Monday, July 26, 2010

A Tribute to Bam-Bam

"A Tribute to Bam-Bam"

1993. Not a good year. I got divorced, my dad died and my sister Pat was diagnosed with cancer. The single truly positive thing that happened was two small furry additions to the family.
Shortly after Dad died the end of April, Pat’s cat had kittens. Four little bundles of fun; one calico and three black and white. It was easy for my kids to pick out one of them – the calico had beautiful markings and fluffy fur. The brother that we picked had a black spot just under the nose on his white face; it made him look like George Hamilton.
At six weeks old we brought them home. Nick, eight years old, and Val, three years old, naturally wanted to name them. We already had a dog, a shepherd-mix named Muffins, and an all –black inside cat, Keisha. I always wanted to name my pets - and my kids for that matter – with a theme. You know, name them after the Brady Bunch or all their names begin with the letter “M”. Luckily for my kids, their dad prevailed in naming them. But I thought, how much psychological pain can I inflict on cats and dogs??
From somewhere, the kids came up with Pebbles and Bam-Bam for the kittens. Pebbles was perfect for the calico with her tan and black spots. Bam-Bam just plain seemed to fit her brother.
The plan for the new kittens was for them to live in the garage and be mousers. And at that they excelled. It was actually kind of cruel, at times, to watch them tag-teaming on their prey, an innocent mouse or chipmunk. And we never had any birds around the house. Every spring they seemed to find rabbit nests and would bring a few dead babies up to my step.
Over time, Keisha died and we gave away Muffins. A new man, Himey, came into our lives, and he brought two black cocker spaniels into the mix – Shadow and Pepper. Well, that shot down my theme idea. In time, though, we brought home another kitten and named him Fred.
Both cockers died tragically within a month of each other. At first, I thought, the cats will be pets enough, they don’t tie you down like dogs do. But after a few months, we had to go to the humane society to see what they had.
The mutt we found there became the world-famous Dino the wonder dog.
In the winter of 2008, Pebbles got sick. The vet thought she had some kind of tumor and naturally wanted to run a bunch of tests, but I said, “no, she is 15 years old, let’s just keep her comfortable”. The following Monday, when she was still in the same sorry shape, I sent Himey in to have her put to sleep.
I was crushed by her passing. For the entire outside world, I put on a face. She was just a cat, cats are disposable and so easy to replace. But Pebbles had been special. She had such a beautiful coat, thick and soft, with those awesome calico markings. She never asked for anything. On the coldest winter nights, we offered to let her and Bam in the house. He would flop on the floor as if to say, “about time you appreciated me.” Pebbles though would take a tour of the house and then cry at the door to go back outside.
What hurt me the most was that we had gotten them from Pat. Cancer had taken her life in 1999. It seemed such a waste; my sister had so much to offer this world. She was so incredibly smart, tough as nails, and kind beyond words. I have so many memories of her, so many pieces of her in my life.
But the two kittens we had gotten from her were living and breathing. She hadn’t had any kids of her own, but these cats were life, a life that would go on living when Pat no longer could.
And then Pebbles was gone.
That summer we picked up two new kittens from our friend Phyllis. Easy to name, another brother and sister, Barney and Betty.
Bam-Bam was starting to slow down by then. To spite us all, though, the weekend after we brought the newcomers home he brought home a dead baby bunny. It was as if he were saying, “don’t think you’re going to replace me. I am still the king.”
And king he was. He would lay in the yard, surveying his domain, just as if he were Simba on the Serengeti. His walk had purpose, slow and methodical, but always with pride. He was a cat you had to respect, and the other animals knew it. They played with him and teased him, but at the end of the day, they knew he was the boss.
Barney was with us for less than a year before he got lost in the woods – a long story that I won’t embarrass Val by repeating here.
Betty, the sweet little killer she was, bonded with Bam, sleeping with him on the deck at night and picking up his hunter’s skills. It was getting harder for him to eat dry cat food, so we started feeding him canned food everyday, splitting it with Fred and Betty.
Saturday morning, I had a meeting in Green Bay. Himey, being the wonderful guy he is, offered to drive me down and drive me home. Per the morning routine, he took a can of cat food out to the garage. Betty and Fred came running as usual. Bam came to the corner of the house and lay down. He got up and went a few more feet before lying down again.
“What’s wrong with him?” Himey asked.
“Oh, he’s fine.” My Bam-Bam is invincible, I wanted to add.
We got home around four that afternoon. Dino was happy to see us, full of his usual energy and puppy-like glee. Betty and Fred made their presence known, but no Bam. We didn’t think too much of it; in his youth he would go on occasion “walk-abouts”, showing up weeks later with a fat belly and smelling of wood-smoke.
My mom had come out mid-morning that day to let Dino out of the house and commented that night that she hadn’t seen Bammer either, but that Dino seemed to be interested in something on the back side of his doghouse.
Sunday, still no Bam-Bam. Our only concern was that we had heard coyote’s howling in the night. What if they had gotten him?
In the afternoon, I went in Dino’s pen to shake out the nasty old towel left there for him to lie on. I heard a hum of flies. And I knew what that meant.
I walked out of the pen and around the corner to the south side of his doghouse. There was my brave, brave boy, black and white and beautiful. Just asleep, the eternal kind.
In our backyard, years before, we had built a slide for the kids. Instead of a ladder, there was a ramp to the top, and at that top were two platforms, a place for the kids to pretend they were swashbucklers on a ship or a prince and a princess in the castle tower. Bam-Bam spent many hours laying on the top platform. A perfect place to survey his domain. Unlike Nick and Val, though, he wasn’t pretending, he had indeed been master of his domain. And we laid him to rest under that throne.

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