Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Men and Cats

She had a rough start in this life—her mother killed by a car—she and her siblings forced to fend for themselves before they were finished nursing—hiding in abandoned buildings, crossing dangerous alleyways, depending on bag ladies and the kindness of strangers for sustenance.

Then she came to us. Jan had been after me to get her a pet. I had my horse, after all, and our dog Rivers had been gone for a few years. Friend Jerald captured her in one of his downtown buildings. Said she was the pick of the litter because she was a tuxedo cat—black with a white tie at her throat and a spot of white on her belly.

He brought the kitty to us in a box. I knew next to nothing about cats and neither did Jan. I have always been a horse and dog person and Jan a dog person. We had cats when I was a boy, but they were barn cats. My contacts with them only came when I milked our jersey and the barn cats begged me to send a spray or two their way. They followed me and the milk bucket back to the house, but at a respectable distance.  Touching one would get you scratched.

No animals of any kind were allowed in our house when I was growing up. Jan was unsure about this little kitty and I was highly reluctant. I intended to ignore the situation as much as possible and hope she didn’t disrupt my life too much. We agreed that we would put her on the covered porch in a little house we bought for her and let her stay outside as soon as she was big enough to fend for herself. Because of her green eyes, Jan named her Jade.

I read somewhere that a woman can pet a horse and her heartbeat will match the horse’s within ten seconds. Jade worked that magic on Jan right away. She was a calming influence and Jan loved everything she did. There were a few problems with owning a cat in the beginning, but nothing serious. She usually ate inside, but quickly asked to be let out. When the first catfight occurred in the dark, we moved her into the utility room to sleep.

When she was still a kitty, I came home one night green with nausea and a bad headache and went directly to bed. In a few minutes, I felt something under the covers with me. I knew it was her, and that she was not allowed on the bed, but was too sick to do anything about it. Jade made her way to the top, stuck her head out, laid it down in the hollow of my neck, and purred. I think she knew I was sick.

The next morning, she lay down on my bare feet when I was shaving. I knew she had me then. The head butts and rubbing against my leg cemented it. When Jan told friends and family that the cat had captured my heart, I told them it was hard not to love something that seemed to love you. I referred to her as a wily seductress, a regular femme fatale.

During the first year, I would see her peeking out from the shrubbery or ground cover as I drove off in the mornings. I couldn’t shake the feeling that it might be the last time I ever saw her. Jan felt the same way. Jade takes risks and loves the outdoors. But her early life prepared her for survival.
She likes dark, tight, and protected spots, so she spent a lot of time under our old barn, in trees, and hidden in the weeds along our fence line. She befriends skunks, possums, raccoons and some stray cats (fighting or running from others).  We were outside one day when she walked alongside a mother raccoon as she moved her young ones from the barn to a tree nest. Jade repeated the trip with each new baby.

She likes to go out before daylight and come back in after dark. We worry when we hear coyotes howl as she steps out, wonder if she will return. The first night she did not come home, Jan fretted by the window until close to midnight. Jade finally limped home. She had apparently been trapped by a predator and had to leap from barn rafters to escape.

I never knew before Jade that cats growl. Jade growls when any strange animal enters anywhere on our nine acres. She knows where the fence lines are and never ventures far outside them. She is very afraid of strangers and hides outside when we have guests. If she gets trapped inside when they arrive, she stays under the bed until the guests leave.

Our friends, and especially our children, are amazed that I allow this cat in the house. During one holiday celebration, she stayed under the bed about as long as she could, finally emerging before our family left. She slinked her way around the perimeter of the room to reach my chair and jumped on my knee. I imagined her announcing to the others, “I belong to him. So don’t mess with me.” I only learned later that she was saying, “He belongs to me.”

Her conquest of me is now complete. She usually finds me when I go outside, turns on her back in front of me for a belly rub. Jan loves the time Jade spends with her in her quilt house, but much to her chagrin, Jade seems to prefer my lap when she’s in the living room, probably because I have saved her from so many catfights and predators. And she almost always responds (eventually) to my whistle when it’s time to come home.

She comes and goes as she pleases now, but still spends most days outside. She knows how to ask to get out and which door she prefers. She asks that you accompany her to the utility room to eat. She does all sorts of endearing things, like slapping my cheeks with her paws when I do sit-ups.

I don’t know if cats can experience the true emotion of love, but it’s a sure thing they can experience trust. Jade trusts me and that gives me a warm feeling. I won’t let her down. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

CT and Me The Rest of the Story

At our conferences, I made sure that a place was reserved for CT in a good location, a place that he could reach easily and sit comfortably for twelve hour stretches. Yes, for twelve hours a day, four or five days in a row, sometimes longer, CT would commiserate with fledgling and successful reps, explaining how to succeed in the business of financial planning. 

CPA’s, CFP’s, CFS’s, attorneys—all licensed stockbrokers, sat in rapt attention interspersed with lots of laughter as the man with a tenth grade education explained the secrets of his success. There was just really one secret—well, maybe two. 1. Never put your interests ahead of your clients. 2. Your job is to help people.

CT had a gift for illustrating these simple secrets with anecdotes that the most inexperienced rep could understand. I liked to watch the lights come on in their eyes. I called those gatherings The University of CT.

People soon forgot that CT was handicapped. He had the appearance of a strong, athletic and virile man—a real outdoorsman. He was all those things, but an accident crippled him in his early adulthood, forcing him to wear a brace and walk with a crutch. He used a motorized cart when the pain got too bad. And yes, there was a lot of pain—constant for over four decades.

After the accident, he started over and failed several times. Finally, he pulled himself up by his bootstraps and his one good leg and embarked on a journey of self-education. He started a new business doing tax returns. This one worked.

I never knew about the pain until I had known him about five years. He suffered in silence. He took me deep sea fishing in his own boat and spent the better part of the trip patiently untangling my reel. We sat in a little seaside bar somewhere (Padre Island, I think) and had rum and coke. We never discussed constant pain.

When I told him I was leaving the business to pursue the next chapters in my life, he understood, never accusing me of abandoning the ship he had risked everything to come aboard.

We remained friends after I left the business. I have been in his home many times and know his family. He and Maggie Jo made a six-hour, pain-filled journey to my home to help me celebrate the launch of my first novel after all business connections between us were in the past. Not many friends like that. My books occupied an honored place on a shelf in their living room.

Painkillers ate a hole in his digestive organs and he almost died from kidney failure. I did not know until he was out of the hospital. We talked a few times each year on the phone and exchanged a few e-mails, but all those years on the phone had given me phone-phobia and he had the same distaste for e-mail, though he was technologically advanced.

If we had not lived six hours apart, we would have had coffee every day, I think. But there was that six-hour distance. When he recovered from the near-death experience and his fishing friend died, putting the boat in the water became onerous and painful, so he took up hog and deer hunting, mostly hogs.

He promised to take me because I really wanted to see how a man who had only one good leg could manage successful hog hunts. He did manage it, however, with the same gumption that he managed everything else. What I really wanted to do most was to come to the little house he had on Padre Island and ride down the coastline in his Jeep.Then sit around and absorb CT's aura of goodwill and optimism.

Seventeen years after he called me that day to ask what I was doing at the new BD and twenty-four years into our friendship, Maggie Jo called to tell me that CT was dying. Cancer.

I was having coffee with a new friend when she called. I am sure the new friend was shocked at the look that came over my face and the clouds in my eyes. I told Maggie I would need time to absorb that, to get my arms around it. Forty-eight hours later, I was on his doorstep.

We talked for hours—with him still remaining calm and poised in this crisis to end all crises. There was a pain pump, installed after that episode two years earlier. I had not known. He was upbeat and his voice was strong, but his eyes reflected the hurt. Even CT was having trouble managing this level of pain.

When he tired too much and it was time for me to go, I knew it might be the last time I saw him alive and I wanted to cross that bridge that men seldom set foot on, that chasm between what we feel in our hearts versus what comes out of our mouths.

I am sure my effort was stumbling, inept, as I struggled to say what this friend had meant to me and how much I admired him, to form into words the sum of a man’s life from the viewpoint of someone other than family.

He set the bar high; he served without expectation of reward; he was humble; he was prosperous without losing frugality; he was generous without taking credit; and he knew the value to oneself that comes from helping others. To me, he was a true, good, and loyal friend. They should build monuments to people like CT.

CT died a few days after my visit (Feb 8, 2009). We just passed the fifth anniversary of his passing, and I am still very sorry we never made the hog hunt and that Jeep trip along the coast.