All Original Written and Photographic content is Copyright MEL BIRNKRANT
I believe I must have told you about my little Mimi, a small cat, who I came to love as much as my beloved Peewee. She was a tiny thing, covered in a multitude of markings, and she had a brother similarly scribbled upon by Mother Nature. He, unlike her, had what appeared to be a tiny black mustache, like a French Waiter, so we named him Pierre. And thus she became Mimi, a French sounding name that I had always found attractive. They all came from a litter of kittens that were born to one of Toot's college roommates in a house she shared at New Paltz. Peewee; she had acquired from a farm in New Paltz too.
Toots never stopped talking about those kittens; there was a liter of them all alike, maybe six, well five, at least. She said her roommates mistreated them. So, of course, we had to rescue, at least, one. We sat in the living room of the house she shared with several students, as Toots brought all the kittens out to perform. I rather quickly decided that Pierre was my man. But Eunice insisted that she wanted a girl and focused on Mimi, or the nameless kitten, who was to become Mimi. Mimi seemed ordinary to me and failed to perform any particular antics to make her stand out from the others, other than the fact that she was a she. This was a difference of opinion that we clearly saw had no solution, so we had to have them both.
Poor frightened little kittens. When they got here, they were really too young and they were Terrified. Pee and Fritz had no problem with them and never seemed to mind these tiny new additions. But the kittens hid, huddled together for days in a small tunnel formed by the overhang of the coffee table against the wall that led to the area behind the couch.
I will never forget their two little faces peeking out with eyes as wide as saucers. They were as if one, always together. They might as well have been Siamese kittens joined at the hip; they were inseparable. Eventually, they emerged from the secret tunnel, always ready to retreat to it again, if they felt insecure.
Pierre clearly bonded with me. And when he wasn't hanging out with Mimi, he was on my chest, inches away from my face, looking into my eyes adoringly. If I opened my mouth wide, he would stick his head inside, and look around; Mimi would do the same.
PeeWee seemed unconcerned, and never jealous. He knew he was Top Cat and had no need to prove it. Pierre was adorable, but he was just a cat, an adorable funny little kitten. Peewee, of course, was a prince among cats and my Familiar, Best Friend and Buddy. But Pierre was amusing. Pierre and Mimi always slept cuddled up together, and sometimes, they would cuddle up with Peewee, the three of them together, on the couch or in a chair. Peewee endured it. He would never dream of joining them, they would have to find him, already napping, and pile on.
We had another cat, Blacky. That is another story. But clearly, Blacky, who lived outside for two years in a hollow log on the mountain, before he moved indoors, always remained an outsider. When he would enter a room, two little faces, side by side, would in perfect unison, turn to track his every move and hiss and sneer. They behaved just like Cinderella's sisters. Blacky was clearly an outcast, I wondered, quite seriously, if our spoiled pampered kitties were prejudiced, and they disliked him because he was black?
I never cared much for Mimi; she just seemed to be there, never doing anything that to me seemed "human" or particularly clever. I didn't understand her, and really didn't want to.
Then, one night, Pierre did not come home. The Croppers were here at the time. We had all called, Pierre! Pierre! PIERRE! late into the night. Peewee, too, went out to look for him, but he came back empty pawed.
The following morning, I called again, and walked down to the road to look. The terrible road, it got them all, sooner or later, all our pets, or that is how it seemed. And I went there, fearing what I might see. Oh and there he was! Oh, it was a terrible sight. Oh, a terrible sight. The way that he had died, and what had happened to his tiny body! I sadly walked back up the driveway, tears streaming from my eyes, and nearly blinded by them. I found the big flat coal shovel and a plastic bag and a spade. Nobody noticed, and when I returned to the house again, Pierre or what was left of him, oh it was terrible, was already buried, on the hill where Tom and many of our best pets lie.
I don't know, till this day, why of all the cats that I have seen come and go, and had to bury on the hill among the trees, the death of this one small Kitten, still in his kittenhood, affected me so deeply. It still does, till this day, till this very minute. I think it was the terrible way he died, and the terrible way he looked. I cried for days, thereafter, and the years have never dulled the pain. I have adjusted to the deaths of many that I loved, both animal and human, why I cannot hold back a torrent of tears for this small kitten is still a mystery to me.
Oh, to make matters worse, I looked through eyes blurred with tears at Mimi and actually let the thought pass through my mind, why did it have to be him, instead of you? Yes, I had made matters worse, for added to the grief; I now, had to live with the guilt of having thought that horrible thought.
Years passed, and over time, I came to love Mimi in a way that defied understanding. I tried to play games with her and get her to do all the funny things that the smartest cats will do, but she was not into human pastimes.
Peewee was more human than cat. Everything he did was clever, and funny and smart. We hung out together from the moment we got up in the morning.
He would follow me into the bathroom and sit on the counter, watching my every move, waiting for the tooth brushing and the dripping tooth paste, and the dripping sink faucet, trying to catch the droplets in mid air, and all the games, of which he never tired.
We did have one special game. I only had to say to him, “Peewee do you want to play the Game?”, and he would fly to the spiral staircase to play the game that he had taught me, the first day that he arrived here, trying to catch my finger as it popped up from beneath the step he sat on, here and there. He was good at guessing my next move, and would, already, be looking at the spot, more often than not, where it would next appear.
But Mimi played no games, and did NO human things at all; she only did Animal things, Kitten and Cat things. It took me a long time to understand this, to accept it, and to admire it. In the end, it was Mimi who accepted me, and took me into her Animal World, into her Wild Kingdom.
Oh what a curious little creature! She was covered in tantalizing markings that seemed to have been painted on her in a kind of calligraphic pattern, like the writing of some ancient civilization, or beings form another planet. It had a kind of logic to it that I would study at length, trying to decipher its intent. And then, there were her adorable little legs, striped all around in evenly spaced lines of black upon the darker gray and brown. They always made me think of Raggedy Ann's striped stockings.
One could not see or describe Mimi without remarking how small she was; she remained a kitten all her life. She was half the size of Pee, sort of like a split Pee, Pierre having been the other half.
It was a joy and revelation to watch Pierre and Mimi together. They were identical in size and appearance. And although it seems almost absurd to me, just too corny and cartoony to be true, they epitomized the differences between the sexes. Every kid knows that Mickey and Minnie are the same except for Minnie's eyelashes and clothing, and the difference in the way they act, Minnie being a caricature of femininity and Mickey being macho, for a mouse. Well, the same differences existed between Mimi and Pierre. Although, they looked identical, one touch would tell you that Pierre's fur felt coarse and wiry, while Mimi's was soft and smooth like velvet. But if the difference between them to the touch was startling, the difference in their body language was even more dramatic.
Pierre swaggered like a miniature John Wayne. While Mimi walked in dainty sexy little steps, as if she was wearing high heels, with her slender tail held high like a fashion model strutting her stuff, on the catwalk of a feline fashion show. Mimi was indeed a coquettish little girl, and Pierre a rough and tumble boy. In terms of Masculine and Feminine, these two small cats were as human as any to be found in Disney's cast of characters.
Now on her own, Mimi looked in vain for Pierre for days and weeks. And in the end, she accepted Peewee as his successor. Peewee put up with it, and I think he grew quite fond of her. He would do tricks and perform to impress her, running high up in the rafters, while Mimi watched in awe. Once, when I was at the Atlantic City Show, she tried to emulate his antics, and was stuck up there on the highest beam for two days, until I got home.
Late Sunday night, exhausted from the buying, selling, packing, and driving for four hours home, I had to get the tallest ladder, which proved to be not tall enough. So, resting it on a lower beam, in an act uncharacteristically daring, for me, I climbed up on the rafters, themselves, to rescue Mimi. Although, she was weak from dehydration and hunger, she bravely came to me. And I lifted her down to the lower beam, where she had often been before. From there she flew downstairs and never set paw on the beams again.
When Mimi had the time, she would snuggle with Pee Wee, always at her instigation. Pee would look up at me sometimes with Mimi curled up against him and, more or less, say, OY!
When she had the time? Yes, she didn't always have time to spare, for she was always busy…HUNTING. That, she decided, was her job, and she took it seriously. She went out every day into the wild, this miniature tiger. She feared nothing! I have seen her menace a raccoon ten times her size. I don't think she knew that she was small, for her courage was big. Often I would glance out the big window and see this tiny kitten on her rounds, round and round the house. This dainty little thing, looking, if not fierce, fiercely interested in every noise and every movement in the grass and trees. Every so often, an offering would be left on our doorstep, and Mimi would come prancing in, her job well done. And later, when she would climb up upon my lap and lick my hand in greeting, I would think to myself that this adorable little pink tongue, that was now licking me, has just, of late, tasted the warm blood of her hapless victim. Oh, this Tigress, this Diana, Goddess of the Hunt.
One night, Mimi failed to return. With a flashlight I went down to the road to look for her. Thank God she was not there. But, we found her the next day, lying in the driveway, unable to walk, and rushed her to the vet. Something had befallen Mimi in the night. The vet could only speculate what it might have been, animal or human. She would recover, but her crushed and broken tail would not survive, so off it had to come.
I don't think she ever missed it. She still strutted, just as tall and proud as ever. The Doctor fashioned a funny little nub that was, in fact, quite cute. One could only love her all the more with this new mark of distinction. Oh, how this tiny tiger had become beloved by me! How could I have failed so long to see how awesome and beautiful she was?
At night, most nights, not all, Peewee was abandoned by his little Nap-mate, and left to sleep alone. For Mimi would come up to the bed and insist on getting under the covers. Eunice and I would often wonder how she breathed, and marvel that she did not suffocate. She seemed to have no need of air at all. Once under there, the purring would begin. And she would purr and purr for hours. She always had to sleep up against some portion of a warm body. And she would lie against one of us, while flexing her tiger talons into the body of the other. I put up with many a puncture mark willingly, occasionally, in places that were painful. But I would just sort of maneuver and adjust and enjoy having this little Wild Creature in the bed. It made me feel a little wild myself, as though I was in touch with nature. I sometimes felt, as I have been known to do in dreams, that I was a Lion, the King of Beasts and this small kitten, Mighty Hunter, Proud and Wounded Warrior was my Pride, my Pride and Joy.
Dogs can be wonderful, I know, but they are not for the lazy, and they often require endless attention, for which they will repay their master, and anyone else, willing to look at them, with endless affection. But Oh, to be befriended by a cat, to become accepted and be allowed to share the dreams of a small warm kitten, covered in the soft fur of a brave huntress, twitching slightly and snarling in her sleep. You know that she is dreaming of the wild woods and stalking Big game, without regard to her small size, brave and fearless as she hunts in the jungles of the night.
I came to love this tiny wild thing, and considered it an honor to be allowed to share her lair in a warm place where we became equals, and things like language and education no longer mattered. Yes she was a blessing that opened a small door to me, through which, I thought, for the briefest moment; I was able to glimpse the true and natural meaning of life.
Mimi blessed us for many years. She was a treasure to be cherished, in ways I didn't ever see before. Then, one day, she too was found dead in the road at the foot of our driveway. Toots came upon her and placed her in the garbage, so I would not see her. Then, not knowing how, or daring to tell me, she came and told her mother. Eunice broke the news to me.
I have no memory of what happened next. I do remember going down and lifting the lid. She was in tact but stiff and bloodied. And for some reason that I cannot understand, I have more tears for her now than I did at that moment.
I can't recall if I removed her and buried her, or if it was winter and the ground was frozen. Or if it was not, and it was my heart that was frozen, tired and hardened from too many pets and people, dead and gone. I might have buried her there on the mountain. And, then again, I might have simply lowered the lid, and walked away. I hope that is not what I did, but I might have. I can't remember.
Mimi and Pierre