My father likes to say that he has never had a pet. He has lived with people who have pets, like his children, or his sisters, or my grandmother with her three cats and little white dog. Despite the fact that the cats followed him around in the kitchen and the dog stuck by his side like a loving piece of smelly velcro, Dad continues to insist that none of these pets are his.
You might understand this perspective after you hear the story of Kiki And The Tinsel.
I was about three when we got our cats. My sisters Sarah and Casey were ten and eight, respectively, and that day when we all went to the pound, they were the ones allowed to select a pet from the rows upon rows of cages. Kiki was there because she had been returned. In another life, her name was Jinx, and she had done something reprehensible, we didn’t know what. In any case, she had been returned to the pound from whence she came. That maybe should have been a significant alarm to us, but as Casey passed by, Kiki stuck her paws out of the cage in such a sweet pleading way that we had no choice but to take her home.
We adopted two cats that day. Trixie was a sleek black thing, with lithe limbs and an eight foot jump to make your eyes pop. She was slender with jewel-like green eyes and a hunter’s gait. She had a commanding, clarion voice and the other cats in the neighborhood that she was not to be fucked with.
Kiki looked like this:
Kiki, for lack of a better word, was fluffy. She liked to eat things, and when I say ‘things’, I mean that in the broadest possible spectrum of the word. Cantaloupe was a favorite of hers. Hair was another. She had a sweet little meow and liked to burrow into piles of dirty clothes and sleep on the ends of beds, but this all came with a psychotic streak that often left us with band-aids and thin red lines all over our forearms. She famously shredded my sister’s foot one night when she got the sense that it was about to kill her.
I suspect that my perception of Kiki as a tiny menace was colored by the fact that most of my memories of her come from when I was about seven years old, and seven year olds rarely know exactly how to treat a cat. Anyway, I overlooked these catly cruelties. In my mind, Kiki and I were best buds, and I loved having her as a part of our family.
Fast forward to Christmas, 1996.
Our Christmas tree was set up in the living room, and we were in the process of decorating. Our decorations always followed the same pattern: lights, candy canes, red silk balls with the thread coming loose, and all of the hand-made ornaments that we showered on our parents year after year. This time, my mom thought that she might try something new.
As an aside: my mother is famous for trying new things at Christmas. One year, instead of pajamas we received Snuggies before there were such a thing. Floor-length red robes with hoods on them and a sweatshirt pocket in the front. “Look at me!” my brother said. “I’m in the Khristmas Klan!” Casey promptly stuffed hers full of pillows and did an impression of the high school health teacher. I puffed mine out like a tent and insisted that nobody was allowed inside. My mother: the long-suffering saint.
So this year she thought that putting tinsel on the tree might be a nice change of pace. As far as I know, tinsel comes in a few different varieties. This was the kind with long, thin iridescent strands that catch the light at every angle. Ben and I helped to apply it to the tree for awhile, until we noticed that Kiki had sauntered casually into the room and was watching us intently. No, more accurately, she was watching the tinsel.
Those strands must have been fascinating to her. Ben and I started taking some of the longer pieces and dangling them in her face, dragging them along the floor for her to chase, and Kiki participated whole-heartedly, waddling after them, rolling over them, and chewing on them with throaty purrs. Mom, working hard to properly festoon the tree with holiday cheer, looked on with a smile, pleased that somebody appreciated her creativity.
When Ben and I got tired, Kiki decided that the tree was more than adequate for draping lines of tinsel for her to chase. Mom nudged her away a few times, but Kiki was persistent, and she finally relented. There wasn’t any real problem, after all, with a cat playing with tinsel. She wasn’t dragging the tree down and all of the glittery strips of plastic were creating a huge mess anyway. Might as well let the cat enjoy it. So Kiki had the run of the living room, and we watched her cavort and chase and chew, until she splayed, exhausted, in a pile of her fresh, shiny, plastic kill.
The next morning, Ben and I sat at the kitchen counter, waiting for Mom to finish smearing jelly on toast. Kiki was doing her usual cat thing. strolled into the cat room, ate some cat food, stared nonchalantly out of the living room. As she exited towards the living room, Ben suddenly sat up and pointed.
“LOOK AT KIKI!” he yelled.
Mom stared at Kiki.
Kiki stared at Mom.
“Heeeere, kitty kitty kitty,” she cooed, slowly reaching for a paper towel. “Chk chk chk, c’mere, kitty…”
Mom went after her, the paper towel bunched in her outstretched hand, cooing as soothingly as she could as she chased the quickly-waddling cat across the wood floor. Kiki’s belly wobbled from one side to the other as she skidded around a corner. Mom doublebacked and cut Kiki off, grabbing her around her middle and turning her over to mop up the sparkly mess on her rear.
Kiki howled, defeated, but that wasn’t the last of it. For the next week, every time we stepped into the living room, another patch of tinsel was gone, and the shadow of a cat fled into the kitchen. Every morning we woke up to a parade of hairballs decorated with shining strands of holiday splendor.
That was the first and only year that we put tinsel on our Christmas tree.
God bless us, everyone.