It was just a little bump on her hip when we left Scottsdale, one the vet said was benign, but probably would continue growing. “It’s ugly to get old,” she said. I think Pippi gave her the evil eye.
The little bump did grow, although it didn’t seem to bother Pippi until last week, when she started to limp and only picked at her food.
The Missoula vet pronounced it cancer and reeled off a litany of horrors: extensive invasive surgery that probably couldn’t remove it all, many weeks of chemotherapy, possible complications, and at best, a long recovery. It brought back the year of hell Tom went through for his cancer. We wouldn’t do that to her.
So we said goodbye. I cried most of the day and went to see Melissa McCarthy in Spy.
The cat before Pippi was an adopted stray we named Kingsford that slept in our baby’s crib, but she died when Nate was just a toddler. So when Nate was about four, we went to the shelter to get a kitten. Nate picked out a little ball of black, gray and orange fur that could sit in the palm of my hand.
We named the kitten for Pippi Longstocking, the fiercely independent 9-year-old Swedish heroine who lives by herself, doesn’t care what anyone thinks, especially adults, has a pet monkey and can lift a horse over her head with one hand.
At Pippi’s first kitten check-up, the vet detected a fever. Still there a few days later. “This cat’s probably not going to make it,” she said. I couldn’t imagine how I’d tell a four-year-old his cat was doomed.
But Pippi, true to her name, didn’t really care what the vet thought, and decided to live. She also proved to be fiercely independent, letting people pet her until she’d had enough, then biting them to let them know she was done with all that. She’d bite my sister, my mother, my cat-enthusiast friend Tami, even Nate, even me, although me least of all.
Tami, being cat-forgiving, would feed her when we were out of town, and even made her a fuzzy gold blanket that became her favorite napping spot.
When we decided to move into The Epic Van and travel the West, I thought long and hard about whether Pippi should join us. Would she hate it? Would she escape in some remote campground and be eaten by a bear? Would she give me the evil eye, saying in her psychic, psycho cat talk, “What the hell were you thinking?”
The other options for her were not inviting. At my mother’s, where we’d set up a bedroom, she would be confined to the room to avoid being chased and harassed by the other cat and two dogs in the house. Nate’s college roommate was allergic to cats. And Tami’s house already had two cats that wouldn’t be inviting to an interloper.
Tom was worried, but we decided she would come along. I put her gold blanket on the bed in The Epic Van.
The first couple of days, Pippi yowled her discontent or confusion, but she quickly settled in, happy to nap, happy to have “the people” around all the time instead of just after work.
Occasionally, she would look out the windows to watch some birds. Sometimes, I’d take her out in her clamshell carrying case to sit on a picnic table. At night, she’d curl up between us.
At the vet, I wrapped her in her gold blanket and whispered in her ear. Then we left with an empty clamshell carrying case.
I remembered once seeing a Facebook post of Jimmy Stewart reading a poem about his dog Beau on The Johnny Carson Show. It started out funny, but then got sad. Jimmy choked up. Johnny cried.
It ended this way:
And now he’s dead.
And there are nights when I think I feel him
Climb upon our bed and lie between us,
And I pat his head.
And there are nights when I think
I feel that stare
And I reach out my hand to stroke his hair,
But he’s not there.
Oh, how I wish that wasn’t so,
I’ll always love a dog named Beau.
I love Jimmy Stewart, and I’ll always love a cat named Pippi.