June 30, 2017

Saying Goodbye to Winston

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On Monday I said goodbye to the most vocal member of my household but one, that one being me. Winston was a big and insistent cat. In the past few days I have been a little surprised at how many people have told me, “Oh, no. He was my favorite.” He was to me, and in my friend Christina’s inimitable words, The Cat I was Responsible For.

I named him Winston in hopes he would grow into the name and that one day I could pose him with a cigar and bottle of gin. (I’m sure Churchill would be pleased to be remembered for that.) He did grow into a big, handsome guy but sadly, was a bit of a doofus, not the intellectual giant I hoped he’d be.

I never felt that we bonded. When he was a kitten, all he wanted to do was eat. A friend pointed out that he was just five weeks old and didn’t know he supposed to be bonding with me but it was a disappointment all the same. Yet it was ever so: I was disposable, the food supplier, that’s all. All his life he lived to eat.

He hated singing or music of any kind. I’m afraid I can trace that back to the first day he spent in my house with his litter mate, Edwina, a very early casualty. I had 13 students that day and at least half of them were singing students. By the end of the evening, Winston and Edwina were both hiding under my great grandfather’s big heavy desk.

From that day forward, if Winston was snoozing in the room when I started teaching, he would ostentatiously stalk out. You can imagine how much he loved my practicing the Queen of the Night arias I performed last spring. Towards the end when he was failing, he would first put his head up and say “Weah Weah,” then heave himself to his feet, plod over and plead with either me or my student to stop, and then stalk out of the room. He’d sit in the hall like a martyr until I closed the piano at the end of day. Then the “Weah, Weah” would begin again, this time for food.

I have to say something about the “Weah Weah” because it was a phenomenally irritating sound.  When I was trying to make the best of things, I would say to myself, “He thinks he’s singing. This should please you.” It pleased other people. When my friend Joan came over she always asked me to make him talk.





My students loved it. They loved him. They loved it when he came into the room demanding food. “Weeeaah.”

He was a huge character, larger than life. A dreadnought with a basketball lurching from one side to the other when he walked.  You could pet him. He didn’t run haughtily off like Artemis did or scurry off in alarm like Freudy did when he was alive. Winston plopped himself on the floor and rolled over for anyone. He purred, he drooled. A big old doofus.

In his younger years, he was a Bringer-into-the House of enormous rats, mostly alive, to be let loose behind the refrigerator. The dead ones he mostly dined on al fresco and then brought his blood-smelly breath into my bed to sleep it off. But as he got older all that stopped. I don’t miss it.

He liked a cigarette out on the front porch at 9:15 every evening. Towards the end when he stopped insisting on it, I played a game with him where I put a marvelous little cat treat called a Tumbler in front of him. He’d say “Weah” and eat it. I put another Tumbler two feet away. He’d say “Weah” and lumber over and eat it. In this way and after about eight Tumblers, I could trick him out the sun-room door. I’d make him stay out for half an hour. Otherwise he might decide he needed that cigarette after all and he’d want out at 2:00 in the morning.

He had an enormous Thing on one eye-lid. It was the size of a large pea and it filled with blood until it hung over his eye. Then he’d try to get rid of it and would bleed all over the house while I followed (if I was lucky) with cold wet rags to staunch the Thing and to soak up the blood on the couch and carpet.  It would stop bleeding, heal over and fill up with blood again. Repeat. This went on for months and months.The vet said she’d never seen anything like it before but that he wouldn’t die of it.

He died of the two-shot solution as my friend Tim calls it. Winston’s kidneys were failing and I needed a garden shovel to get the clumps out of the litter box every day, sometimes twice a day. He’d lost a lot of weight although I think I was the only one who noticed he was no longer 20 plus pounds.  His beautiful coat started looking really shaggy. He slept all the time and looked miserable when he was awake.

I arranged for my Vet to come to the house. I decided that one thing I could do for this cat with the irritating whine who hated music was to not first terrorize him by a car ride and then have him killed. I couldn’t concentrate on anything on Monday so I finally stopped trying. I curled up on the couch with Winston and looked for something to stream on television: Gone with the Wind.

I’ve seen this movie a dozen times. The last time I watched it I decided it was stupid and offensive and hadn’t aged well at all. But I watched it with Winston just the same. It was comforting because I knew what was going to happen right down to a lot of the dialogue. Winston dozed and purred and we sat there together. When it came to the scene where everyone (that is to say, the white people) in Atlanta were reading the lists of those killed or wounded in action, I started to cry and pretty much didn’t stop until the vet came, administered the second shot and said “He’s gone.”

Tim had dug the grave a few days before in the little pet cemetery under my 50-year old lilacs where one of my cats and various neighbors’ cats are resting in peace. Gwen came across the street to help me bury Winston near her cat Lucy who we laid to rest a few months ago. We lowered him into the grave and then stood looking at him.

“It’s not deep enough,” Gwen said.

I hauled the body out and got the hysterical giggles. “This is like Death at a Funeral or something,” I said.

I got a shovel. Gwen dug energetically until she’d added another foot and a half and I let poor Winston back down into the grave. Then I sat with my hands in the dirt and breathed a bit before letting go of a handful of it. It was relief to finally know he was all tucked away down there. A friend had given me a trillium recently and I hadn’t planted it anywhere yet so I planted it on the grave.

Gwen and I had the first of two wakes that day with some 100 proof Scotch she had given me for my birthday. Later my friend Andrea came with flowers for the grave and more Scotch. Artemis who had witnessed the shot and the burial from afar, curled up with me.

Before I turned on Gone with the Wind, I said to Winston, “When you get where you’re going, I want you to let me know you’re okay.”

In the days since then, it has felt empty around the house. I’ve thought about Winston and I’ve asked, “Are you okay, Winston?”

Pretty much all I’m getting is “Weah, weah.”

I think he’s singing.

Winston reading Henry IV Part I







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