I know. You didn’t know there was one.
I certainly didn’t know when I was a kid. There again, there were a lot of things I didn’t know about pet responsibility then. Because I had two very courageous cats – beloved Dexter and Spanky – I learned on the fly how to take care of my prized kitties. They survived in spite of me.
Sure enough, Mom brought home a beautiful, sleek, royal-looking, gray-colored seal point Siamese cat I immediately named Dexter. She told me my role was to feed and take care of Dexter. So, Number One for me was eliminating foul cat box odors. Not only would Dexter be annoyed by them, but horrific cat stench could wake Dad up to the fact we had a cat, potentially sending Dexter back to the shelter. In time, however, it was Mom who noticed the cat box, always fresh and feces-free.
“Michael, I’m worried Dexter has a constipation problem. He may need more roughage than we’re giving him.”
The following day, Mom mixed a large spoonful of fiber-filled peas into the bowl of Friskies I gave him. These canned peas were the same ones reserved for our Sunday dinners.
Sensing a spoonful wasn’t enough, she took charge and switched him over to peas exclusively, justifying the move as a cost savings since our tins of peas were cheaper than pet food (making me wonder what our dinners were worth). Wasn’t Mom being cavalier about our needs? What kind of responsibility was she showing?
With such high levels of fiber in his system, I had to scoop Dexter’s litter box three times a day. Re-establishing control of the situation, I switched him over to smaller food – Bacon Bits (a risky thing to do since Bacon Bits were the most expensive thing served in our house when weighed by the pound).
Mom noticed and, without consulting me, overcompensated by feeding Dexter far too rich a combination of peas, Friskies, and Bacon Bits sprinkled on top. As a result, he shat everywhere. Then Dad discovered long, blue, curly strands of wool in Dexter’s droppings on the living room floor and had a conniption fit. How was I to know Dexter would resort to eating Dad’s favorite blue socks, let alone be such a special needs cat?
Eventually Dexter died (from too much sand grit in Friskies that clogged his urinary tract!). I cried. And cried. Mom took care of the situation from there.
And so, a few days later, Mom brought home another beautiful, sleek, royal-looking, gray-colored seal point Siamese cat I promptly named Spanky.
I frolicked with my new friend everywhere. Our play included quiet, simple activities like hiding under the dining room table and batting a ball of yarn until it was no more.
But the third evening of our silent undercover gathering was interrupted when I heard loud words batted back and forth between Mom and Dad from adjoining rooms down the hall.
“What? It died? When? That’s impossible. I just heard it last night …”
“Eric, calm down. It’s Dexter’s vet bill.”
“What? You mean the one that’s out there now isn’t him?”
“No. That’s Spanky.”
“Spanky. The one that died is Dexter.”
I couldn’t blame Dad completely. Spanky was all of Dexter’s Siamese twin in appearance. But what made Spanky different was his aloofness.
Later that night, still steamed, Dad retreated to the living room. To block out the world, just as he did every evening, he embedded himself in his easy chair, then disappeared behind a propped newspaper.
Hiding in the adjoining dining room, I watched Spanky smell out the detachment in Dad.
Lining Dad up as an easy mark, Spanky jumped onto his lap. Dad, not one for cats, swiped Spanky away. Spanky, not one for being swiped, jumped back. Go, Spanky, go!
Dad’s next swipe had more oomph to it, punctuated by “Goddam cat.”
After the third round of cat and mouse ballet, Dad’s swift arm sweep was so smooth the newspaper didn’t move an inch. Not an inch. What control Dad had! Since he didn’t want to be seen as aligned with a cat in any way, I sensed Dad placed great pressure on himself to act out in this manner. But no way he was going to miss out on his daily allotment of aloof time. After all, that period of detachment was the fix he needed to survive in a world so chockfull of unpredictable animals and kids running around all over the place. (Perhaps it was from Dad I saw the world as unpredictable adults and events spinning about in chaotic, threatening space, ones I feared I’d never be able to handle.)
This is an excerpt in Chapter Six, “Responsibility,” from my memoir Maybe Boomer.