A Chanukah Tail

A cat would be the perfect gift for my 95-year-old bed-bound father!  Even though he had seemed as resolute as my mother to have a pet-free home when I was growing up, his off-guard look of contentment when alone with Fifi, the kitten I rescued from the street and persevered to keep, told a different story. It was the one that emerged whenever sweet memories of his rural shtetl life in Europe were triggered. It was a look I hoped to revive.

The idea was cemented when I found a flyer with pictures of eight cats looking for homes. The woman who answered my call explained that they belonged to her grandmother who had moved to an assisted living facility where the beloved pets were not welcome; she suggested I meet the brood and choose one.

The gift was meant for my father, but he was not the only one who had to be pleased. It was my mother’s fragile state of mind that had to be reckoned with; while no longer anti-cat, she was overwhelmed by the demands of my father’s failing health and the challenges of coping with the aftermath of a head injury suffered in a car accident.. If asked, she would undoubtably say ‘no’. I decided to go for it and enlisted my husband and daughters to join me on the pilgrimage to meet the cats while my sister, Ceil, stayed with my parents ready to support our arrival.

We bought the kitty paraphernalia and on a Sunday that preceded the existence of GPS or cell phones, set out to locate an address in a seedy looking neighborhood (probably tres trendy today) that bordered Brooklyn and Queens. We circled around for what seemed like hours, but knew we had reached our destination when hit by a very pungent aroma. Once inside the house, the smell grew even stronger, but there were no cats to be seen. Was this a dangerous joke?

Kathy assured us it was not, and gradually numerous eyes and paws emerged. Like judges in a menagerie reality show, for over an hour we immersed ourselves in getting to know the contestants, all of whom were delightful in their own way, but not necessarily compatible with their potential housemates.

George is very frisky and plays rough, Kathy explained . Allison chases brooms. Matches hides for hours each day. Kiki latches on to moving feet. Pumpkin weighs twenty pounds and likes to pounce on sleeping people.

Suddenly we became aware of Muffin.  She was a small and gentle looking tabby and through kind and piercing eyes seemed to be assessing if she wanted us.  We hoped she did; we knew she was the one. Especially when we were told that she was the one who slept with the grandmother every night.

Happily, Muffin went with us willingly and was serene and undaunted throughout the ride to the other end of Brooklyn and remained calm even when she was greeted by my mother’s angry shrieks. After we ate latkes and played some rounds of dreydl, my mother started to relax a bit and forgot about Muffin. In fact, we all did, and soon realized we didn’t know where she was. After frantically searching the living room and kitchen, we walked into the bedroom where we found her sleeping and purring atop my father’s stomach as he lay smiling. “Ketzele”, he kept repeating, as he pet her.

We decided that this was a fortuitous time to exit. Following a sleepless night, I anxiously called my mother in the morning and asked how Muffin was doing. “Her name is ‘Mazel’ “she replied indignantly and hung up.

This cat was indeed, for the few remaining years of my parents’ lives, a continued source of spiritual fortune.

About the Author
Florence Berkowitz-Siegelberg grew up in Brooklyn, NY, and she and her husband raised three daughters on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. She has published several freelance articles and produced a documentary, "The Road From Destruction", based on interviews with survivors. She recently retired from Kingsborough Community College where she taught writing.
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