Gloria, a grey patched tabby cat who lived with us since she was a few months old, left this world today. She was almost 10 years old. She had been ill for about six months, but not in visible discomfort until just before Christmas.
We brought Gloria home from a farm down Estacada or Molalla way in the spring of 1996, when she was just a baby. We needed a couple of mousers for our house in the Buckman neighborhood, and we were especially looking for an orange boy kitty. Gloria was part of a litter of six or so, who were living in the woods and being fed by a small family in an old farmhouse. They had put up an ad in the window of the Cat's Meow store on Hawthorne Boulevard, and we responded. As we drove down the road toward the cutoff for the house, several kittens ran across the road, all part of the new family.
Gloria had a biological orange brother, whom a young member of the host farm family was calling "Awnjie," but he was so wild that he drew blood from the Mrs. when she got too close. Awnjie dashed away. But Gloria, then unnamed, was the most people-friendly member of the litter, and we boxed her up and took her home (stopping at Bower's Bakery for sandwiches on the way -- we were hungry).
When we opened the box in our kitchen, she ran straight for the back door, and finding it closed, she climbed up to the top of the screen, screaming her bloody head off and holding on for dear life. The only way I could get her off the screen was to get outside and whack it with a broom. That eventually got her down, but she quickly ran to the basement, where she hid herself so capably that we couldn't find her for the better part of a couple of days. Meanwhile, a neighbor came over to see whether animal torture was being practiced. I must admit, it certainly sounded like it.
When Gloria finally came up the stairs, it was only for the very shortest interludes -- long enough to look around, and maybe get some food and water, before heading back to wherever she was hiding (among the empty suitcases, we later learned). It took a couple of weeks of brief "kitty love sessions" up in the people quarters to get her to spend more than a few minutes with us. She was especially spooked by anything that was happening above her, such as on the stairs, and she didn't particularly like any movement of human legs. Not surprising -- she was borderline feral. But she soon proved to be quite the climber -- she could do a fine tightrope walk on top of banister leading to our second floor.
What really changed the dynamics was when her brother showed up -- Ralph, an orange boy from the Humane Society whom we adopted a few weeks after Gloria's arrival. Ralphie, apparently born indoors, was very much a people kitty, and he took to us right away, especially after we cleared up a couple of infections he had. Gloria sensed that she was missing out on lots of fun interaction, and her retreats to her basement hideaway pretty much ceased shortly after her brother's appearance. Ralph, a real handful but a wonderful character, is still with us.
Gloria hissed at Ralph for a couple of weeks. She was quite indignant that another feline had intruded on her good thing with the doting humans. But a truce gradually worked itself out, and in a month or two they had become brother and sister.
Gloria's name was the product of a pre-emptive strike. I loved that name, and had mentioned to the Mrs. that it would be a great one for a daughter, if ever we had one. She loathed that prospect, and it was her idea to give the name to the cat, thus ensuring that it would never be attached to a human child of ours.
Decades ago, I learned that every cat should have at least three names. Gloria soon became "Mama Kittou" (a moniker I picked up from a previous set of in-laws) and "Brownie," while her brother assumed the alternate monikers of "the Man" and "Pinkie." Oh, how we quickly grew to love Brownie and Pinkie. There were so many wonderful moments.
Perhaps the most vivid memory we have of Brownie's early days was her reaction to the first Christmas tree we brought home to what we called our "Hawthorne house." She hadn't been outside at all at that point, as we were following religiously the advice given by the wise cat ladies at the Animal Care and Rescue Fund here in town. "If you let her go outside," they warned, "you will probably never see her again." But when Gloria saw that fir tree, it obviously reminded her of her days "on the farm" with her mom and her brother Awnjie, and she lay down under the branches for hours, purring as loudly as we had ever heard. She was so glad to relive her days with her birth family in her birthplace.
Pinkie and Brownie were our outrageously spoiled children for more than four years, whereupon our first human daughter joined us. As expectant parents, you hear all sorts of things about the dangers of older cats interacting with newborns, and of course the old wives' tales swirled around us. But Gloria was such a gracious old gal. Her only visible reaction was that she became agitated when the baby cried. On hearing the infant wails, Gloria would come to us parents and look at us with obvious concern. As if to say, "Take care of that baby!"
The arrival of our daughter (and a younger sibling a few years later) actually deepened our feelings for Brownie. Once she realized that the kids meant more hands to pet her, Gloria fell in love with them. And the feeling was mutual. Among the older child's first words was "Gwally," her best attempt at the cat's name. We soon decided that Gwally thought she was the mama cat, and that we were her kittens. A lot of her behavior over the years certainly indicated that that was her outlook.
Recently, we pronounced Gloria the world's first "self-petting kitty," because if she got in the mood to be petted, she would lunge for the nearest exposed human hand. She'd even settle for insinuating herself under a foot if that was all that was available. We also determined that she had radar, because she would appear at her food bowl if you were even just starting to think about feeding her. It never failed.
Letting go of Gloria has been hard. There have been many tears shed, and lots of earnest conversations among parents and daughters about death and what happens thereafter, both for the dying and the survivors. More than anything, we thank our Creator for our time with Gloria, and we hope that when it all makes sense some day, there will be time for some tears of joy together again.