Cat of a Thousand Names

It all started with a case of gender confusion. One of our “twin” cats, Baxter (sister and brother, actually, but they were practically identical), had just passed away after a fairly long and ugly battle with stomach cancer. I wasn’t ready for another cat, but my family had other ideas.

I left for a trip just before the 4th of July, and my parting instructions were: “Don’t get another cat while I’m gone. But if you do, make sure it’s a girl. We don’t want another boy cat beating up poor Betty.” We loved Baxter more than anything, but he really could be an asshole when he wanted to be. Which was any time (1) Betty was anywhere near, (2) he spied something on a surface that should be knocked off–preferably glass and breakable–and (3), breakfast time, which could start as early as 4am with insistent yowling. So, basically most of the time.

There’s Betty. A softy at heart, but always ready with a few claws if necessary.

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I wasn’t surprised when I started getting texts with photos of an adorable orange and white kitten.

Enter Waldo.

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He was the cutest little thing, athletic and possessing an impressive alley cat swagger at only 3 months. We decided to keep the name Waldo, thinking how fun it would be ask “Where’s Waldo?” every time we were looking for him. There’s no way that would get old, right?

The time came to have Waldo neutered. I took him to the home of the woman his foster mom recommended for his last distemper shot, and she offered to make the appointment through the vet she works with. She flipped him around to have a look at his rear end, and said “Uh . . . I think you mean spayed. This one is a girl!”

Enter Wilma.

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We didn’t want to change his–er, her name too drastically, and Wilma was a good fit with Betty, if you’re a fan of the Flintstones. Their coloring even matched their names: Betty has black hair, and Wilma is mostly orange. Cute, right?

Except that somehow the gender switch activated a naming switch, and we started calling her everything under the sun. Wilmer, Wilderama, Wilmy, Wilma Lou, Wilma Lou Hoo, Willy Wonka, Little Willy Willy Won’t . . . Go Home, Silly Willy, Little Willy, Willy Loman, Willy Willy Oxenfree. And probably more that I can’t think of now.

Every morning when it’s time for breakfast, I’ll start calling all of her names (and a few for Betty, just to make sure she doesn’t feel left out), and by the time I finish running through them all, they have both finished eating and are settling down for their morning nap.

Next, I suppose we’ll have to round out the family with a Fred, Barney, Pebbles, Bam-Bam and Dino. I can only imagine how long breakfast will take.

 

 

Looking at life from behind: In no particular order

I have an empty photo frame that has been hanging on our stairway wall for three years. Every now and then, my daughter will ask why I haven’t put any photos in it. Until now, I could honestly say “I have no idea!”

It’s not like we don’t have photos in frames all over the house. We have tons of them. All happy, smiling faces of our family at different points in our lives—soon after J. was born, at the beach, us beaming and her peering out from her Baby Bjorn with an expression both concerned and nearsighted. A posed family Christmas photo when J. was about 6 and S. was a toddler, where only I noticed the slight yellowish bruise on her cheek from the latest episode of S.’s “enthusiastically throwing board books” phase. In front of the Eiffel Tower, the week after Princess Diana died, long before we had any idea how full and chaotic the next 20 years would be.

I kind of felt like, “been there, done that” in the hanging photos department. But the stairway wall was bare, and needed something. So up went the photo frame, and there it sat. Somehow filling it with more of the same types of photos didn’t seem right. This frame should have its own special type of photos.

But what?

Recently I was transferring photos from an old hard drive to my laptop, and it struck me: The photos that I found most poignant were the ones taken from the back. Photos that spoke to me not through the expressions on the subjects’ faces, but their poses, their posture, their surroundings. The photos where no one felt obligated to create a “hey we’re having fun” face, but were simply going about their business, thinking who knows what.

Here’s one of my favorites: A perfect late spring day, after coming home from a joint birthday party for both kids. He was three, she was seven. We had to explain to S. what a pinwheel was, but he was fascinated. He didn’t let go of that pinwheel the rest of the afternoon. Here he’s taking a breather and watching the rest of the kids running and doing cartwheels in the yard. Who knows what was going through his head? Not knowing, I’m free to make up stories about what could have been happening in the photo.

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Here’s another one–walking to our first ride on the Tower of Terror (and many more to come):

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And there are more:

Even though I know the back story (sorry, pun really wasn’t intended but I like it so I’m keeping it) for all these photos—after all, I was always the photographer—it makes me happy to think that they could have been telling any number of stories. I can make up new ones to match them if I want. There are no faces or expressions to prove me wrong.

Which reminds me of something I sometimes think about: What are the stories of the people who randomly appear in your family photos? What were they doing at that moment? I know what we were doing, but their narrative was completely different that day. And come to think of it, wouldn’t it be cool to be able to locate all the family photos that YOU have randomly appeared in? Those photos alone could tell the entire story of your life, in no particular order.

But that’s a whole separate line of musing that I’ll get into later.

J. and I finally took that empty photo frame off the wall and filled it with a crooked collage of our favorite photos. It took some wrestling (“Aw man, now there’s a HAIR between the two pieces of glass! Ok, take it apart again.”), but now it accurately represents us: Not perfect, a little askew, slightly messy, memories overlapping, mostly happy.