent lots of time massaging him on either side of his face. He always loved that. On one afternoon, I used my fingers to comb through his lovely full set of whiskers he had eventually grown. That’s when I saw the one side effect from the medicine he was taking. As I gently rubbed along his face, all of his whiskers came off in my hands, except for one. I placed them in a tiny needlepoint purse my mother made for me.

He came into our lives with one whisker. And that is how he would leave.

Three months ago, on a quiet Sunday afternoon, I kissed his forehead and whispered, “I love you.” He looked up at me. His face showed the love he was never successful at hiding.









 



As Bob softly sang, “Food, glorious food, hot sausage and mustard,” Eddie took his last breath.

While his body was still warm, I cradled him in my arms and rocked him. I held his head so he was nestled against my neck. I whispered, “You came into my life when I needed you the most.” Bob was crying as he stood next to us, watching me rock my little soul mate. “Eddie,” I could barely speak. “You will always be a part of me.”

I didn’t want to let him go from my arms. But Bob, so lovingly and slowly, gently took him away.

And so, I honor the life and the lessons of my wonderful cat who, from the beginning, stood apart from all the others.

My beautiful cat, my Eddie, just a plain gray tabby, as common as a housefly.