Those of you who knew me back when Xanga was thriving may remember these two pictures I posted of my fat old cat Pumpkin in early 2010. At the time he had a scratch on his eye that made him squint like Popeye. He generally kept to himself, but once every week or so, he would clamber from the sofa to the end table to my lap so I could pet him.
Pumpkin turned up in the Dallas neighborhood where I lived with my family in about 1998. He was an adolescent at the time, not yet full-grown, and was adopted by some neighbors. When they left, my kids adopted him. My son Jephthah especially bonded with him. Pumpkin used to lick Jephthah’s hair very thoroughly.
I took Pumpkin with me when my first wife and I separated in 2001. After a bad flea infestation in 2004, I quit letting him go outside. I inherited another cat, Simon, from a friend in late 2005. Simon got out one November when he sneaked out as I was letting myself in at midnight. I found him on Thanksgiving morning, shivering on the neighbor’s porch. He had spent two or three nights in 32 degree temperatures and was very glad to get back into our warm house.
Pumpkin and Simon had an amicable relationship most of the time.
When Alicia and I got married and moved here to the Tampa area, we also brought her two female cats, Ruta and Fortuna, from Medellín. At my insistence, we kept the four of them locked in the lanai because I didn’t want to risk losing them or having another flea infestation.
But after a couple of months, Alicia began letting them out into the yard. They were very happy, Pumpkin especially. After nine years of house arrest, he was finally free to explore and to bask in the sunshine.
At the time of the eye scratch, Pumpkin weighed nearly 20 pounds! The weight began to come off, though, as he roamed the yard and neighborhood. Occasionally he would even run, his gut swinging from side to side.
His favorite thing in life was to bask. Often when Alicia went out in the morning to soak up some rays, he would amble over and lie down near her.
In the last couple of months, he began to limp. I felt the joints of his back legs, but couldn’t find anything out of place. He moved slower and slower, and began spending nights in the lanai of his own accord, always inside one of the little igloos.
Weekend before last, I was watching him hobble out in the morning, and noticed that his left leg looked odd. I looked at it more closely and was shocked to find a baseball-size swelling all along the back of his thigh. I don’t know how I could have missed it all those weeks when I was checking his legs! He was skin and bones. His spine felt like a saw.
We took him to the vet, and found that it was a tumor. His blood tests showed that he was anemic, but didn’t seem to have an infection. Surgery would have required amputation, so we took him back home, figuring we’d have him put to sleep when it became clear that he was suffering.
Saturday, Alicia and I worked in the yard. Pumpkin crawled out to a sunny patch of grass, lay down, and didn’t move all day. There were shiny green flies pestering him, so I draped an old t-shirt over his hindquarters, which he hadn’t been cleaning very well. That helped keep them away. When Alicia carried him into the lanai that night, he refused food and water and crawled into his igloo.
Yesterday morning, he was very lethargic, and his igloo was wet underneath. We knew the time had come to put him to sleep. I carried him out to the sunshine, igloo and all, to let him bask one last time. Alicia and I ate breakfast, and I tackled my income taxes, putting off the inevitable moment. When we finally went out to take him to the car, he was already gone, his body still curled up inside the igloo.
We chose a resting spot in the back yard along the fence. I dug a deep hole. We laid him in a shallow cardboard box, thanked him for his 17 years of faithful pethood, and put him in the ground.
At Lowe’s we found a nice little lime tree, which we planted over him. Alicia talked about how, if there’s a kitty heaven, he’s exploring the hedges, loping through the grass, or basking in the sun, free of pain.
Alicia and I have been reading The Wind in the Willows out loud. Last night just happened to be the chapter called “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.” (You can click on the title to read it.) Mole and the River Rat spend a night searching for their friend Otter’s lost son Portly. At dawn they have a mystical encounter with Pan, the god of animals, who returns Portly to them. It’s a gorgeous and moving episode, and we couldn’t help but see a divine coincidence in its timing.
So goodbye, Pumpkin. I’m glad you aren’t suffering anymore. You were a joy and a blessing to us, and we are grateful.