An Event that occurs early in a person’s life often helps to explain an emphasis or theme in their lifestyle. This is the story of the cat that brought the magic of feline companionship into my life.
On Sundays if my sister and I were lucky, we visited Grandpa’s house. He lived in a typical New Jersey urban dwelling, back to back with similar homes and a small backyard almost entirely devoted to a flourishing semitropical garden.
My grandfather, who always had a twinkle in his eye, called me over to his garden one day. “Come here, there’s something I want to show you.” I followed him into the back of his garden. He stopped and told me to be very quiet. There beyond the fence at the rear of his garden I could see a whole litter of tiny kittens frolicking and chasing each other. I was thrilled. I had always loved kittens, like any self-respecting 7 year old. My family had had cats on and off throughout my young life. “Want one?” asked my grandfather, suppressing a chuckle. My eyes were as big as saucers and when I answered with a big “yessss!” the kittens all scampered and hid underneath a pile of wood.
“How will we catch one?”I asked tremulously. I already knew how fast they could run. Grandpa, a man of few words said “come!” and we crept up to the fence. He leaned over and slowly removed the top branches of the woodpile which was right on the other side of the fence. Finally a furry mass of kittens could be seen in the middle of the woodpile. They were all grey tabbies, huddled so tightly together that I could not tell where one kitten ended and the next began. My grandfather picked me up so I could reach all the way down and pull out a kitten. I grabbed the rump end of a screaming squalling ball of fur into a box which my grandpa had conveniently placed near the fence.
I was in heaven as my father took us home that night. I carried the box on my lap ever so carefully. Once safely home, we cautiously opened the box. To my surprise, instead of a wildcat there was this tiny frightened kitten huddled in the corner of the box. He had a pink nose and a white muzzle and 4 perfect little white booties. I named him Figaro which I felt was a perfect name for such a marvelous creature. (Later he developed a liking for a new brand of cat food that just happened to have the same name!)
My mother instructed me to fill a newpaper-lined box with dirt. Figaro used it that night and never had an accident in his entire life.
Figaro grew and grew. He was never an exceptionally friendly cat and did not like to be held. Not having been handled in his infancy, he had never entirely bonded to humans. He was loyal and responsive to me though, and was so aware of my feelings that he would suddenly become lovable when he found me crying in my bed.
In those days cats roamed freely outside and neutering was not even considered for male cats. We were quite poor and in our neighborhood, mice were a real problem. Figaro became such a good mouser that my mother would actually loan him out to friends in need; Figaro always got his mouse.
At maturity, Figaro spanned 36 inches from nose to tail tip and weighed 12 pounds. One of his most memorable tricks was his method of procuring treats. He’d stand on his hind legs and impatiently scratch the metal table top until we gave him some of our dinner. His favorite food was shrimp and he would perform for anyone. A sure way to fetch him would be to break an egg. At the sound he would dash into the kitchen from anywhere. He was an aggressive fighter, constantly coming home with new battle scars. One day he showed up with a bloody ear that remained stiff for the rest of his life.
Some years passed and mother decided we should get out of New Jersey . It was time to move to California and seek our fortune there. Since she had never appreciated Figaro’s growly disposition or his frequent abscesses that usually drained on her nice dining room chairs, our mother decided to leave him behind. We would give him a good “country” home. A friend, Mrs Brown, already had a cat and a dog, and didn’t mind taking care of Figaro. So one day we left him at her house in Lake Hiawatha.
Soon after we left my beloved cat behind, his new owner wrote to say that he was dead. That was the end, and I grieved this loss for a long time. We stayed in California from June until November but when things did not work out, mother got her old job back and we returned to Lake Hiawatha, about 2 miles from Mrs. Brown’s.
The following spring, I came home from school and was wandering around the house. Like most normal teenagers, I gravitated to the bathroom to take residence there. For no particular reason, I climbed up on top of the toilet seat and stood there, looking out the window. To my surprise, directly in front of me about 60 feet away I could see a large grey tabby walking through a neighbor’s yard. I called out “FIGARO!!” and the cat looked up at me!
Laughing and crying, I flew down the stairs and ran out the door and up to where I had seen him. I called him softly and he warily approached me. It WAS Figaro. He looked terrible, his coat was dull and he was quite thin. I kept coaxing him until I was close enough to grab him. He didn’t fight. He growled softly as I carried him back to the house, but he never struggled. I put him into a walk-in closet with food and water and sat there with him - - overjoyed at my long lost friend’s return.
Mother came home later and couldn’t believe it was the same cat. But look here, his paralyzed ear, and here, this scar. She finally became convinced when he reacted to an egg being cracked in the kitchen when he came running just as he had always done, mother was in tears. Mrs Brown finally admitted that Figaro had run away the first day she had him and had not returned.
Mother had brought a little black Persian from California. Now that we had two male cats, she took them both to the vet to be neutered, so they would not fight. At the same time the veterinarian gave us some medication for an infection in Figaro’s mouth.
Of course I favored Figaro and personally fed him daily, canned cat food with an egg on the top. Since our reunion, he did not like to stay in the house (probably because of the competition) so I gave him what affection I could at feeding time or out on the porch where he liked to bask in the sun. Figaro lived for about a year after his return. He gradually developed a ravenous appetite (and I fed him more) but he finally died one night from what in retrospect, I believe was the result of a severe worm infestation – probably heart failure. In our total ignorance, we had not wormed him in years or even suspected that he might be wormy. (Nor did the veterinarian!) I found him curled up in his bed on the porch, he had obviously died very peacefully.
Almost 20 years later, I am crying as I write this. Poor Figaro suffered needlessly because of our ignorance. Sometimes knowledge comes to us at great cost. I will always be indebted to this great cat and will continually be repaying his memory with care for my present and future cats and keeping myself and others informed about cat care.
Written circa 1984 by Mimi Torchia Boothby