Ralph, a furry orange cat who lived with us for 11½ years, left the planet yesterday. He had been ill for a few months. The last week or so was tough. He was telling us that it was time to say goodbye.
Also known as "Pinkie" (after his nose) and "Man," Ralph was quite a character. We found him at the Humane Society, where we had gone to find a companion for our recently arrived girl kitty, Gloria, in 1996. We wanted an orange boy, and only one cat there that day fit that description. The staff at the Humane Society had named him Ralph, and we decided that it was a perfect moniker for the little guy. He seemed kind of dim-witted, but we reasoned that even slow kitties need love.
As it turned out, Ralphie was just a little sick when we got him, and once a few bugs were knocked out of his system, he was good to go. He civilized Gloria, who was nearly feral, by showing her how much fun it could be to interact with people. She hissed at him for weeks, but he just ignored her when she did that. After a while, they became good friends, and stayed that way until Gloria passed on a couple of years ago.
Ralph was a scrapper. At his first home, in the Buckman neighborhood, he was a bit of a victim. Two different rivals would come by and pummel him every now and then. The Mrs. would run out and break it up, lovingly fighting Pinkie's battles for him. He wound up with a couple of notches on his ears and one chipped fang to show for his early travails.
After a couple of years of that, when we moved to our present neighborhood, Ralph decided that he wasn't going to be on the receiving end any more. He showed great determination in establishing himself as the alpha cat on the block. So vigorous was he in handing out shellackings to one particular neighbor's cat that we had to develop our patented Cat Warning System to keep the two of them apart at all times.
Ralph outlasted that other guy, but toward the end, he himself was getting pounded by a different neighbor's cat, who came by frequently to get into it with Ralph. When our Man finally gave up trying to win those fights, his days were numbered.
Pinkie was a talker. Rarely did he interact with us humans without vocalizing. Most of the time, it was difficult to figure out what he was trying to say, but that never stopped him from sounding off, or us from talking back. He and I developed quite a ritual of verbal exchanges over the years. I told him over and over, for no particular reason, "The Pink Man is a good man." It was great.
Ralph's purring was also impressive. At times it was like having a little Harley at your feet in the bed. A lullaby, though, because it was Pinkie.
He also liked to lick people -- some people, at least. If he found a human hand that he thought needed a bath, well, that hand was going to get a good cleanup, unless it pulled away. When Pinkie went into his "Licky Lou" routine, he could go on for quite a while. Ditto for his "camel act." The guy would string together long stretches without a drop to drink, and then settle down at his water bowl for five minutes or more. And the shower -- there was always something he loved about the water on the shower floor. Man would come running when he heard that shower turn on. Then, if you left the door open after you shut off the water and got out, and only if you left him alone for a few pensive minutes, in he'd go for a "Licky Lou."
Ralph's last year and change was shared with an adopted little brother. It was a dirty trick we played on Pinkie, who never got along with the kid. We had known that two males was a bad idea, and we thought we had brought home a girl, but a few weeks later, our mistake became obvious. Once Pinkie took sick, brother Bill gave him some space, and the Cain-and-Abel stuff mostly died down. Everybody, it seemed, adjusted to the sad truth.
Losing a sweet guy like Ralphers is a dark, dark moment. Having learned a few things from the passing of Gloria, this time around we knew what to expect. Coping is a little easier. But some winter night, when we hear Man meowing to us in the background about some thing or another, it won't dawn on us right away that what we're hearing is but a ghostly memory. And when we realize that, the tears that we're talking ourselves out of tonight will be our answer.
So long, Man. We love you.