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May 20, 2020

It began with a little porcelain cat. The white cat with black patches – all 2.5 inches of it – rests on its haunches, looking over its shoulder at the viewer. A green base suggests that the cat is seated on a patch of grass.  On its bottom, my grandmother penciled “I am 80,” along with the date 1981, the year she handed over the cat to me.

I am fond of the little Staffordshire cat. Granny gave it to me when she, like the cat, was eighty years old. It was a time IMG_0192 when she was busy distributing her possessions among the grandchildren. She knew I liked cats, so it became mine. I liked it, but I loved that it was a true and thoughtful gift. This gift was genuine in spirit, and it resembled in no way the usual one-dollar bills given to each grandchild at Christmas and on birthdays.

Unfortunately, once the little figurine took up residence on a shelf in my dining room, other cats began to join it. “Oh, you collect cats!” people remarked when they saw it. And the cat collection began. I now have chalk-ware cats, cast-iron cats, pewter cats, blown-glass cats, and dozens of additional porcelain cats, none of which I have purchased for myself. The shelves in the glass-fronted cabinet in the dining room and in the pair of built-in corner cupboards are crowded not with dishes, but with cats.

When the overabundance of cat figurines became obvious, people began giving me pictures of cats to hang on my walls. There are embroidered pictures, there are paintings, and there are etchings. There are also cat-themed objects. There are small sofa pillows and fuzzy blanket throws with alarming cat images staring out at the viewer. There are three stuffed cats. There are plaques with vaguely clever cat sayings, along the lines of “Dogs have masters – Cats have staff,” and “This is a mouse-free zone.” I have displayed none of these objets d’art, but they keep coming in. I wish the influx would stop.

The little kitty from my grandmother has been all but lost in the crowd of feline representations that infest my house. My family and friends have no idea that I care for only one cat — the porcelain kitty given to me by Granny on its, and her eightieth  birthday. I doubt I would regret the loss of any other figurine or artifact. I don’t worry about them or their eventual fates. I do worry about Granny’s kitty, though. If it were to break or disappear, I know I would be heartbroken.

It seems wrong, somehow, to be so attached to an object. What are things, after all, if not encumbrances? In Walden, Henry David Thoreau remarked about a neighbor’s farm that the land owned the farmer more than the farmer owned the land. Might the same be said of my little figurine? After all, I do keep it safely tucked away in a cupboard where I can look at it, but am not tempted to touch it. I dust it rarely and with trepidation, lest it break. Protecting it has become more important than enjoying it. But why do I wish to keep it from harm?

The little Staffordshire cat is a token of sorts. It represents giving in love and receiving in joy. The token is not necessary for Granny’s love to be remembered, however. Whether the cat exists or not should be irrelevant. I will remember my Granny Wagner in all her aspects even if all the things she left me are lost. Is it a character flaw that makes me so attached to a little porcelain figurine, to the memory that it invokes?

But I am attached. Like a barnacle, I cling to that little cat and to the memory of my Granny Wagner. I know that the attachment is silly. I know that the cat is impermanent and that my memories are impermanent. After all, once I am gone, so will my memories be gone.  Nevertheless, I would like to give memories to someone new, knowing full well that, in the grand scheme of things, even those memories will be impermanent, just like the fragile little cat.

Someday, when I am eighty, I know I will want to find a new home for my cat. I would like to think that it will be a true gift, that the gift of love that the cat represents will give pleasure to its recipient, as it gave pleasure to me. I would also like to think that the receiver of my gift understands the impermanence of things and of people and even of memory, and that the little cat will be no more than a token.

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 20, 2020 1:54 pm

    Loved this, Kathi!

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