Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A kid, a prayer, a goldfinch, Hendrix and Buddy help me say goodbye to my best Pal

The young woman talked soothingly of “your baby” as she took Pal from my arms and put him on a cart.
He was going to be stored in a walk-in refrigerator for a couple of days, awaiting cremation.
I picked out a little cedar box, a miniature version of the one that holds Buddy’s remains, for Pal’s ashes. My son has instructions to put the little cedar boxes in with me. Heck, I don’t care if they cremate me too, and mix my ashes with my Buddy and Pal.
“I’m going to be 79 when you die,” said Joe, indicating that he believes I’m going to far outlive the odds my oldest friends would offer. Many of them are dead and others are highly medicated.
But regardless of the point when I do die and Joe mixes up my ashes or puts me in a Hefty bag at the curb or whatever, as long as the two boxes of my animals are with me, that won’t matter. Because, by that point, of course, I’ll be holding the cat in my arms and letting the dog run across some sweet meadow, with that laughing bark.
Yeah, these are my dreams. I gotta admit I’m having a lot of trouble now that my Pal is gone. As he’s been bunking in the bedroom since the flood, I am accustomed to leaving the bathroom after showering and walking across my room, reaching into the little upholstered cube bed and petting him. Course, in recent weeks, I always was aware the gentle stroking of his head could well be the last. And Sunday, I did give him that final stroke.
I still feel his light jump onto the edge of the bed in the middle of the night. Then realize it’s not any more real than the barking I hear many nights, a somehow reassuring sound, like Buddy used to make when he stood at the door downstairs and begged me to wake up and come down to take him out. Of course, if I didn’t hear those barks, I’d be licked in the face by the dog who could stand dead-even with the raised queen mattress and stick his brownish-pink nose right in my face.
Pal’s not here. Nor is Buddy. Or perhaps they're both here in spirit. The other day, as I leaned over Pal's body at the crematory and said goodbye for the last time, admiring his beauty, the proud face, his almost regal bearing – even though his once solid body had been ravaged by the cancer – I knew I would see him no more, at least for now.
Except in those dreams. The circle of life and death. Or however that works. I’m not sure. I used to have a black-light poster of Jimi Hendrix, I purchased it right after his death: “Meet me in the next world: Don’t be late,” it read.
I have no idea how that works. Perhaps Jimi’s playing “Little Wing” while Buddy and Pal listen. That’d be nice.
It’s just strange around here. The house is in disarray, ever since the flood. It’s clean, but cluttered, as I try to conduct my business from the living room, stacked with books and music.
Every time I catch a sideways glance at one of the piles, I at first think it is Pal, sitting on the floor and watching me type.
The contractors are good guys and they are in the basement, bringing it back.
I just wish that someone could bring my cat back.
"Good luck with that, old buddy," my son will say, making me smile at just the right time. He's a lot like me. Poor kid.
I remember one time, years ago, when I talked about my cat and my dear friend, Peter Cooper, said I didn’t seem like a cat kind of guy. He wasn’t saying anything negative, just that I seemed more like a big-animal guy (course Peter has these really weenie little pocket dachshunds, Russell and Loretta, who are beautiful and special animals.)
But when Peter made the cat comment, I told him the story of Buddy and Pal and how they became part of my family before I ever went to Romania to pick up Emily and long before the second trip to get Joe.
Speaking of Joe, he asked me if it was his fault Pal died. He said he had prayed that Pal would die quietly and not suffer. He was afraid that the request had been granted and he had given his old dad too much heartache to handle, given the many other recent challenges.
I told him that it was a good prayer. That it didn’t cause the cat to die. That age just caught up with him. And that Pal loved him. And he didn't suffer.
“You should pray, Dad. It would make you feel better.”
I told him that in my own way I do, every time I stare at the stars and wish … and dream… and marvel at the universe and at the sound of tree frogs and cicadas and tires squealing in the night.
“Joe, why don’t you add a couple of lines to your prayers for me, would you?”
“Dad, I pray for you every day.”
Figure I can’t do much better than have this young fellow, who is either going to be a weatherman (probably) or a cop (his backup plan), who has this pure soul, put in a few good words for me.
He then asked if cats go to heaven.
I could have gotten into all kinds of philosophical discussion with him. I had a deeply religious grandmother who said no animals go to heaven.
I remember the old movie “All Dogs Go To Heaven” that I bought for Suzanne after Pepper, the dog she had when we married, died, also of cancer.
I don’t have the answer. But I can’t see why not.
As I was mulling this today, the most beautiful goldfinch – if you don’t know me, goldfinches are my favorite wild bird – landed on the bubbling fountain out on the deck. I watched it as I drank my coffee. I don’t know if I’d ever seen a prettier bird before, even in goldfinch terms.
And the way it stayed there and looked into the window seemed oddly satisfying and enriching. Then he spread his wings and flew into the tree-line filled with hackberry trees.


  1. This is a beautiful post, Tim. We lost our cat Rudi at age 20+ three years ago...she was a member of our family and pre-dated the marriage. Even though we've since adopted 3 more heathen kitties, I will always miss Rudi.

    BTW, Joe is one of my favorite students ever. He's truly a wonderful kid. Good job.

    Tammy McCann