With very heavy hearts and many tears, last week we said goodbye to our beautiful cat Smokey.
I was never a cat person, having grown up with pet dogs but my husband, Graham has always been adored by cats and old ladies (with the exception of his mother-in-law).
Our older son, Tim, was cat crazy almost from birth. He went through a long stage of identifying as a cat ‘ “Don’t call me Timothy, call me Tinkle!” (or Mog, or Orlando, or Huckle or whoever was the cat-character he was obsessed with at the time). He would meow rather than speak when spoken to. His father was worried but I assured him that it was a phase - no 12 year old thinks he’s a cat.
We refused to get a real cat because at that stage of life where you’re barely keeping the work / school / home / life balls in the air the last thing you need is another responsibility. However, when Tim was 13 we gave in and let him have two cats because we’d heard that if they’re going to be left to their own devices most of the day it’s better for them to have company. He chose two Selkirk Rex kittens with very patient, laidback personalities. The gorgeous semi-long-haired tortoise-shell Smokey, and the boofy, gentle but stubborn ginger, Garfield (what else would a 13 year old boy name a ginger cat?).
Much to my surprise, I doted on Smokey and Garfield as much as anyone in the household and I don’t think there could have been two more loved and spoiled cats. Time passes quickly, children grow into adults and leave home and mum and dad are left with the pets.
I called Tim numerous times over the years to say that one or other cat was probably about to depart this earthly life and he’d better come to say goodbye. However, modern medicine has done much the same for elderly pets as humans and they lived on into extreme old age. They were occasionally openly affectionate, or cross, with each other but spent most of their time sleeping near each other. They were life-long companions and we wondered what would happen when one died and one was left.
They both enjoyed the COVID lockdowns immensely - having people to sleep on or near all day long and venturing into the shop space as they pleased.
Garfield passed first In June 2022, aged 18 years, and not long after this Smokey took on her new advertising role as the shop cat. She was obviously lonely by herself so would come and scratch at the inside shop door so that I would let her in.
At first she played with the curling ribbon and paid attention when I wrapped parcels. She sometimes looked at dogs (the enemy!) through the glass, knowing they were safely on the other side.
In her last months she spent most of her time camouflaged and asleep in the comfortable armchair in the shop. That chair was informally known as ‘the man chair’ as older men and teenage boys, totally enervated by the mere prospect of entering somewhere as mind numbing as a crockery shop, would immediately spot the armchair and flop into it. However, ancient cats take precedence over everyone but incapacitated people and many a man had to content himself with the dining chair. One or two did try to share the chair with her but she wasn’t moving over an inch.
She was a very beautiful, quiet, gentle creature who was more than happy to receive the attention of all who cared to give it. I watched, fascinated, as after asking permission to pat her, people approached her in such a tender fashion, slowly stroking her and talking to her in little more than a whisper. It was such a privilege to observe the way this literally soft, vulnerable creature allowed people to show their own soft, vulnerable side.
I was especially moved when a man who looked, (to use very old-fashioned parlance), very down on his luck, entered the shop and asked if he could pat my cat. As I watched them both I wondered how long since he’d had life-affirming physical contact with another beating-heart and was glad that although it’s not acceptable to ask a friendly looking stranger for a hug, you can ask to pat a friendly looking pet.
Nineteen years old is very old for a cat and in the end Smokey, although still quite lucid, affectionate and able to use a little step to get on our bed, was very frail and struggling.
A former boss of mine was very fond of aphorisms, including one along the lines of
“Don’t be sad that it’s over but glad that it happened,”
and I’m very glad to have had two such lovely fur-grandchildren in my life.
I’ve had customers asking after Smokey so I thought I’d acknowledge her life and death.
The Cup and Mug
The adventures of a small business (more interesting than we would have ever guessed!)