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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Paws for Reflection - Big Ginger Meggs

 The 4 October marked the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, the saint known particularly as the patron saint of animals. Many churches around the world hold St. Francis Day services and the parishioners bring their animals into the church for a blessing. 
Among the "blessed" animals who have shared our hearts and home was BIG GINGER MEGGS. He actually went by many names - Ginger Meggs, Big,  BGM (most common), Biggie Boy or in his latter days simply the old cat.
BGM and Winston - inseperable
Our old friend died in 1999.  I say our old friend because he was a friend to all four of us in four unique and different ways.  
BGM came to us at a difficult time of our lives. We had moved into an old house in on 'the other side of town' while we built a new home on the site of the little cottage we had demolished.  J was eighteen months old and his brother H, a fractious and difficult three year old.  We took with us to this house a strange old cat we had called Lizzie.  A plain name for a plain cat.  She had to be ugliest cat on earth, dirty white with odd tabby patches, her ears and nose scabby with skin cancer.  She had adopted us but refused to come inside the house. In fact if she was ever accidently caught inside she would literally climb walls to try and get out.  Lizzie was an outside cat and still definitely a stray but we felt we could not leave her at a potential building site so she moved with us and seemed quite content in the huge back of our temporary home - as long as we kept feeding her
BGM moves in on Lizzie's food bowl
Content that is until HE moved in.  I found a photo of him the other day, thin and mangy stretching out for Lizzies food bowl.  His coat was ginger and the texture of dried straw, he had a bite out of one ear.  He was fully grown and fully tom and nothing we could do could dissuade him from Lizzies food.  Water pistols, yelling, banging... all to no avail.  He would simply retreat a few paces and sit there calmly surveying us with the sure and certain knowledge that we would eventually cave in.
Of course we did.  Two bowls started to be put out and gradually over the next few months we watched a beautiful cat emerging literally like a chrysalis as his tatty coat began to improve.  First his head, then his shoulders. One warm summer night as I sat in the front room watching television, he appeared in the doorway of the room, hesitated only momentarily before he jumped on to the sofa a few feet away from me.  With his golden eyes firmly fixed upon me he crept down the sofa and laid his big, beautiful head on my lap, purring like a steam engine.  BGM had moved in.
We still refused to acknowledge that he was really ours, although I did the right thing by him and off he went to the vet, returning with his manhood missing and no doubt relieved that he no longer had to battle for the ladies attention.  There was one glorious summer day when J decided the cats needed sun protection and daubed fluorescent zinc cream liberally on both of them.  BGM had a fluorescent pink stripe for days and patches of bright green did nothing to improve Lizzies plain looks.
The time came to move and it was plain Lizzie was sick.  She could not walk without staggering.  The vet said her kidneys had failed and the decision was easy. Lizzie would not return to Aitken Street but BGM did.  After all by this stage we felt morally obliged to him.
He assumed his position in the new house as it he had been born to it but with one strange character quirk which it took a long time for us to come to terms with.  I cannot remember now how many times he went walkabout over the next few years.  Maybe two or three times a year some instinct would draw him back to the 'other side of our town'.  The first few times I went frantic until somebody from Victoria Street would ring and I would go and fetch him. Even without his collar and tag  he was so well known, he was traced back to me. 
After a while, the walkabouts began to take on a pattern.  He would disappear one evening and three or four days later I would get a phone call from Mrs. W., whose smart white house in Victoria street became his established haven.  Mrs. W. adored him and admitted that if wasnt for her own cat she would adopt him herself.  She would put him in the Mercedes and drive him home and he would arrive smiling and unfazed by the fuss. Even today she still mentions him when we meet in the street.
Gradually the wandering ceased and although Mrs. W. would ask after him fondly he would not come and visit.  I often wondered what called to him from over there.  He did not come from Victoria Street and certainly not from Mrs. W.  What adventures did he go through to get there?  If you asked him he would just smile enigmatically.
Companions came and went.  Our beloved Winston, left with us as a dirty abused kitten by the late Mrs. S. the cat lady” and we had a duo of gingers.  Good natured and obliging Winston was much adored by J who would tuck him under one arm and climb the stairs to bed with the limp Winstons feet banging on the stairs as he went.  Sadly Winston, 'the stupid', who would frequently get himself locked in the neighbor’s garage met his end when a car hit him.  Not a mark on his beautiful golden body. Mercifully the boys were away which made it easier but I wept for him and his loss was keenly felt by us all.
Winston was replaced by Sarah, a small bundle of tortoishell indignation who firmly decided from very early on that I was her person and although procured to replace Winston in the boys’  hearts was not up to the job.  BGM became the number one cat with J and endured H with a patience not displayed by Sarah.  From the photos of two cats together, I know it was part of his huge heart to let his fellow felines share his wonderful good fortune.  Never in the ten years he lived with us did I ever hear him utter a cross word to human or feline.
He was diagnosed early with Feline Aids, the legacy of his tomming past but on the whole his health was good.  It was only in his last years that the upper respiratory infections which plagued us began.  Cat snot from one end of the house to the other”, I would complain.  He would look up at me.  Sorry.
A boy and his cat
His one allotted task in life was putting J to bed.  J would set him at the bottom of the stairs and he would potter up to J’s  bed, lying in the boys arms until James was asleep when he would more often than not come back downstairs and join us for the evening before eventually taking his repose at the end of our bed.  He knew his place and was never a nuisance at night, unlike Sarah who liked to snuggle up close.
I dont know how old he was but of all the cats I have ever known, BGM had a serene wisdom as if he looked into your soul and understood what he found there.  It is the sort of unnerving goodness I have found in only two people, both of them priests.  Perhaps he was a priest of the feline world?  Certainly he ministered to us in our pain and unhappiness and shared joyfully in our happy times.
Without any explanation he began to fade.  The vets shook their heads and said they could not find a cause.  Maybe it was the Aids? We figured as long as he was not in pain and was still eating then we would go on loving him and maybe, just maybe God in his wisdom would take him peacefully in his sleep.  It was not to be that simple, perhaps God wanted to give us the chance to say goodbye properly.  In his last days he became incontinent and such was his immense dignity that I found him sleeping in his litter box.  On the Saturday morning he looked up at me and his eyes said Its time.  It was a family decision, a chance for those final farewells before D and I took him to the vet.  He was calm and peaceful, as if he quite understood what was to happen and welcomed the release.  I sat in the waiting room, tears running down my face as I stroked his beautiful golden, head, marked with the M between the eyes. 
So he rests beneath our birch tree and still if I feel troubled I find myself standing in that peaceful place as if he can still give the comfort he shared so generously when he was alive.