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A Cat Extraordinaire
Saturday, November 19, 2022


In the fall of 1977, a year after my husband Fred and I were married, I decided to give the first formal dinner party in our Upper East Side apartment in New York.

By three o’clock, the modern glass table facing John Jay Park looked very elegant. It was set with silver, porcelain, flowers, linen napkins and my best crystal. All I had to do was make a potato gratin and put the final touches on the coq-au-vin, the delicious aromas of which were already filling our small apartment.

I was cutting up potatoes, buttering a baking pan, and cheerfully singing along to “Saturday in the Park” on the cassette player when the front door opened. To my astonishment, it was Fred. As the president of a large real estate company, he never returned from work this early.

With a quick hug and a grin on his handsome face, he said, “I have to go back to work until dinner, but I brought you a surprise that cannot come with me to the office.”

Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a dark, filthy kitten and handed it to me.

“A cat! Now?! A black cat!” I said in surprise… to no one. Fred was already out the door.

Looking down at the dirty bundle, I decided that the gratin could wait, and rushed to wash the kitten. It protested with loud, high-pitched meows, not liking the water at all. As it turned out, under all the dirt was not a black kitten, but the cutest, yellow-orange tabby.

With the complaining kitten in a pouch around my neck, I ran out to get milk and a litter box at the nearby D’Agostino. The cooking had to be completed with only one hand because the other was holding the wet, still crying cat against my chest. I tried leaving him on the floor, but he would cling to my foot, his tiny, sharp claws painfully burying into my ankle.

The dinner party was a success and, after some name-the-cat discussion, the consensus was that the new family member would be called Mumu, short for Mutzie, the name of a cat from my childhood.

To satisfy everyone’s burning question,”Where did you find him?” Fred finally explained how he had come upon the kitten earlier that day.

 “I was visiting the rental office of a run-down apartment complex in New Jersey when I noticed two huge German shepherds growling at something in the corner. You guessed it! It was this tiny kitten. Instead of retreating, it faced the brutes head on, swatting their noses with lightning-fast strikes, while hissing and growling loudly. I couldn’t believe such a tiny thing could make that kind of noise.”

Pausing to gently stroke the soft, fine fur of Mumu, who was now happily settled on his lap, he continued: “The place was such a mess, and he wasn’t safe with these big dogs around, so I decided to take the little fighter home with me.”

It was settled: Mumu was here to stay. The following year, our son Julien was born. In December of 1980, his brother Andrew joined us. They grew up never knowing a day in their childhood without Mumu. Ten years later, by then living in Geneva, Switzerland, we added one final member to the family--a sweet yellow Labrador puppy named Promise. She was so named because we had promised the boys a dog forever.

Mumu, by then toothless, practically blind and hard of hearing, was none-the-less determined to let the young dog know who was boss. He would hide strategically on a stool under the kitchen table and wait patiently for Promise to walk by. Then, he would whack her on the behind, looking extremely satisfied with himself when the puppy ran off in panic.

He also sat routinely in the middle of a doorway he knew Promise would want to pass through and watch with a smug demeanor as the puppy whined pitifully, afraid to pass by the scary cat. But in the garden, it was another story. There, the dog ran circles around poor old Mumu, and it was the cat’s turn to hide under a bush.

A few years later, it was getting clear that Mumu, now a very frail, old cat, was nearing the end. We pleaded with the vet for a little more time and he gave Mumu injections twice to ‘jumpstart’ him, affording us a few precious weeks more with our cat. Then the cat stopped eating, and we knew it was time.

Fred was on a business trip, which was just as well since it would have been hard for him to be there for the end. Mumu was his cat from the beginning. In the country, Mumu followed Fred through the woods like a dog and on our drives up to Connecticut, Mumu would always sit on Fred’s left shoulder. While Mumu loved Fred most, he would without fail find me when I was sad, and he could sit and watch our sleeping babies for hours.

His last day was in the fall of 1994. The boys and I sat on the floor in the living room around a low, cushioned bench where Mumu, front paws folded under himself, was resting. He looked peaceful, meeting our gaze as if to say, “It’s okay, you can let me go now.”

Outside, dense fog covered the lake, and the whole world seemed gray and sad. Andrew, 14, pleaded. “Please, isn’t there anything we can do?”

“I wish we could,” I said, “but he is not eating anymore. It’s time.”

I looked at 16-year-old Julien, who, like Andrew and myself, was in tears.

“Would you come with me to the vet?”

“Of course,” was my loving older son’s immediate answer.

“You?” I asked Andrew. Andrew burst out between sobs, “I can’t go and see him be put to sleep. No, no. It’s too sad.”

“I understand,” I answered, hugging him tightly, feeling the same way.

We sat a little longer, caressing Mumu’s soft orange fur and murmuring hushed goodbyes to our companion of so many years. As Julien carried him carefully to the car, Andrew came running after us, and cried out, “I can’t possibly not go with him.”

In the vet’s office, filled with grief, I stood back while the boys took their place on either side of Mumu. They were holding him gently as he trustingly relaxed his light sweet head one last time into their loving hands.

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