When I was ten, I had a special friend, a humongous black cat. Like most animals in my life – Spot, Chitlings, Yellow Cat, and Mama Cat – his name was not very creative, it was simply Blackie. However, there was nothing simple about my black cat. He was huge, not fat, but chiseled and lean; he was a hunter – a wanderer. My parents did not have money to spend on a cat to get it “fixed” and ease its inclination to roam the county wining and dining the lady cats, or as my granddaddy said “catting around.” They could not afford to spend hard to come by money on an animal with no useful purpose other than catching mice around the house and the occasional rat in the feed shed between the chicken and pig pens.
When it came to animals that didn’t produce eggs, milk, or meat for the table, my mama and daddy were necessity bound cheap. Our dogs and cats were well taken care of though, but they did not wear collars, go to the vet when sick, live in the house, or eat special cereal based protein diets from a bag or can. They dined on food scrapes from the table including such delicacies as cornbread soaked in pot licker from yesterday’s pot of field peas and chicken bones from the fried chicken Mama cooked for supper. Not once do I remember one of them being sick from too much grease in their diet or choking to death on a bone. They chewed and played with ham bones and sticks, and their only squeaky toy was the chipmunk or squirrel they cornered in the backyard.
Our dogs and cats led a great life and, with the exception of Blackie, they hung close to the house or at least within hollering distance without need for collars or fences. For Blackie, sooner or later, the itch for a girlfriend always grew too strong, and he would disappear for long periods of time – days, weeks, and once for over a year. In between romances, he always found his way home where it was common to see him riding wrapped around my shoulders, a breathing fur collar, relaxing and recuperating from his adventures. He often followed me to Grandma’s pond where he sat at my feet ready to pounce on any fish I caught. Most times, I sacrificed the first fish to him, so he would leave me alone. We were inseparable well into my teens, until he, like youth, faded from my life.
I never expected to find another Blackie, but many years later, thanks to my oldest son and his wife, I did. While living in Iuka, Mississippi, they found a homeless kitten as black as coal and took him into their home. Shortly afterwards, their jobs took them to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi where they rented an apartment that did not allow pets, and the black cat, they called Sebastian, came to live with me and my wife. I take no responsibility for his majesty’s loving demeanor, touch of arrogance, or preferences for riding on his human’s shoulders or being cradled like an infant. His easy going loving behavior with a touch of arrogance was God’s gift, but his love for riding on shoulders and being cradled was first nurtured by my son and daughter-in-law. It is no secret the only reason they agreed to leave Sebastian with us permanently after they bought their first home was they felt sorry for the lonely old man and woman. I am so glad they did.
For 15 years, while we watched television in the evenings, Sebastian slept in my wife’s lap or nested on my chest under my chin as I reclined in my recliner. When I typed my dissertation, short stories, and blogs, he sat in my lap fighting the keyboard for my attention. Relentlessly, he pushed and wedged his nose between my fingers and the keyboard, coaxing me to massage his forehead or stroke gently under his chin until he slipped into a deep purring sleep. He was obsessed with being cradled like an infant, and if he saw me standing idly, he took it as an opportunity to sink his claws into a pants leg and flesh and climb his way into my arms.
He loved our grandchildren, or at least tolerated them. Any other cat would have clawed out their eyes, but he allowed them to drape him over an arm and half carry, half drag him around the house or yard. As my daughter says, “He was dragged and slung, but mostly hugged by many kiddos, and appeared to love every minute of it. He was indeed special!” In the fifteen years he lived with us, not once did he attempt to bite or scratch one of them although at times his tail twitched unhappily and his face pleaded for deliverance. His gentleness captivated everyone – veterinarians, visitors to our home, and grandchildren. Sebastian was everybody’s friend, and asked for nothing but to be held and squeezed even if sometimes a bit too hard.
Every morning Sebastian sat patiently at the back door to be let in to eat. He was a finicky eater, so we fed him canned tuna fish, fried chicken my wife fried exclusively for him, or she boiled and seasoned chicken livers, which was his favorite. In the evenings, he sat patiently at the back door waiting to be let in, so he could pick one of us to sit with and watch television for the night. My wife and Sebastian were often snoring together within minutes of any show we watched, and when not, he was psnoring (purring + snoring) on my chest under my chin. At bedtime, we would let him out where for the past four months of his life he slept in the doghouse with Simon, our mix breed puppy. Like the grandchildren, he tolerated the dog.
Sunday morning, New Year’s Day 2017, a steady rain was falling and Sebastian was not waiting at the back door nor was he waiting at the back door that evening. Thinking he was rolled up somewhere staying warm and dry, I was not overly concerned. When he did not show Monday morning, I knew something was wrong and started searching. I found him in the dog house where he had gone to sleep listening to the rain and peacefully passed away in his sleep.
The whole family was heartbroken. Sebastian had no idea he was a cat. He was a member of the family, and loved by all. He ruled our home for 15 years, and we would have gladly allowed him to rule for another 15. We will miss him, but we are thankful he was a part of our lives for so long. He left us with a lifetime of memories, and there is one thing I am now sure of – if all dogs go to heaven as I have heard so often, then cats go to heaven as well. After all, how could dogs possibly exist in heaven without cats, especially cats like Sebastian, to keep them in line? Sebastian already had his wings before he left this earth, so heaven was a natural fit. I think the angels who greeted him and cradled him in their arms agree. My fifteen year old grandson said it best, “Sebastian was the coolest cat ever!” We miss you Sebastian!
R.I.P. Sebastian – 2002-2017
©Jack Linton, January 2, 2017