By RAHN ADAMS
He has orange hair. He sniffs too much. He can’t keep his tiny paws off the girls. He’s a lurker, always peering over one particular female’s shoulder. And we don’t think he’s very smart—at least, he isn’t going out of his way to show his intelligence. But the orange-haired guy is entertaining. He really is.
She is small and fiesty. But she’s smart, really smart. And she is so very determined—when she wants something, she never gives up until she gets it. She’s been ill lately. At first, we didn’t think we’d like her because she was always in trouble, especially with computers, but we’ve come to like her.
The two of them are vying to succeed the coolest cat to ever reside in our white house. He was larger than life. He was unlike any other—the first of his kind—but it was part of the reason we liked him. He was easy-going most of the time but assertive when he had to be. He was our favorite of all time.
Of course, I’m referring to the cats that have been important parts of our household over the past couple of months—our six-month-old kittens, Jem and Scout; and our late cater familias, nine-year-old Tiger Woods, who died unexpectedly Sept. 2nd. We still miss him, even with all the kittens’ distractions.
All three cats came from Morganton’s Friends for Animals at the Humane Society of Burke County. We also rescued a great cat 15 years ago from the Watauga Humane Society near Boone. Please remember that great pets are just waiting to be adopted from animal shelters and humane societies like these all across the country.
When we brought Tiger home in August 2011, we didn’t especially like his name, even though it fit him—a huge Manx with an orange tabby coat. He was the largest and only tailless cat I’d ever seen. He was also the most intelligent feline we’d ever had. He could sit on command, and he would stay close to Timberley whenever I’d have to be away from home for an extended period. When I left, I’d say, “Tiger, keep Timberley company,” and he would. He greeted me with a head butt whenever I came back home.
I always said Tiger was my cat, and Timberley was his person. I loved him (and her, too, of course), and he loved her. Me, he tolerated. Still, he was the closest thing to a familiar spirit I’ve ever had. We were both overweight and never met a food we didn’t like. He and I both would gag when we smelled certain odors. We both had bad backs—me, from lifting heavy bags of mulch a few years ago; him, from falling from our garage rafters not long after he got him. From then on, we both knew our limits and spent most of our free time just lying around, him often on my chest or on the footrest of my recliner.
We lengthened his name to Tiger Woods for a couple of reasons. First, one of our favorite TV shows of all time is Frank’s Place, which aired on CBS in the late 1980s and starred Tim Reid and wife Daphne Maxwell Reid. It was a great show that isn’t rebroadcast or even available on DVD now due to problems with the authentic but copyrighted New Orleans music that it featured, according to Ms. Reid, who personally responded to my emails about the show. But back to the point, the show also featured a cat named Hank Aaron, who was one character’s favorite baseball player (and mine). We thought that was cool, so we honored Tiger Woods similarly. Secondly, our Tiger Woods had no tail, no claws and no balls. He came that way, and, therefore, we never had to take a golf club to him for misbehaving.
After Tiger died not quite two months ago, we were undecided about replacing him. The last time a beloved pet died—he was a big, grumpy, gray tabby named McEnroe—we waited five years before getting Tiger. But numerous friends advised us not to wait, to go ahead and mourn but, when the time was right, to rescue one or two animals needing homes. I’m glad we listened to that good advice, even though the kittens have been much trouble to raise even to this point. We’ve already been to the vet a couple of times, and we’re getting skilled at giving medicine without being clawed or bitten.
Former teaching colleague Linda Callender helped us name our kittens after Timberley mentioned on Facebook that we had brought them home. At the shelter, their names were Salvador and Marcy, but Jem and Scout—names of the brother and little sister in Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird—fit these cats much better. The descriptions in the first two paragraphs are accurate and without exaggeration. In fact, we considered naming them Trump and Hillary—as another Facebook friend suggested—but Jem is a sweet-natured, long-tailed cat, which is why Timberley picked him; and Scout, my choice because I’ve always liked smart girls, is so ugly she’s cute, and she doesn’t hold back when Jem needs to be put in his place. She’s my girl.
In Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, poet T.S. Eliot writes that every cat has three names: a common name, a formal name and a secret name. Jem’s common name is Buddy; Scout’s is Girlie. Or sometimes we refer to them as “the boy” and “the little girl.” We hope they both live and thrive for many years to come. At my age, it’s conceivable that these two cats will outlive me—or that at least Jem will, since he isn’t a Manx, as Tiger was and Scout is. It’s an intelligent and gregarious breed, but its lifespan is much shorter than that of the average cat. Manx cats generally live only eight to twelve years.
But as far as their secret names go, Jem and Scout aren’t telling us, and I’m almost afraid to ask. And that applies to our current presidential candidates, too.