When I was ten years old, my mom and I were shopping at the mall one evening. We stopped into the pet store to look at the animals before we left for home. There was a handsome ginger tabby kitten in one of the cages. I asked if we could buy him, like I always did. I expected my mom to say no, like she always did. But she stood there and stared at that cat in silence.
My parents met on a blind date. When my dad brought my mom home that night, they sat on the front porch to talk for a little bit. My mom’s cat Whiskers climbed into my dad’s lap and my dad started petting him. That’s when my mom decided she wanted to go out with this guy again.
The kitten in the pet store looked exactly like Whiskers, right down to the white patch under his chin. We were between cats at the moment, and my mom had a twenty dollar bill tucked away that her mother had sent her in a birthday card. I sensed her moment of weakness and begged with everything I had.
She asked the clerk to get the kitten out of the cage so we could pet him. After that, there was no giving him back.
After my mom bought Whiskers II with her birthday money, the clerk put him in a cardboard box and folded the top flaps over-under. The cat started yowling immediately, and he had an unusually loud voice for a kitten. As we set out across the mall, people stopped and looked around, trying to figure out what was making that noise. We giggled and picked up the pace.
He wiggled a paw out through the gap in the middle of the flaps. We tried to push it back in, but he was a slippery little devil who was determined to let his unhappiness be known. People stopped and pointed at the yowling box with the orange paw sticking out the top. Whiskers II pulled his paw back in, then wiggled his head out through the gap. He looked like a whack-a-mole and sounded like a cross between a cat and a siren. The sound reverberated off the walls. By this point, my mom and I were giggling uncontrollably.
By the time we made it to the parking lot, the cat had worked both his front legs out of the box. My mom pulled him free and held him tight until we got him into the car. He yowled the whole way home. By the time we stumbled through the front door, he had grown hoarse and sounded more like a strangled bullfrog than a cat. My dad came running out of the kitchen to see what the heck was making that noise.
We set Whiskers II on the floor in the living room, and he finally quieted down. He looked around, then walked through the whole house, taking a quick tour of each room. When he was done, he returned to the living room and gave a little nod, like “this will do,” then sat and started grooming himself.
Whiskers has been gone for almost twenty years now, but we still tell stories about him. Like the time he streaked across the living room dragging something large and white and hid under my parents’ bed. We shone a flashlight under there and discovered he had stolen a full-size bag of marshmallows. Or how he got stuck in an elm tree and decided that since he had run straight up the tree, he should be able to run straight down the tree. (He survived, but there were probably little cartoon birds circling his head for a while.) Or how he would pace the kitchen and meow for hours on Thanksgiving because he could smell the turkey in the oven. He would eat his fill of turkey, and then stretch out in the living room and nap in front of a football game, along with the rest of us.
Or how he always followed us when we went for a walk. We would only make it about three blocks before he’d sit down and start yowling, so we’d turn around and follow him home.