I’ve got dogs, cats and a possum in mind: Pete, George, Minou and now Ellie. The possum was nameless, as were the other small critters that my brother and I interred in our little pet cemetery in the field across the street, by the creek where we caught crawdads and got leeches. (You burn ’em with a match and they let go.) We cared for the possum as best we could but it was dead in a day.
Ellie, our eldest cat, died on Jan. 14, about 9 in the morning, after only a couple of hours of – I’m guessing – a stroke-induced fugue where she staggered around the basement, finally settling on a rug in the corner to wait for her last breath. She was a ripe old 17 (85 in people years), and well-loved despite being a cantankerous, grumpy gal most of her life.
But she had presence, and over the past year or so took to just yowling, for who knows what reason, in the middle of the night. So now we sleep better, but the house is too quiet. Thankfully, sisters Annie and Maddie are only 2, so they should be with us a long while yet. And, yea, they’re both adorable. Watching them romp and play together can almost make me forget Minou, the Greatest Cat Ever. Almost. Gone three years now and there’s still a hole.
The pet cemetery was a fifth-grade kind of deal, perhaps a natural part of growing up in mostly rural Kansas, where wildlife encounters of all manner were nothing unusual. The wild, even in Overland Park, a suburb of Kansas City, surrounded us. It probably helped, of course, that our part of town basically ended at the field and creek.
George, our Springer spaniel, ended there as well, or perhaps he went on to find another home, wandering out of our lives just like he’d wandered in. A sweet dog, with a goofy kind of slobbering grin, as I shamelessly anthropomorphize him. Couldn’t hunt worth a darn, though we took him along for the exercise, along with our wonderful wire-haired dachshund, Pete.
Cactus Pete, to use his full moniker, named after his father, Cactus Jack. Pete was around for most of my childhood, and I’m glad I was gone from home when he died of old age.
A true story: We’re breaking down our shotguns after a day of quail hunting, and Pete is nowhere to be found. Six or eight men and my brother Mike and I, hollering and whistling, but no Pete.
Then I come across him. His long body accents his perfectly horizontal tail, with one front paw up, and nose straight ahead. He quivers slightly; who knows how long he’s been holding point. Pete the bird dog! I shout everyone over and we all howl at the sight. Pete never moves.
Finally, someone chucks a rock into the brush and the biggest covey of the day breaks, maybe a hundred or more quail. Guns empty, no one gets off a shot, but Pete shakes himself and comes trotting over like he’s king for the day. So pleased. And I still remember it like it’s today.
So Ellie’s demise has me a little down, though it’s more for other deaths than hers. Mostly my long-gone brother, and Minou, who communicated better than most people I’ve known and was – no exaggeration – my best friend for his 16 years.
I wrapped Ellie in my favorite bath towel, as I did Minou, and buried her under the big spruce, a few feet from him. ’Bye.