Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Almost Seven Months: "Twas the Night before Catmas"

computer MOUSE? Did I hear there was a MOUSE involved?
Dougie supervises from atop a warm back-side.

Getting ready for catmas. By the end I predict cats winning against ornaments.
The beginning of my two week catmas countdown. 14 days!

Calista Jasmine Fleming, Dec. 11, 2012. Exactly one year ago today.

I am on a deadline for this journal entry.  I realized, as I published Calista's European travelogue, that we were approaching Christmas quickly and that I really should do something special for my girl. She loved Christmas and, as you will see, the new, far more fun holiday called Catmas. Catmas celebrates the destructive kitten hidden in all of us. Broken expensive antique glass ornaments, toppled trees and dissected gift wrapping are some of the most popular traditions for Catmas.  Fortunately the cats have dispensed with human traditions such as fruit cake since they just lead to weight gain and huge hair balls.

Ok, so this is definitely not a pet cat. Roni did try to convince
me to bring it home from the clinic...until the flea jumped onto her.
This lynx was sleeping off an anaesthetic at that moment. I think it
ended up in New York State eventually.

One would assume that, since I am a veterinarian, our household is all about animals and pets. Certainly we have had a virtual menagerie of animals march through our house: hamsters, guinea pigs, ferrets, a bad-ass chinchilla for eleven years, two neurotic (but very cute) Pomeranian dogs, and an overlapping series of cats. The one constant in our house has been the cats; always at least one but usually two. Calista liked all of the animals to a greater or lesser degree. Ferrets were cute but not so much fun when they bit her nose, the dogs were fun but a little scared of her when she was a toddler, and the "pocket pets" just stayed inside their cages. The cats, on the other hand, were always an integral part of her life: first Old Terry, the one eyed pirate, then Wascal who was rescued from a dumpster, then Dougie McDougal the tamest cat on Earth, and finally Hermes, the red devil. 

I was enamoured with B+W photography
when she was ten. This is actually a good
photo for me. There was a bunch of bad
photos back then. She got all the talent.
Solr, our second Pom loved belly rubs.

As a veterinarian it is actually hard to admit that I personally do not "love" all animals. I certainly like many animals and, over the years there have been a few animals I truly "loved" ("Reba" Pontikas, owned by the nicest little Greek lady anywhere, will always be warmly remembered. That dog knew how to celebrate Christmas). On the other hand, truthfully, there have been a few pets along the way that I would have preferred to refer to my worst enemy. I deal with animals all day, six days a week and I can tell you for a fact that animals are more like people than anyone cares to admit. Each pet is an individual and as such, there are pets that are wonderful and a joy to be around and there are pets that the veterinarian is glad to send home with its owner. In our family menagerie, while the dogs and all of the caged critters were Roni's pets (neither of the Pomeranian dogs could abide me for a moment; one peed on me and the other would bite me at every opportunity), the cats all adopted me and Calista preferentially. Calista especially seemed to be able to do anything with those cats and they would tolerate her.

Ferrets love tunnels and the camera lens fit perfectly inside
the plastic pipe. The ferret slid down the pipe and slobbered
the camera lens a moment after I snapped this.

Of  course, the pets in our household predated Calista.  In 1991 Roni and I owned just two pets (the ferrets were semi-feral, so they don't really count): a young Pomeranian called "Pogo" and an already elderly cat called "Terry". Pogo was the first dog Roni and I acquired as a married couple, purchased a scant month before our epic move to Whitehorse, Yukon Territories.  I always accused the dog of being a few bricks short of a load, but really, he never had a chance to be properly trained between the move to Whitehorse and the fact that Roni and I worked 12 to 14 hours a day running the veterinary clinic there.  Terry, on the other hand, was a farm cat Roni had adopted while she was still teen-aged and he was actually getting on in years by the time Calista was born. Terry had not quite become a pirate in those days, so he still had two eyes (one of which, even then, was developing early glaucoma).

The first year of Calista's life neither pet had much good to say about the baby. The dog was intrigued by the baby bottles and the sweet white goo that could be squeezed out of them if he got the chance to steal one. He really enjoyed the diaper pail and the treasures that were stored within. The diaper-pail wars between Pogo and Roni were epic in our house.  I frequently came home to find Roni chasing a little red blur, screaming bloody murder while simultaneously trying to clean up the strewn remains of shredded dirty diaper. I finally cured the problem by booby trapping the diaper pail with a plastic device called a "Scat Mat". The Scat Mat was designed to discharge a harmless static electric charge if an animal stepped across any two of the numerous wire coils embedded in the mat. I tested out the mat myself and while moderately unpleasant, the shock was far from painful. It was more startling than anything else.  One afternoon during  Calista's nap-time, while Roni was in the next room balancing the clinic books, Pogo decided to make one last sneak-attack on the diaper pail. Roni did not see the result, but she heard the indignant bark and instantaneously had a furry red friend huddling and growling next to her feet under the desk. We never had to defend the diaper-pail again; we left the Scat Mat in place in front of the pail, but never actually turned it back on.

Terry, on the other hand, pretty much steered clear of Calista altogether.  He would explore her nursery given the chance, but, by and large, he acted like the new addition to the family was just a passing fad that his owner's would discard like last weeks kitty litter. Calista was likely five or six before Terry (by this time quite elderly and fully a pirate by then, having lost his left eye to severe glaucoma) would have much to do with her, and even then I am pretty sure she was just another warm body to share a bed with on a cold winter's night.
Not one of our ferrets, but one we were babysitting. This particular
ferret was preternaturally tame and so large I actually suspect it
was a weasel. Calista had forgiven the nose bite of her youth obviously.

Through the Whitehorse years, the combination of babies and pets taught me one thing (beyond how to defend a disgusting pail full of dirty diapers): if you put pets and babies together, both are going to be hurt if you don't supervise closely.  Babies just cannot resist grabbing ears and tails and if that happens scratches and bites will usually ensue.  Roni and I learnt early: when teeth flash and tears flow, your best strategy is to give everyone heck.  The dog (and periodically the cat) had to learn that biting the baby was definitely not acceptable and the baby had to learn that groping and grabbing any part of the dog was nothing short of foolish.  We also learnt that you can't teach ferrets anything, so you should just keep the baby away from those critters altogether.  Calista sported the scars from a deep ferret bite across the tip of her nose for months after she decided one of Roni's small, toothy charges needed a kiss.

Calista never really took interest in the cats until Wascal, the feline dumpster-diver came to us courtesy of Roni.  By the time Wascal (as in  Elmer Fudd's "Wascally Wabbit") came to us, Roni was working full time at Balgonie Veterinary Clinic as the receptionist. 

Thumper, the Balgonie clinic cat. Calista grew up around one veterinary
clinic after another and adopted animals in each one. Thumper just wandered
into the clinic one day and never left. It was warm and he was well fed.

After Whitehorse Roni had sworn off working for veterinarians forever; the emotional stress of working the front desk at a veterinary clinic tends to wear a person down very quickly. Unfortunately, as so often happens, the owner of the Balgonie clinic had his receptionist up and quit without notice one weekend. Roni's experience and immediate availability earned her the job sight-unseen. The benefits of the job, besides a regular paycheck and a twenty mile daily commute, was unlimited access to stray cats abandoned behind the butcher shop next door to the veterinary clinic (now there is a little piece of irony). It was not too long after she started at Balgonie that Roni came home with five little balls of fur that had been retrieved from the garbage bins next door.

Roni assured me that it was just a temporary situation; she was going to find homes for all of them. I was not terribly optimistic; stray cats in the prairies are only slightly outnumbered by stray rats and thus finding homes for week-old kittens was never easy. Terry was far from pleased with the new arrangement.  Terry had assumed supreme dominance of the house by outliving Pogo (by nearly 7 years at the end) after the little red dog had died suddenly of a acute heart failure while  at a grooming salon the preceding summer.  The old cat, by this time, was past tolerating kitten hijinks and we spent much of our family time during that week the kittens lived with us just trying to keep Terry from killing them. Roni outperformed my expectations and found homes for all of the kittens save one; a long-haired tabby with a lethal set of claws. That kitten stayed with us for three weeks until I finally found him a good home. He was going to stay with us where he clearly belonged. Terry was just going to have to suck it up and live with the grey little Tasmanian devil.

Wascal became the feline love of my life. I had bonded with Terry and I dreaded the day he would have to find the next world, but Terry was always Roni's cat, even if he slept on my side of the bed (or maybe because he chose to displace me in favour of Roni?). From the time he was a kitten Wascal would follow me around the house, meet me at the door after work and curl up with me on the couch on cold winter nights. Roni was pretty sure that if the house was burning I would save the Calista first, the cat second and let Roni save herself.  Of course, I doubt it would come to that because Calista would save the cat and leave Roni and I to save ourselves. I am kidding myself if I want to believe that anyone shined so bright as Calista did for that cat Wascal. He slept with her most nights and cuddled with her any time she settled for a moment on the large sectional couch that filled our living room during those years.

Calista could carry that cat around the house like a stuffed teddy-bear,  hanging hooked over one arm, his hind end swinging unceremoniously like a furry pendulum. Calista could cushion her head on his ever-expanding belly like a heated pillow while she watched television and he would purr as if God himself was his companion. Calista could do anything to Wascal and she would be forgiven simply because he thought she was Divine. Wascal was the original Catmas Cat bringing kitty destruction to the season since the late nineties. Roni found it infuriating, I found it entertaining while Calista outright promoted his incorrigible behaviour.

The first year Wascal lived with our family, Christmas was a relatively peaceful affair. We still had to run interference between Terry and the little one-pound terror. The old man was intent on recovering his own little Serenissima by killing the kitten while it was still small and relatively defenceless. The kitten found refuge a few times by climbing the Christmas tree. Eventually the tree became a favourite perch and at less than two pounds his new habit was little more than simply amusing. He barely ruffled the plastic needles or bowed the wire branches of the old and venerable artificial tree Roni and I had carted all over the country during our many moves. At the time we did not foresee how large a cat Wascal was eventually going to become.

By the turn of the century, Terry was getting to be a very elderly cat, sixteen by a conservative count, and his kidneys were failing, arthritis limited his mobility and he was seeing poorly out of his one remaining eye as periodic bouts of virus-induced iritis threatened secondary glaucoma. Terry often just did not eat dependably and Wascal took full advantage of this deficiency.  Wascal would eat his ration quickly, then wait for the old man to back off for a moment to catch his breath, at which point he pounced on the unguarded food bowl like a turkey vulture on a crippled prospector. Wascal's hind end expanded only slightly slower than Terry's shrunk; by his second Christmas with us Wascal was over 8 kilograms and he would eventually top out at over ten kilograms. Twenty-two pounds of fat, flesh and fur. Gravity was his enemy. Unfortunately it was also the enemy of the Christmas Tree.

Wascal, saved from the dumpster at one week of age.
Calista submitted this portrait to a local photo-contest.
Wascal and Terry were practically twins over ten years
apart in age. Wascal came to us just as Terry was really failing.

In early December of 2001 or '02 our family returned from an evening out to dinner to find several of the glass tree ornaments shattered on the ground and several of the artificial tree boughs near the top of the seven foot marvel of wire and plastic were bent low and completely clear of ornaments.  Roni had a good idea about what happened, but it was not until the following day that she confirmed her suspicions when she found the immense Wascal spread out and sleeping on the, by now, permanently-bent branches. I heard Roni's outraged exclamation all the way up in the bedroom. Wascal slept through it, unconcerned.

We had to decorate the tree strategically from that point on; expensive ornaments were put high or low while only cheap ornaments could be put on or near the "bedding boughs".  Wascal has been gone for three years now; we got a new tree when we moved to Powell River, assuming that it was safe from the cat who mistook a tree for a bed.

Wascal was a great loss to me when he had to follow Terry to the "Land of Slow and Stupid Mice". To me he was taken suddenly from my family, but in truth, if I had listened to Roni and my own gut feelings, there had been warning signs for weeks before he died. His body condition was off, he developed a bit of a pot belly and, for the first time in his life, he started getting a bit picky about eating.  When I finally found the pancreatic cancer that was eating away at him, he had only been truly sick for less than two days, so he did not really suffer. In the end, it was Calista that made the decision to let him go; I asked for her opinion and she just told me that she did not want her boy to suffer with an untreatable cancer if there was no hope for a cure.  Calista always was tougher and more pragmatic under stress than either me or Roni.

Dougie came into our life about a year before we lost Wascal. Dougie was originally a stray cat that matured into a clinic cat and eventually was unceremoniously evicted from the veterinary clinic I worked at for "incorrigible behaviour".  Dougie liked to visit the staff lounge, grab the receptionists' lunch and make a run for his private kennel where he could savage the sandwiches in private.  He eventually graduated to self-feeding on expensive pet food from the clinic inventory, at which point the owner invited any of his staff to adopt the feline thief to save his life.  Calista, who visited me at work at least once weekly, had fallen in love with Dougie (to know Dougie is to love Dougie; he is the most coveted cat I know) and the moment he came up for adoption the hard sell was applied to dear old dad.  I warned Roni that Dougie was really more like a Black Labrador Retriever, complete with the ravenous appetite that breed can have, than anything else. I felt it was my duty to have full disclosure.  Our house has never been the same since. 

At her grandmother's farm in Etzicom AB. She wanted to
adopt a piglet until she saw a full grown pig. Soon after
this she started bringing home stray boys which were
much more trouble than any full grown pig.

To this day Roni and I cannot leave any food unattended or Dougie will make a run at stealing it. He will make off with entire loafs of bread and was once caught red handed by Calista with an entire half dozen of New York style bagels secreted under a desk.  Roni had thought she had left the bag of bagels back in the car or maybe forgotten them at the grocery store. It never occurred to her the cat would pick through the grocery bags while her back was turned and make off with bagels (chicken breasts maybe, but not bagels).  Dougie made his permanent mark in our house by stealing my entire dinner one night, leaving me just cold left-overs and beer for dinner. Roni had played the "good wife" and called me at work to find out when I would be home for dinner. Once she had a good idea of my arrival time, she cooked up  a perfect cheese-burger using some buffalo-burgers we had and my favourite old-cheddar cheese. She set my place at the table and made the mistake of turning her back to get me a cold beer.  One moment of laxity led to a lifetime of infamy. Calista caught the action as it played out: Dougie jumped up onto my seat at the table, popped his head up for just a moment and grabbed the cheese-burger patty. The little cat then just ran, a grey blur with a burger half as big as his body flopping up and down in his mouth. He crossed the kitchen in two jumps, dodging by Roni who was just realizing what had happened and headed for the basement. Calista just sat there and laughed the entire time.  Roni tracked the little furry thief to the ancient couch we kept in the basement; he was huddled down behind it where Roni darn near had to herniate a disc to retrieve the well gnawed buffalo patty. By the time I actually got through the door that evening it was all over except the laughing coming from my irreverent daughter. Dougie's terrible food allergies were nearly overwhelming for two weeks after that incident; I am pretty sure he thought all the itching was well worth it.

Dougie has adjusted to the Powell River experience well. He was a little lost when he arrived here without his mistress Calista, but quickly adjusted by just crawling into bed with Roni and I for the four weeks prior to Calista's arrival here in PR.  Once Calista turned up, our bed was vacated soon after as he returned to worship her royal highness (That is actually unfair. Dougie would return to our bed about 4 am; by that time he would be usually feeling "a might peckish" and from the foot of my bed he happily waited for me to get up and feed him. If I try to sleep in, he just wakes me up by breaking one of my prize possessions or tearing whatever book I am reading to wake me up. Calista was not a safe person to wake-up that way....ever.). Once again, Calista proved to be a natural "cat whisperer".

Soon after Calista's arrival in Powell River she started to work for me as a receptionist.  I make no excuses; I am a firm believer in nepotism. Supporting your own family first is a time honoured tradition. As far as receptionists go, Calista was pretty decent. Sometimes she was a bit full of herself and more than a bit overbearing to the rest of the staff.  The mature, experienced women I have working for me were very understanding; they recognised her youth and the fact she had grown up around veterinary medicine so she might think she "knew it all".   Over the ten months Calista worked for me she eventually matured into a very capable employee with one special edge on the rest of the staff; it was her family business and she had a personal stake in it. Calista was always very proud that Powell River Veterinary Hospital was a family owned and run business. She was a little old-fashioned that way. Unfortunately, she had one huge, glaring weakness; she kept on falling in love with the animals that passed through our doors.

Solr playing in the snow. This portrait
hangs in my lobby now.

Calista especially loved "snort and snuffle' dogs; those poor devils we humans breed with short, practically useless noses.  The flatter the face the more that girl loved the dog.  "Puggy Sue" and her sister "Sophie-Ray", two of five Chinese Pugs owned by one of my clients had a special place in her heart and she would always try to be "in clinic" if they were due for a visit, even if she was booked off for the day or the afternoon.  She just could not get enough of "Ralphie" , a particularly robust English Bulldog that spent a fair bit of time at out clinic; on the days that Ralphie was visiting Calista would get practically nothing useful done, but Ralphie got the most intensive care of any of our patients. Roni dreaded the day Calista would come home with one of the "snufflers" in tow.  It would have happened eventually if Calista had lived.

Snort, Snuffle and Slobber. The beloved
Ralphie. Proof that the iPhone camera
really kicks ass.

My clinic does a fair bit of low-cost SPCA work. For the most part the work consists of simple cat spays and neuters of abandoned and feral kittens. I remember one particular kitten especially. The SPCA foster-mom brought this little homeless fur-ball into my clinic one cool fall afternoon, wrapped loosely in her worn and ragged woollen toque. The kitten was little more than a week old; his eyes were barely open and a wizened umbilical cord still dangled from his belly. His nose was crusted shut with mucous and snot, he was malnourished and had ear-mites. I did not hold out much hope for the little guy, but I assessed that the SPCA volunteer was dedicated and willing to hand rear the little orphaned kitten. I set her up with some antibiotics, some kitten formula and some instructions on how to raise her foundling. No good deed goes unpunished.

In the early spring of 2011 Calista was working the morning shift at the clinic, opening up, receiving the surgical patients of the day, and booking afternoon appointments. One day the SPCA dropped off a couple of kittens to be neutered before they were to be fostered out to homes that afternoon. One of the kittens was a small, strawberry-red medium haired tom that I thought looked familiar.  Sure enough, still sporting some pretty crusty eyes due to chronic recurrent viral infections, it was the little foundling I had seen four months earlier. I hardly believed he had survived much less found a home. He had been adopted by a local amateur mechanic that needed a shop cat to control the mice.  I was not sure he had made the best choice; the little red cat looked pretty spindly and I knew he had been hand reared so his hunting skills might be suspect.
"They just want him to be a shop cat, Daddy"
Hermes about two days after she adopted him.

Half-way through the morning I noticed that Calista was spending a inordinate amount of time fawning over the wee kitten. Every chance she could get she was back playing and cuddling with the little guy. Extra care was taken to swaddle him post-operatively to make sure he was warm and recovered safely. She kept on remarking how good the little guy was and just how cute he was; often looking my way while doing so.  I realized I was being played by my daughter who was obviously determined to adopt the kitten.  I told her that he already had a home, to which she indignantly replied that "He is not going to a home! They just want him to be a shop cat!" as the tears trickled down her cheek. Somebody got the bright idea of calling the local SPCA director to see if, perhaps, the adoptive family could be convinced to adopt some other kitty. I cringed, realising I was about to have a new cat in my barely established home in Powell River. To this day I can hear the joy in Calista's voice as she finally convinced me to bring "the Little Red Devil" home.

Hermes, as she called the little red devil, has grown into quite a cat. He will never be very large and he will always require constant treatment for his chronic upper respiratory tract inflammation.  Sadly, some of these little kittens who suffered a rough start never really thrive. Hermes is a little feral; he is one of those extremely independent cats who will never like being handled but will condescend to sit on your lap on their terms. On the other hand, Hermes is the only cat I know that actually plays "fetch", chasing after thrown toy mice and retrieving them happily, throw after throw every evening before bed. He really is very loving on his own terms and has become much more so since Calista died. From the day she died Hermes seemed to sense his owner had moved on without him and has become much more loving and attentive to both Roni and me.  It almost makes a person believe in the mystical. I know I want to.

The adoption of Hermes kind of took me off guard; it was not finalised until late in the afternoon. Too late to get some simple screening blood tests done to make sure I was not bringing home a feline "Typhoid Mary" to my Dougie cat.  I silently cursed my short-sightedness but kept my concerns to myself as I let my daughter enjoy her new charge.  I resolved to let the little red devil settle in for a few weeks and then bring him back to the clinic to run a few simple screening tests. I realized that once he came home he was ours to keep regardless what the tests showed, but at least I would have some idea of the Pandora's box I had opened.

Four weeks later and nearly a kilogram heavier (home life agreed with Hermes despite the fact he was not entirely welcomed by Dougie) I managed to get him back to the clinic for a check up and blood tests. Calista hovered over me, fussing like an expectant mother, while I examined him and drew some blood samples.  The first test I ran was a simple "Snap" test for Feline Leukaemia Virus, since that was my greatest concern; it was negative. I then turned the rest of the blood sample over to Lori, my assistant, to run it on the computerized analyser my clinic owns. I really did not have any other concerns and it never occurred to me that there was someone else in the building who might be worried about the outcome of the blood screens.  I turned my back and settled back into my office to get some paper work cleared. Ten minutes later I had the results thrown down on my desk by a very teary-eyed Calista.  "Hermes has anaemia, Daddy" she choked out between despondent sobs.  I looked at the freshly completed blood count and, sure enough, the kitten did have a slightly deficient red blood cell count. It was just slightly low....just like every other kitten that has ever graced the halls of a veterinary clinic.  It took me several minutes to convince my Calista that Hermes' blood tests were within expected parameters for a young cat barely five months of age. To this day I don't think she really believed me, though why a kid who had never taken a single class in biology much less haematology, would think she really understood a complete blood count I will never understand. It did teach me to make sure I always see the blood tests and add my own interpretation to all results before they are released to the owner.  Even when she was wrong, my Calista had something to teach me.

The Catmas tree just before he noticed shiny golden bobbles.
He is mesmerized and the tail was flicking as his hunting instinct
was arroused. Merry Catmas and may your personal
destructive kitten be overjoyed.

Last Christmas was the first official "Catmas" declared by Calista.  Probably the most painful thing about leaving home for Calista was having to leave her beloved Hermes and Dougie behind. Heck, she even continued checking in on favoured clinic patients during her daily calls to Roni and me; she was starved for animal contacts.  Calista had taken to wooing the pets of her college friends by always turning up at their homes with pet treats in hand. Jesse was sure Calista's goal was to make "Lucky", Jesse's well-behaved and quiet Border Collie switch her loyalties from home and hearth to Calista. It took me a couple of months to figure out why the clinic's consumption of hypoallergenic pet treats was so high; it seems I was supplying a veritable herd of pets over in Comox and Courtenay. It wasn't just her friend's pets either.  There were several pictures on Calista's iPhone of a stray cat from her apartment complex who apparently had free access to Calista's small loft.  It was just some random, flea-bitten tabby cat, but she took the time to give it a meal and a warm hearth upon which to take refuge from the cold.  I hope the cat wasn't lactose intolerant because I am sure she gave it yogurt or ice-cream since those are the two things Hermes just goes crazy for to this day. She trained him to be bad; it made her laugh.

Jesse, her college friend, likes to take what I call "silly pet pictures".  To most people this might appear to be a pretty frivolous interest for a serious landscape photographer, but as a veterinarian I know the market potential for pet photography. Pets have a life expectancy of less than twenty years (kind of like someone we all know) and dedicated owner's love having quality memorials to those short, glorious lives.Furthermore, there is a real skill involved in getting a well composed photograph of a nervous animal with no patience or understanding of what is going on.  I don't begrudge pet photographers their due credit; good pet shots are few and far between.

While looking at photographs from my friend and fellow classmate Jessie, I came across funny cat photos of her cats decorated for Christmas. When showing my father the awesomeness of Christmas cats he commented that his cats were too dignified to let themselves be photographed in silly costumes. Needless to say challenge accepted. I can say approximately 1 out of 2 cats will put up with Santa hats and bell collars. The red devil felt like hunting the hat was a better option.

Calista Jasmine Fleming. December 21 2011

The tamest cat on Earth. If there was food
involved he was up for the challenge.

Calista snuck into the office one night and loaded this photo
onto the hard drive of the clinic server to act as my screen
background. It remains there today. She wanted me to have it and
I will keep it.

 Last December Calista showed me some pictures of Jesse's pets dressed and posed in seasonal costume. I commented that they were good pictures but my cat Dougie would had too much pride to sit for such an indignity.  I was smiling when I said it since Dougie is so tame he probably would sit for anything as long as there might be food involved. Calista took it as a challenge. She raced down to the mall to buy some props (remember that finding cheap props for photo shoots was one of Calista's special skills) and spent an afternoon dressing and posing my cat for Catmas.  Dougie, of course, sat like a trooper with a mission while Hermes, the red devil, thought the entire exercise was just an invitation for hunting play. The tassells on the end of the red felt elf-toque were much worse for wear after Hermes was finished with them.

Hermes' non-stop hunting behaviour nearly derailed Catmas and Christmas last year.  Calista became the little elf that saved Catmas.

Roni takes special pride in her Christmas decorating. She has several very full large Rubbermaid totes full of Christmas decorations, some of which are very expensive. We purchased a new artificial Christmas tree (we aren't Scrooge; Roni is terrified of the fire hazard posed by real trees) with lights already attached (now that is just wrong to me, but progress is inevitable) to replace the old, bent tree which had been a bed for Wascal for so many years. Roni spent most of day decorating and re-decorating the tree so it had that perfect "feng-shui" she demands of everything in her house. When she was done it was nearly perfect as far as she was concerned.  I don't really know since I never really saw the tree in one piece. Hermes had gone hunting.

When I finally made it home the day the tree was decorated there was a conspicuous hole in the decorations across the front of the tree and some suspicious gold glass shards on the hard-wood floor below.  After looking at the tree for a few moments, trying to decide if I would tell Roni or not, I realized there was a pair of golden eyes staring up at me from a hiding spot behind the tree. It was not Lewis Carol's proverbial "Cheshire Cat"; it was Hermes plotting out how he could access the shiny bobbles farther up the tree.  In the name of family peace I shooed the cat out of the living room and moved some ornaments to cover the decoration gap, hoping Roni would not miss the two or three bobbles that were MIA. Unfortunately  I had given Hermes too much credit for covering his crime properly; one of the wayward gold bobbles was hidden in plain view just under the sofa. Roni found it the moment she entered the living room.

No costumes for the Little Red Devil. It was nearly impossible
to separate him from his Catmas tree. Often all you could see
was his Cheshire Cat eyes peering between the plastic boughs.

Both cats, even the relatively innocent Dougie, were instantly banished to the veterinary clinic for the duration of the Christmas holiday. There was no way Roni was going to have any of her expensive decorations put at risk by the hijinx of that little red devil.  No amount of grumping and whining by either Calista or me was going to change her mind. I kept my mouth shut for the most part since I live by the rule of "Happy wife, Happy life", but there was no way Calista was going to give up her Catmas celebrations.  A cold war of attrition was declared between Calista and Roni, the loser being the first to break the silence and apologize.

Roni lasted about six hours. The treasured decorations were removed from the tree the following morning; leaving the bare tree and built-in lights. As a joke I hung a bunch of small stuffed mice Roni had around the house as cat toys. (My joke was not well received and, unfortunately, the dangling tails of the felt mice just proved to be irresistible "catnip" for Hermes and inevitably led to more Christmas tree carnage.)  Roni took the time the next day to call our favourite carpenter Randy to see if he could install some French doors at the entrance to the living room so we could actually have a cat-safe Christmas.  His reply was that it could be done, but not for that Christmas since the doors would have to be special ordered The cats came home the following day after less than eighteen hours in lock-up. Hermes appeared to be truly disappointed that his shiny, golden play toys had been removed, but the packages under the tree that had appeared overnight were nearly as entertaining, especially since Roni got so excited for him every time he started shredding the colourful wrapping.  Calista had saved "Catmas" by standing up to her mother. 

I never thought I would find a woman more determined and stubborn than my Roni, but Calista apparently was an apple who fell directly under the tree that grew her.

He is very loving and harmless. I call
him the red devil, but he is really quite
angelic. And he really has changed since
she has been gone. He is far more "with" us.

We won't celebrate Christmas this year. Or probably next.  The treasured decorations will remain in their plastic totes in a dark corner of the basement.  Roni and I are vacating Powell River for the four days surrounding Christmas and will play a wealthy couple just past middle-age while eating room service at the Empress Hotel in Victoria.  To remain here in the River, alone and isolated, staring out our front window across the wide blue straights that took our daughter from us would just emphasize her absence.  Even retreating to the venerable old Empress is a nod to Calista; she and Roni had stayed there last Spring while visiting to see a rock band Calista liked. Roni and her had intended to return to Victoria on a shopping safari once Calista had finished her college diploma program. It's hard to find things that don't remind both of us of Calista because she was such an integral part of our life. Catmas without Calista is just another sad day of the week for us.

Christmas is a strange holiday.  For Christians it is accepted as the day their prophet and saviour was born approximately two thousand years ago.  While historical evidence cannot even prove the existence of any one person who might have been Jesus, we know that December 25th was definitely not his true birthday.  Christmas, as a holiday, was stolen from the much older pagan religions simply because it is easier to bend ancient traditions than it is to eradicate them. With the upcoming Christian celebrations just on the horizon and having spent much of last week looking at Calista's pictures of ancient temples dedicated to Greek and Roman gods, it makes a person ponder religion during those idle sleepless moments in the dead of the night.

The ancient gods were vengeful, selfish and heartless gods.  Zeus lusted after mortal women and left them pregnant with his illegitimate children (Heracles). Hera, his wife, learnt of his transgressions, killed the women and cursed the children. The wars of the gods frequently brought death and destruction to the world of men in the form of earthquakes, raging ocean storms and wayward lightning bolts from the sky. Every bad thing that happened in the world could be easily attributed to a momentary pique of anger from a disgruntled god. If your beautiful twenty year old daughter was struck dead one sunny morning in May, the clear explanation was that she was too beautiful and you took too much pride in her leading a jealous goddess  to carelessly tip her jaded hand her way.  It's an easy and simple explanation for something that can only be described as "smote by god".  Unfortunately, we live in a world supposedly run by a loving and merciful God.

Its just not working for me anymore.

A last kiss goodbye. She saved him.
Perhaps he will save us.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing "Catmas". I found your blog after seeing a post on FB about a Crumsby's photo shoot that Calista was involved in.

    Words cannot express my sympathy for you and Roni and for all that loved your daughter (including 4 legged friends).