by Terrance Mc Arthur
Cats come and go, flitting in and out of a person’s life. They are there for a few seasons, and then they disappear: they wander off or meet with an accident. That was always my experience with cats…until there was Hudgin. I knew Hudgin T. Cat for 20 years. She was a major part of my family…and she died this month.
Hudgin T. Cat (The T stood for “The”) came into our family by accident and design. I like cats, but Marilyn, my wife, was more of a dog person. I don’t get along well with dogs–they look at me and think “lunch.” It so happened that Marilyn managed to get a triple break in her ankle in 1990 and was laid up on the couch for a few months. To while away her time, I brought home books from the library: Lilian Jackson Braun, Carole Nelson Douglas, Rita Mae Brown and other mystery writers who had one thing in common: their stories featured very smart cats, who managed to help find the murderers. What I was doing was tenderizing Marilyn’s mind, planting the idea that having a cat was a good thing.
In June of 1993, we noticed something new at my #1 in-laws’ ranch: a puffy little bit of feline fluff hiding in a small tree, taking refuge from the farm cats. She was only a few weeks old, barely weaned and apparently abandoned on a country road, from where she had wandered onto Cree and Albert’s property. Right from the start, she seemed to cause atypical behavior in the humans she met. Cree usually let cats run around the ranch on their own, with little help from her. This petite cat was being kept from the food by the other cats, so she started feeding it in the alcove space between the screen door and the front door. Albert’s usual interaction with cats was shooing them away, but he shared shaded space with the kitten on the chaise lounge on the patio.
When Cree and Albert went on their usual fall trip to Idaho, Cree asked us to take care of the little cat. This was unusual, because their cats fended for themselves; if they stayed or went was their decision. By the time my in-laws returned, the kitten had gone to the vet, been spayed, had her own litter box and food bowl and was our cat, Hudgin.
Hudgin? Where did we get a name like Hudgin? As many things do in my family, there’s a story behind it. She was sort of a calico, but she didn’t have solid blocks of color as each shade blended into the next patch of gray, orange, black or cream. She looked like someone made a pastel chalk drawing of a cat, and then smeared it so the shades ran into one another. She looked–smudged, so when we were trying to decide on a name, “Smudge” was at the top of the list. Then I read a story in a children’s magazine, an adaptation of a folktale where a sleep-deprived tailor was kept up all night by a hudgin: a creature that wants a bed, preferably yours. Wherever you wanted to be, that cat was there: on the couch, in the chair, on the bed. She was a Hudgin, and that became her name.
Hudgin rapidly became a member of our family. My daughter, Phoenix, then in her teens, was afraid to stay home alone, partly because of a home-invasion robbery that had landed me in the Valley Medical Center burn unit for 51 days. Once Hudgin entered our lives, things changed. When I asked Phoenix if she’d be all right while we went out for the evening, she said, “It’s OK. I have the cat.”
Hudgin was my personal trainer and exercise guru. Just before it was time to go somewhere, there would be a cry of “Cat out!” That meant Hudgin had dashed through the open doorway and was on the loose. I would run frantically, chasing the glimpse of furry tail around the corner of the house, around the next corner and the next, and the, “Cat in!”and Hudgin was back in the house. Sometimes, she would run off into the vineyard and we would have to leave her outside the house. At night, when we drove up, the headlights would pick out the alert form of Hudgin, waiting for us to unlock the door, with an “It’s about time” attitude. We considered her an indoor/indoor/ outdoor/indoor cat.
In Lilian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who books, Mr. Qwilleran played The Dictionary Game with Koko, a Siamese. While Qwill flipped the pages, Koko would reach out a paw and the chosen word would be a clue to the mystery. I decided to try it with Hudgin. I flipped and she reached. The word was “fish.” I fed her.
She was our spinster cat, happy to be the lone feline representative in our home. When my mother died, all my siblings said “Terrance gets the cat,” since my father had kept Taz outside for years. Taz loved our house, but Hudgin did not love Taz, hissing, spitting, and brandishing claws at any approach. However, there were times we came home to find the pair of cats huddled together, moving apart when they realized we’d caught them. Taz had three happy, indoor years with us before she passed on.
Hudgin became a minor celebrity at the Valley Animal Center in Fresno. During their holiday event, Hudgin posed for a photo with Santa Paws, traveled around the building while nestled across my forearm and was the general center of attention, with people oohing, ahhing and petting her. Dogs came up to look at the only free-range cat in the area and she honored them with a royal tail-wave. She even tried painting; her paws were dipped in tempera paints, but she didn’t want to run across the canvas on the floor, so I used her like a giant stamp-pad, pressing footprints onto the cloth. She didn’t enjoy the experience and clawed me, but we have our own Pawcasso” hanging over our television.
The problem with writing about a beloved pet is that you know how it will end. Animal life spans are short and death is inevitable. In the last two weeks, Hudgin slowed down and lost weight. My daughter and I syringe-fed her liquid baby supplement powdered with antibiotics. Finally, she couldn’t jump onto the bed for her nightly brushing and deep massage. She lay out on the bathroom tile and she moaned. We knew the end was near, so we made an appointment with her vet, the appropriately-named Dr. Kitty. Four hours before she was due at the vets, she died.
I’ve buried dead cats before, but it just didn’t seem right to treat Hudgin that way. Her body will be cremated. A friend of ours makes cemetery markers and we want to commission him to do a small stone for us. We will get another cat, but not right now. It will take time to be ready. Not many cats see their 20th birthday. Hudgin was special. I pause, leaving the bathroom, to make sure I don’t trip over her. My bare feet brushed up against a slipper, and I thought it was Hudgin’s fur. There are oh-so-many reminders.
Hudgin is missed, and she will be for a long time.
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