There’s never been a time in my life when I didn’t have a cat companion, and the cats of my past have certainly inspired the references to cats in my fiction.
In my childhood, there was Midnight, the defiant and mysterious black feline who ruled our suburban street and enjoyed sunbathing in the middle of the thoroughfare, much to the chagrin of motorists. Midnight knew the limits of the dog’s leash, and he would wash a casual paw just a few inches beyond the dog’s reach because that’s what cats do. On one occasion the dog, Buffy, managed to pull the tether out of the ground, and she ran at Midnight, her tormenter. Midnight shot straight up into the air, and Buffy ran under him, and then stood, confused, not sure where the cat had gone. Despite his toughness in the neighborhood, Midnight was a cozy cuddler, and we all competed for his love. When he entered the room in the evening, it was suddenly a contest. Whose lap would he choose? When we were chosen, we felt truly superior to the others, because it was a significant thing to be selected by Midnight.
Later, there was Max, a beautiful gray and white kitten. Because our family couldn’t decide on a name for him, we combined all his names in one: Baron Maximilian Frederick Sebastian Von Tinkel Klaus III—but we just called him Max.
Max was an amazing, beautiful, curious kitten. He was so friendly anyone could pick him up, and sometimes he sat on my shoulder like a bird. He was my mother’s favorite. Back then (the 1970s) everyone let their cats outside, and if I could go back in time I would make him an indoor cat because he died young (seven months) after getting hit by a car. Forty some years later I still remember what a great cat he was.
After Max, my mother wanted no other cats, but a few years later, giving in to my longing for a feline companion, my parents got me a cat for Christmas, and we named her Holly Mistletoe. She was a sweet little orange cat who grew into a sort of cantankerous adult, but she had an amazing creative talent that I’ve never seen in another cat. When we would go out, we’d give her a ball of yarn to play with. When we came back, we would arrive to find a splendid, multi-level yarn labyrinth that often covered an entire room. She would hold the ball in her mouth, jump up somewhere, loop her yarn around, then jump down. She’d do this over and over; it was almost like weaving, and the results were magical. I wish we had taken pictures, but instant cameras weren’t a thing then and we never bothered to capture her creations for posterity.
Cato and Clouseau
When I got married and moved into my first apartment, I knew that I wanted cats of my own. I convinced my husband, who had never had pets, to go with me to the shelter and select a couple of kittens who could keep each other company. We came home with two lovely gray tabbies that we named Cato and Clouseau because they kept attacking each other the way Inspector Clouseau and his friend Kato attacked on another in the Peter Sellers Pink Panther movies. These two were a delight from the moment we got them, full of mischief and very loving to one another. This was back in the eighties (which partially explains my hair), so of course these sweet boys are no longer with us, but we think of them all the time!
Our final cat of the past entered our lives very unexpectedly. We lived in a very small apartment with the two guys mentioned above, and one day when I went into the hallway, bound for work, I found a kitten walking around and meowing. I petted her but left her alone, thinking she must have snuck out of someone’s apartment and not been discovered missing yet (how else would she have gotten on the third floor of a locked apartment building?
When I got home that afternoon, the poor little cat was still in the hall, mewing and obviously hungry. This infuriated me, so I took her into my apartment. She marched straight to the bowls of my male cats and started eating. She was a very pretty calico, and obviously just a few months old. I called my husband and explained that, at least for the time being, we had a third cat.
I put up signs all over the building, telling people to come and claim their kitten, and no one ever did. My husband’s theory is that some little boys in our building found the cat somewhere, brought it home, and then put it out when their parents said no cats. But we’re just not sure how she ended up in our hall. I was angry at the way she’d been mistreated, so I didn’t feel bad at all for keeping her safe in our apartment. When we brought her to the vet, we found she had ear mites and worms, another sign for me that she had not been cared for and had probably been brought in off the street.
So she became our Kahlua, a lovely calico cat and a true friend to the two tabbies we already had. (That’s all three of them with my husband in the slightly blurry photo below).
So—those were the cats of my past. Stay tuned for my next post on Gotta Write Network with an update about cozy cats of the present!
Thanks for reading my animal stories.
Julia Buckley is a Chicago author and teacher. A lover of mysteries herself, she spent her teen years absorbing the wonderful mystery and suspense fiction of the 20th Century, all of which helped to influence what she writes today. Her published series include the Writer’s Apprentice mysteries, the Undercover Dish mysteries, the first in the Teddy Thurber series, and the Madeline Mann mysteries. She is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime and the Chicago Writer’s Association.
Julia lives with her husband, three cats and a big rambunctious Labrador. She has two grown sons. In her free time she likes to watch Netflix (on which she has discovered the joy of French cinema), tend to the potted plants on her deck, read great books, or take part in one of her two book groups. Her latest book is “A Dark and Twisting Path.”