Thursday, May 26, 2011


Until this chapter of the book there has been nary a word written about C-A-T-S, and you might ask ‘why’ gentle reader?   Given that this book was inspired as a tribute to my dear Chelsea, I seemed to uncover dog stories at first.  Then, when I stumbled across horses, Jamie’s penguin and other animals, I realized that this book should include a tribute to cats, as well.  As such this story would not be complete without telling you about my Snowflake, the first ‘Too Perfect’ animal I owned (or, rather who owned me).

Well, actually we had a dog, too.  Her name was Angel.  Yes, and by the description, both animals were white.  My mom, whom I lived with almost exclusively my entire childhood, my sister and I used to talk about our white animals; that it meant we were surrounded by real angels.  Whether her presence was angelic or not, Snowflake was there for me, especially, and what we shared helped me get through my childhood.  I needed all the divine intervention I could muster back then. 

Looking back, I wonder often how my mother suffered.  Some days for her were good, others were not so good.  I could tell in the morning which it would be.  My father, whose business was in supplying products to the road construction industry, was as busy as could be during the early 70’s.  He traveled extensively and when he was in town, he was at the office.  He sometimes took my sister and me with him there to give my mom a break and those days are the ones I choose to remember.  I’m sure we were a handful but I’m not sure who appreciated the ‘break’ more, my mother or my sister and I.

After several years of an emotional roller coaster, my dad convinced my mom that living 1000 miles apart would actually be good for their marriage and she moved my sister and I to Washington State, raising us in what was her own childhood home.  My father visited every two weeks, arriving on a Friday afternoon or evening and leaving before dawn on Monday morning.  He was as you might say the first super commuter. 

On Fridays, we would sometimes meet him at the ferry dock or the little airport a few miles from our house.  After regularly waiting over an hour for my mom to pull it together to pick him up, he finally started driving a rental car to and from the airport.  This ensured he made a clean getaway on Monday mornings; I’m sure, because by Sunday nights my mom was screaming and throwing the dinner dishes at him. 

My younger sister wanted nothing to do with either parent and she found two friends at whose homes she often spent entire weekends when dad was visiting (as I called it because he didn’t live there, no matter what my parents said).  So, she disappeared and I was left trying to find an inconspicuous place to exist and not become a target of mom’s wrath.  Which happened after my father left on Mondays, as anyone that angry is really just a heat-seeking missile looking for the closest, most vulnerable target. 

Snowflake came to our lives amid all this chaos as one of the litter of kittens from Blossom, who was also as white as a puffy cloud.  Blossom was the ultimate mom-cat and adored Snowflake.  We gave away the other kittens but kept ‘Flakey’ as we sometimes called her.  My sister was claimed by Blossom and so, luckily, Snowflake sized me up and picked me. 

When we were young, Snowflake let us dress her up and be pushed around in a baby carriage.  What cat does that?  We didn’t really understand her divine generosity back then but just had so much fun playing with her.  I remember her waiting patiently in the carriage for us to retrieve something from the house.  I peeked out our bedroom window, and there she was, bonnet and all, cleaning her paws or just contemplating the day. 

When she wasn’t playing a “Cabbage Patch” doll, Snowflake had many pursuits to keep her occupied and keep me laughing.  During the summer season when the tide went w-a-a-a-ay out, she was on the beach digging up a bullhead (a type of fish that lives under rocks when the tide goes out).  She then brought it up on the lawn and ate that danged thing from the tail up, while it was still alive!  It was so gross but we kids were fascinated with exploits from The Wild Kingdom.  Obviously on those nights she turned her nose up at cat chow. 

In the winter, especially if we had a rare snow, our Great White Hunter would go absolutely bonkers.  She loved burying herself in the snow and pouncing out at us.  I could almost hear her laugh and say something dramatic like “Muahahaha, foiled you again.”  When she decided she had ‘enough’ of the snow and wanted to warm up, Snowflake then balanced herself on the back porch railing and crunched snow beneath her paws as she paced back and forth calling for us to open the kitchen door. 

But later, as she matured, Snowflake became much more than a playmate.  She was my comfort and even my protector.  My mom was known as the Wooden Spoon Queen.  When punishment was to be doled out, that was her weapon of choice.  When things got out of hand as they often did when mom got really angry, Snowflake growled and paced the room.  Finally, she jumped up on my mom’s chest, batted her with her paws, then hopped down and walked slowly away, with her tail straight up in the air.  Her message was clearly “I dare you to do something more about that.”  Later when my mom was ready to punish us, as she called what she did, she had to put Snowflake away or the cat would intervene. 

As kids do, my sister and I grew bigger and sometime around age 12 my mom couldn’t use corporal punishment anymore.  Besides, as our worlds grew to involve friends beyond just the neighborhood kids, she behaved much differently in ‘public’ as I grew to understand it.  My mother’s public persona was a vast divide from the person she was at home.  On the outside looking in, you would think we were a ‘Hallmark family’.  My parents both had their college educations; my father had his master’s degree from Stanford, for heaven’s sakes.  How could there be anything wrong in such an upper middle class family?  Despite that, I know some people caught on right away.  My mom didn’t socialize with those kinds of folks for long. 

But even though I got older, it seemed like Snowflake stayed in place.  She was always there when I got home from school or cheerleading practice or from my part-time job at the pharmacy.  In my quiet times, she was there helping me recharge my batteries so I could keep up the charade of the perfect girl when I went out into the world.  She kept me company while I did my homework or talked on the phone.  Later, long after she stopped growling at my mom, she began growling at my boyfriends. 

College was my escape, though by that time I was so fully engaged in keeping the family secrets that I had a tough time being on campus.  When my dad visited, as was his near twenty-year habit by that time, I was pressured to be home those weekends and to serve as referee between the two of them.  Of course, Snowflake was there to keep me company when I came home.  Looking back, I just feel like I abandoned her.  I was so focused on getting away to college, balancing the family dynamic, doing my homework, working part-time and getting to and from school, that I didn’t think about what her life was like.  Snowflake was just ‘there’ every time I came back home.

When I finally left for good, so did Snowflake.  My mom was the one left to take her in to the veterinarian and have her put down.  It bothered me so much when I found out she died.  I knew that I should have been there but with my life fully consumed by that pendulum swing of either serving as referee or running away from my parents at home, I just couldn’t. 

So, when it came time for Chelsea to go, I knew, as deeply as I know anything else in my life that I needed to be there with her to say goodbye and help ease her passing.  After Chelsea died and I was granted a moment of grace from heaven in dreaming of her, I dreamt about Snowflake.  Well, actually, I met an angel and asked “Is Snowflake here, is she alright?”  It’s a question that remains unanswered, even today.  I know that I did the best I could with what I had to give back then.  She gave me so much, and I know she never expected anything more.  As a result, I learned such a valuable lesson. 

There is a vast difference between those who society says ‘should’ be there for you, such as your blood relatives, and those who have really demonstrated love toward you.  In many people’s lives, such as my own, those who have loved me unconditionally are not exclusively of the human species.  In my life, they have included the canine, equine, and feline variety.  Their love makes any difficult situation bearable.  And, my dear Great White Hunter, Snowflake, was indeed too perfect. 

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