Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Jack The Cat: Missoula 1990

His name could have been Zack, but when we heard the neighborhood kids call his name as they came home from school, my wife and I heard it as Jack. This is when we lived in the little cottage on Rollins Street in Missoula. Jack was--we assumed--a stray. He came to hang out at our place all the time, even coming inside and spending the night. He had no collar. But, I admit, he didn't look like a stray.
He was a comical-looking cat. He had the markings of a siamese, including very blue and very crossed-eyed eyes. But he was big and fluffy--sort of Persian, Himalayan, Raccoon Cattish. he was funny and friendly, maybe not that bright but gregarious. I never saw him run from a person or even a dog for that matter. he was a good cat. He was an annoying cat.
he looked a lot like our cat, M.R., though she wasn't quite as fluffy or big or cross-eyed. When we first saw him we thought M.R. had somehow gotten out of the house, but then saw it was not her at all. He began to come around all the time, then demanding that we let him inside. And we did, reluctantly at first. he had a bad habit of climbing screens, the door at least.
I still remember the story Fru has told about him. I worked afternoons and nights at the University of Montana and Fru would be home by herself. One day Jack came by and wanted inside. Fru didn't want to have to deal with him. So, she walked around ducking at all the windows so the cat would not see her. She was in the kitchen and saw home on the porch from the window there and so she ducked again. She was hiding from Jack the Cat. So, as she huddled close to the kitchen floor, Jack jumped up onto the screen and stared at her. So, she had to let him in since he saw her. he was a determined animal.
By the summer of 1990, Fru and I knew we were leaving Montana. She had a job offer back in Illinois and--being quite poor in Missoula--she took the offer. We drove back in her car, leaving my truck, with the idea that I would return, rent a U-Haul and get our stuff to bring to Illinois.
And, that's what we did.
But after my return to Montana, after my renting and packing and loading and goodbyes said, one of my last acts in Missoula was to grab Jack the Cat (M.R. was already gone). I picked him up and put him in the rental's cab with me--I was towing my red pickup. We had a flat in South Dakota (or maybe it was south of Sioux City, Iowa) and the cat had to wait in the truck while I walked to an exit and a phone. But, we made it to Champaign, IL.
Jack the Cat and M.R. settled in as we did. Jack liked to go outside and caused a little trouble by jumping on neighbors' screens, the--when we moved to the place on Miller Street from West Union--he developed the habit of wandering, even crossing the busy street of Church to visit people in that neighborhood: I got calls from people asking if I was missing my cat. Jack had a collar now, with my name and phone # on it.
Yes, we doted over the two cats. Held and Xmas for them and took tons of photos. Yes, they were our surrogate children. But then we had a real child and the cats went back to being just cats very quickly. Still, they were family and they liked First Daughter's crib and she liked them.
I had a job working at Agriseed. I often would go in at night to water the hybrid corn plants in the greenhouse there. It was on such an evening as I left and turned on Church that I saw Jack. he was in the side of the road and his gut was split open. Dead. I had to go back and get a box and a shovel and scoop him up. I didn't go to work that night.
Fru and I were, of course, full of grief. Grief tempered that he was only a cat, but still real grief. And it still bothers me to this day that I had taken him. He no doubt did have a home--lack of collar or no--and I had, essentially, stolen him. And if he had remained in Montana, no doubt Jack or Zack would have lived a long life.

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