When I was younger (around 1992, I think, though it might have been earlier than that), I went away with my brother to a weeklong Boy Scout camp. When we got back, in the middle of the summer, my younger sister had an announcement for us. “We got a cat!”
I remember the topic of a cat had come up at some point before our trip — my parents had a dog right before they’d had any kids, but the dog (which I believe was named DJ) hadn’t played well with babies, so I never got to meet him. Other than a few anonymous goldfish and short-lived hamsters, our family hadn’t had any other pets to speak of, but I do know someone had brought up the idea of a cat, and everyone generally seemed agreeable, with the exception of my parents, who gave their standard “We’ll see” to the idea.
But apparently they’d consented sometime while we were away at camp, and driven down to Farmington, MO, to a farmyard with a few extra kittens for sale. I wasn’t there, but I later heard the story that the cat that became ours was the runt of the bunch, and mostly hid under the barn instead of playing with the other kitties. When my dad and sister showed up to pick one out, I was told, only one cat actually walked up to them to say hello instead of running wildly around the farmyard. So that’s the cat they brought home, and that was the white and black kitty that was waiting for my brother and I when we arrived.
“Its name is Whiskers!” my sister told us, and instantly I knew that couldn’t be it.
“Whiskers” was too standard a name for a cat like ours. If the Schramms were going to have a cat, it would have to be something original, something wild, something magnificent and wonderful. It would have to stretch the boundaries of what a cat name really meant, something that would make the vet raise an eyebrow and wonder if we were even fit cat owners in the first place. No, it couldn’t be Whiskers. I put my little Encyclopedia Brown book-fueled mind to work, and a few days later I came up with something.
The cat’s name, I decided, would be “Kitten Colossus.” The Six Flags near St. Louis had a big Ferris wheel named The Colossus (which was where I’d learned that word), and this cat was so monumental, so phenomenal, that he needed a name that big and strong. My mom quickly went to shoot it down, but wait, I said to her and my sister — this was the brilliant part: We can call him “KC”, or “Casey” for short! That way, you get to call the cat “Casey,” and I get to call him “Kitten Colossus.” My sister relented — “Casey” met her criteria for a cute cat name, and my mom was satisfied with the compromise.
In truth, I don’t know if my mom ever really got behind the “Casey” idea — every time I’ve ever heard her refer to the cat, she’s always said “K. C.”, each letter distinctly. And yes, the vet did indeed not only raise an eyebrow, but also shake her head when I explained what the name meant during a visit later.
But KC was what we named our cat, and he was a great cat. In those early years, he played with us kids like a madman, sprinting around the house sometimes because we were chasing him, and sometimes for no reason at all. We got him catnip once, and laughed as he got high and stumbled around. Most of the time, my parents fed him, waking up early and putting food in his dish as he mewled and meowed. As I got older, when they went out of town and left me alone at home, I occasionally had to deal with his food, and he’d wake me up at the crack of dawn demanding to be fed.
I remember he purred more loudly than I ever heard any cat purr — even the vet commented that he had a motor of a purr. When he was a kitten, you could hear him purring from across the room, and when he’d climb up on your chest and sniff your face, the sound of his purr would fill your ears like a jet. I loved it — it was like he was shouting to us all the time, “I’m happy. I’m so happy, and I’m so glad you’re here.”
We did have our issues, KC and I. When I was the only person in the house, I’d sometimes close the door to my room, and listen to music or read. Eventually, he’d come and find me — first, he’d cry in the hallway outside, and then he’d scrape his paws (he was declawed in the front) on my very resonant door: swipe swipe swipe swipe swipe swipe swipe, one after the other. Sometimes, he’d even put a claw underneath my door, as if I was a mouse he could reach in and grab. Finally, in frustration, I’d open the door to let him in, and he’d just sit there and stare. And after a few minutes of sitting and looking in the room at me, he’d walk back down the hallway, never once entering the room. That drove me nuts.
Maybe he just wanted to confirm that I was there, or that I knew he was there, at least. I read once that cats have no idea that there is a line between cats and humans — they just think we’re all one big species, even if we are bigger and slightly less hairy than they are. That’s why pets get so freaked out when a visitor comes by, or when a squirrel runs around in the yard. There’s everything else out there, and then there’s us, all of us, here on the inside of the house. “He thinks we’re just all ‘Schramms,’” I told my family. And of course, he was right.
As my siblings and I went away to college one by one and then graduated one by one, KC kept my parents company. He didn’t sprint around the house so much any more, but he had his favorite sleeping places and he still meowed in the morning. He stalked and caught crickets in our basement, and he warily regarded all of our visiting friends, sometimes from his spot on the couch, and sometimes right before retreating to the back bedroom for privacy. When my mom would sit and read on a recliner in the evening, a light over her shoulder, KC would climb up and sit on her lap, content to enjoy the company of his caretakers.
About four years ago, my parents finally completed their long thought-out plan of selling the house and buying an RV to travel around the country with, and when they finally did sign off and move into the RV, KC had to go somewhere. I don’t think he was ever offered to us kids, though one of us could probably have taken him in if necessary. In the end, my parents decided to take him along, and so he joined them, in the RV, endlessly driving around the roads of America.
I know at first the experience must have been pretty harrowing for him — after having the run of a four bedroom house, he was condensed into a tiny one bedroom space that constantly shook with road noise and was always surrounded with new smells and sounds. I can’t imagine what he must have thought, or how he must have reacted to a change like that. I can’t imagine how I’d react, with my quiet and content life suddenly uprooted with the constant new and often confusing.
But he handled it. My mother said he was slow at first, but eventually figured out his routine. He found a place on the RV’s dashboard and would sit up there in the sun, first as they were parked in a campground, and then sometimes even as they drove down the highway, watching America go by. KC’s back legs had trouble after a while — we couldn’t remember exactly when we’d gotten him, but he must have been at least 13 at this point, which is a long life, as I understand it, for cats. He kept kicking — he would still climb on my mom’s lap when she read, and when I visited, he would still meow, still come up to me. I don’t know if, by the end, he even remembered me and our life together, but he would still let me pet him, still purr with that rumbling roar, though much quieter than he did as a kitten. My parents would post various updates to us via email or on their blog: “KC is doing fine,” “KC is still going,” “KC got out and hunted a bird but he’s OK.” KC suffered from various health issues and problems, and I remember my parents saying multiple times that this was the last time, that the next time he cost them $300 they’d just have to finally say goodbye. But they never did. They paid the money, and got the pills, and dutifully fed him his medicine, sometimes with a dropper, my dad holding him while he squirmed a bit, my mom feeding him and telling him everything was going to be all right in a soft voice.
He’d get better, and he’d move a little slower, but he kept going. He’d sleep on the RV’s couch, on the dashboard, he’d climb up and sleep on their bed at night. When they went out on daytrips and came back to the RV just as the desert sun was going down, he’d be there waiting for food or just a pet.
And then, today, I finally got the email from my mom, subject: “Our wonderful cat.” KC passed away last night, even as my parents stayed up and watched him, as they have all of these many years. He’s being buried in a corner of the RV park, I’m told, which is probably a fitting resting place for a cat that has traveled so far and done so much.
I’ll miss that cat for sure. He was an anchor in my childhood, a little ball of white and black fur that was always there for me in St. Louis, that was always ready to purr and play with me, whether I was coming home from Boy Scout camp and renaming him something silly, or whether I’d had a tough time in junior high or was coming home late at night from a party in high school. When I moved back home after college, he was there, scratching at my door and making sure I was still around. And when I’d come home from Chicago, or fly out to visit my parents in the RV, he was always there.
I can’t imagine he always knew what was going on, or why these random people kept moving in and out of his life, but there was never one time, in all of those years, that he ever avoided me or turned away or did anything but slink up, quiet or meowing, sniffing my hand looking for the chance to be petted. And whenever I did pet him, no matter how old I was or where I was in my life, he purred, and reminded me that no matter what had happened to him, he could still be happy, always so happy.
Our family couldn’t have asked for a better cat for all of these years. Good bye, Kitty Cat. Thanks for everything.
Posted on Thursday, February 14th, 2013 at 1:59 pm. Filed under general.