The Last Cat

Rest in peace, baby cat

I can still remember the first moment I saw Toffee, 16 years ago. Her mother, Mrs Stripe, came through the hedge at our villa in Egypt closely followed by two 6 week old kittens, soon to named Toffee and Treacle. Toffee was a dark tabby and Treacle, coal black. I sobbed and laughed because I feared that I had scared Mrs Stripe away forever after trying to trap her. It was almost as though she said, “See, this is why I couldn’t be trapped, I had kittens to wean.”

Toffee was precocious and adorable. There were little dusty footprints all over our walls because she propelled herself with a back legs leap to chase everything from lizards to ping pong balls all over our Cairo house. The stairs were open plan and she would talk to us from the half landing, through the wrought iron banisters, with her head on the side. We called her ‘Little Eee‘ and thought she was the cutest little kitten.

When we arrived in Houston from Cairo, with three wild cats, I can remember the look of joy in Toffee’s eyes. “Mummy and Daddy are here with us!” Of all the cats she settled into our tiny one bedroom apartment with delight after leaving a luxurious four bedroom villa with gardens and staff. Eventually she settled into our forever house. That first Christmas in Houston was magical because we had snow and a ham dinner!  Right to the end of her life, Toffee had a fetish for ham. I told her Allah was watching but she paid me no heed. Perhaps she was a pagan or Copt?  For the last three years she has been a spoiled ‘only’ cat after the deaths of Mrs Stripe and Zhenny.  Katniss joined our household for a short time and Toffee enjoyed their shared solitude.

Toffee had a serious illness at the beginning of this year and the writing was on the wall. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine a feral Egyptian cat would live to 16 years old with almost perfect health. After a short but serious illness we made the sad decision to have her put to sleep on Tuesday 20 August 2019. That morning, I gave her an overdose of cat Xanax and Tuna. Her eyes started to dilate then she got the munchies. In between, she kept jumping on the couch to purr and cuddle with her mum and dad, each time stumbling a little more. Then we took her to the vet, feeling no pain. Her death was quick and we took her home for a quiet wake.

I laid her on her Tempur Pedic cushion, wrapped in her shroud and favorite blanket, then cuddled her for most of the day. She was so undomesticated that this was the first time in 16 years that I could hold her to my heart and tell her how much I loved her. Teddy dug a deep grave in our terrible forest soil. The heat index was about 108 degrees. With both people and animals, I can’t bury them until rigor mortis has set in, so Toffee sat in our living room until night fell.  On reflection, it would be a tad speedy to bury a human any earlier…(some dark humor there and watch out, Teddy.)

Our hearts are broken, especially knowing that this was the LAST CAT. We cannot endure the worry of who would look after our animals in the event of our deaths, which will be sooner rather than later.  I have always had a pet so  feel bereft but also feel guilty about enjoying a litter free laundry room and a smell free house. We can go on vacation whenever we want but what we would do for one last cuddle or vocalization.  As much as we enjoyed the other 10 pets we have had, Toffee was truly the best cat.  Sweet-natured, loving and unique.  My health has not been great in 2019 with a sad family funeral in Scotland and now Toffee’s passing.  I hope she is enjoying catching neon colored lizards over the rainbow bridge and some kindly angel releases them, as Mummy did so often.

Isn’t there always an anti-climactic reason to laugh?  The next day we noticed that an animal had dug up Toffee’s grave but hadn’t got quite deep enough.  With a sigh, I put all the soil back and put a board over it, sprinkled with vinegar.  That night we set out the camera, baited with an apple.  A raccoon and baby possum visited, as did armadillos.  We couldn’t get the armadillos on camera but turn the sound up to enjoy the summer cacophony that we attempt to sleep through.  The most raucous noise is the frogs and the high chirrups are the armadillos.  The  baby possum has the starring role.

At least we will never be alone…

Deathly Purple Rain

Prince - "Purple Rain"

Prince – “Purple Rain” courtesy of zwall.pix.com

It has been a sad week for the Houston area and now for the world with the early death of Prince, which ironically was his real name.

We were all taken by surprise by the sudden flash flooding in Houston that killed only 8 people, remarkably, but many thousands have had their lives ripped apart by houses that flooded. We seem to have only just recovered from the 10 year drought, which devastated land with forest fires, when the weather Gods has wreaked their wrath and havoc. The truth is that we just live in a time of unstable weather that will continue to affect us globally for an indefinite period. The higher the population, the more inclined we are to build on land that has flooded from time immemorial and in places where forest fires are a natural part of the ecosystem.

Houston flooding 2016 courtesy of Mark Mulligan, Houston Chronicle

Houston flooding 2016
courtesy of Mark Mulligan, Houston Chronicle

On the first day of flooding I had to go to the doctor’s office which is about a 15 minute drive away but past the overflowing containment pond for our neighborhood and then a massive reservoir for our city. It was truly a magnificent site with gallons of water flooding the forest across the road. On the way back I was concerned when I saw about 4 cars parked on the side of the road (which is narrow). I was concerned that there had been an accident and then realized these thoughtless people were taking photographs and making the road more difficult to negotiate. Every year in downtown Houston we get a drowning death in an underpass which has suddenly flooded but it looks like they are going to finally put automatic barriers at the worst sections. The city is at sea level, riddled with bayous (a fjord of sort) and endless rivers and creeks.

As usual, Houstonians responded to the challenge with their bass boats, canoes and rafts and were able to start rescuing people who were not in desperate need – the first responders were doing that. After the chaos of Katrina and the refugees from Louisiana, each evacuation facility had police to make it safe for everyone. I am so grateful that our house did not flood but it was scary watching the water rising in the ‘dry’ creek which borders our property.

I am a huge music fan but I don’t usually talk about it much on my blog but I was so shocked by Prince’s death that I wanted to write a short eulogy. Purple Rain has to be one of my favorite songs of all time but it was Prince’s persona that affected me the most. At first, I wondered if he was gay because he was happy to wear heels, make-up and unusual clothing. Nonetheless I was very attracted to him and sensed he was straight which since was confirmed. Another line in the song Kiss is “You don’t have to be beautiful to turn me on” and it really resonated with me. It was during a time of sexual discovery for me and he encouraged me to look beyond what normal was. See my post about sexual fluidity. There was a period when he changed his name to a symbol and I guess this marked a period of self-discovery. It seemed a bit odd to me and I think he struggled with his sexual identity and spiritual beliefs. He gave huge anonymous donations to a variety of charities and causes and lived a private life despite the craziness of the music world. RIP.

The receipt

Teddy's mum and dad back in the 1940s

Teddy’s mum and dad back in the 1940s

After my last post I thought I would share two stories. A couple of weeks ago we had another incident on an Interstate just north of Houston, close to where we live. It’s another funny yet sad tale. In the middle of the night, police officers noticed an elderly lady driving a Buick (isn’t it always a Buick?) down the center lane of Interstate 45. She had no lights on and although the police tried to pull her over, she continued on her trek. If she had kept going she would have either caused a major accident or ended up in the Gulf of Mexico. They decided that the safest thing was to lay a strip to burst the tires which was successful but then she kept going on the wheel rims until finally she came to a stop.

When they got her out of the car, she was a disheveled older lady who probably had a dementia of some sort. She must have a guardian angel because no-one was injured and hopefully she now has the care she needs. This was on the main thoroughfare between Houston, Dallas and further north. Every month or so, we have what is now called a Silver Alert on the road signs, asking us to look out for an elderly driver who has run away from home. Guess what 90% of them drive – BUICKS!

We were so fortunate that Teddy’s mum who had Alzheimer’s disease had long since stopped driving and was not inclined to do so. That said, one of the neighbors found her ‘repairing’ the top of the garage (at the top of ladders), she ran away from the mall and generally caused havoc with her many disappearing tricks. Teddy’s Dad had not lost his faculties but he was too old to be driving but no-one could persuade him to stop. Both sides of the car were scraped along the side where he had misjudged the garage. Now that both have passed on, our grief is being mellowed with humorous memories. Teddy had been scanning old photos and found this receipt in his Dad’s driving licence. We both burst out laughing because it brought back Dad’s obsession with keeping receipts, putting them in strange places and in this case misspelling BRASSIERES. Only a man of 93 would refer to them in such a way.
bra receipt

Widower at Trader Joe

A_K_Wedd

Bunny and Teddy signing the wedding registry in 1982, Our bridesmaid and best man married each other and are still together.

Last night I had endless horrible nightmares. This was because I accidentally noticed a job advertised that was perfect for me. It was a low wage but had excellent benefits. There were two problems – it was full-time and in downtown Houston which is about 40 miles away in frenetic driving conditions. Nevertheless, I was thinking seriously about it after I had investigated the cost of health care. I know exactly what my psychiatrist would have said – Noooooo!

So, before we went to bed we had a normal marital fracas. I thought he was already in the master bathroom but he had gone to pick up his notebook in the study. As I had turned all the lights off, he accidentally kicked our very sensitive baby cat in the dark. He blamed me, I started fecking about how stupid he was and we went to bed in bad humor with baby cat sleeping under the spare bed. I was so angry and wanted to go sleep with baby cat in the spare bedroom but knew that Teddy would have been so upset.

The nightmare was a variation on a recurring dream. As usual, I had not completed my equivalent of an Associate’s degree and was struggling to sit the final exam with one day’s notice. In reality I passed it all (in 1980) with no problem whatsoever and have endless other useless qualifications and experience (counselling skills, training for trainers, blah, blah). I woke up terrified at 6 am, worried that I was not going to have a business major and there would be a zombie apocalypse. I ran into the living room where Teddy was starting to feed the cats and ran into his arms. He asked me what was wrong but I was too traumatized to have words yet. He apologized for being grumpy the night before and life went back to some kind of normal.

Then I met with some other volunteers for our regular lunch and life was put back into perspective with someone else’s ill health. On the return journey an 18 wheeler truck tried to take me out on the interstate and yet again perspective was realized. I knew in that moment that someone who was made anxious by lunch, had neuropathy after a 45 minute drive for something pleasant, in slow traffic, could never manage a downtown job with a 2 hour drive both ways.

I asked Teddy if he would like to go to Chilli’s for a meal so we went this evening and had a lovely time discussing when we wanted to die. At the moment, 75 is my limit and I really mean that. He worried that his middle-aged forgetfulness was early onset Alzheimer’s and I reassured him that I would ‘take him out’. After that he wanted some chocolate so we went to Trader Joe’s. We stocked up on cheap wine, Peruvian giant corn and chocolate and went to the till. Our sales assistant, Ricardo, was new to me – I know everyone there.

Teddy attempted to pay the old way with a swipe of the credit card but Trader Joe is all set up for the chip, so you have to insert it. I tutted at his inexperience and explained to Ricardo that he wasn’t used to shopping, with a laugh. Ricardo asked how long we had been married and I told him 33 years. He remarked that we had an easy way with each other that only long married couples had. I asked him how long he had been married and he said, “She passed after 30 years”. My eyes filled with tears and we chatted about whether he was ready to meet someone else. Of course, I offered to find him someone and told him he was very handsome. When we left the store I nearly fell apart with the sadness of that and once again I realized how very lucky I was.  Count your blessings.

Honey do hunk

DSCN1507

I am laughing so hard as I upload this post. We are both back at home and struggling to get back into a new routine. Before New Year I had de-caulked the bottom of the shower and made various pointed comments about Teddy repairing the caulk since he now had some time on his hands. It still wasn’t done when we got news of his mum’s death. This morning Teddy got up and got ready to sort the shower in his night shorts and t-shirt. I said that he didn’t have to do that right away but he made an innocent comment about how I had mentioned the ‘honey do’ task frequently. That was it – I burst into tears both at the idea of our new life and the loss of my mother in law. Teddy was perplexed but understanding. We chatted through all my worries, which was mostly about affording health care (we can) and feeling useless about not being able to support him for a change.

We moved past that and I got all the tools ready for him to do the task. In truth, I think he finally decided to do it because he really wanted a proper shower… I went off to get my emissions test and cried in the car because I don’t know how to do these things either. When I came back from Jiffy Lube, he had somehow got the metal enamel paint on his night shorts and onto his bum. I burst out laughing and then tried to remove the paint. We tried mineral spirits, then I used a magic sponge followed by nail varnish remover. He howled with pain which made me laugh more and then I went to get my camera.

He must be incredibly sensitive because I seemed to have really injured him. In the future I will do the ‘honey do’ tasks and he will do the state sticker stuff. He is now behaving like a puppy with his paw raised up in distress. Steroidal cream has been applied and I am sure he will recover eventually but may never forgive me. 🙂

Ted burn

Teddy’s bum burn

My Charismatic Father

My father as a beautiful boy

My father on the right as a beautiful boy

As I have been browsing other bloggers posts, I have noticed some lovely memorials to fathers who have passed on. It struck me that although my Dad died in 1990, I have no similar memories. He disappeared from my life when I was about 2 years old and, to all intents and purposes, abandoned us in Glasgow at my Grandmother’s home. Not only that, he ‘borrowed’ money from my mum’s family, never to be repaid.

My mum was a very complicated person with a mental illness and alcohol problem. When I was younger she invariably tried to boost the image of my Dad – told me how handsome, talented, clever and creative he was. I was aware that the rest of her family did not share that opinion. Then, one wonderful day, a giant package arrived from the States. Usually the parcels at Christmas were from my two single maternal aunts and one relative of my father. This one was from my father and it was full of a strange mixture of toys including a pink Cadillac, a fire engine and a large baby doll. I was so excited to receive something from this elusive father. I wasn’t quite old enough to figure out why my mum was conflicted about the parcel – we never did receive any alimony.

As the years passed, a clearer picture of my father emerged. He was a deeply flawed but utterly charismatic man who may well have had mental health issues – certainly he was an alcoholic. In one awful drunken revelation, my mum wailed at me that my Dad had wanted her to get an illegal abortion in 1959. I can still remember how devastating that was to me – not only was I an unwanted burden to my mother but my father probably only married my mother because of my existence. To make things worse I also knew that my father’s cousin, my aunt Jackie, wanted to adopt me because of the circumstances of my birth. How I longed that she had.

Time moved on, I had inherited not just a damaged psyche but a genetic mental illness. I married very young and when I was around 30 found out that we could not have children. That must have triggered something in my head and I asked my mum if she would be upset if I tried to trace my Dad but she was surprisingly keen. Long story short, I found him and he was happy to have reconnected. In essence, I had never met him and was struck by how sexy and alluring his voice was. It resonated beautifully.

There is no happy ending. Eventually, I couldn’t stand to even speak to him after many drunken calls in the middle of the night. He died in desperately sad circumstances, alone, and I am just sad that I don’t have a wonderful Dad to pay tribute to. The one person, who knew him intimately and did not dislike him, told me that I inherited his charisma. I have been told that I have a sexy and alluring voice, too.

I have written some more about him in my Kindle Book –
Letters from Cairo by Kerry Duncan

PS. After I wrote this I looked at my avatar and my Dad as a child and realized our faces are identical.

They killed the missionaries…

mission mountains

This is the beautiful mission church of San Jose del Cabo. In this shot you can just see the granitic hills in the background some of which form strange conical shapes. The estuary leading to the sea is to the right and south which gives it that beautiful light. It is a small town with a few very good art galleries in the center. Every Thursday evening there is a art walk with other vendors – the galleries offer drinks and snacks. The original mission church was falling down – it was built in the early 1700s so they rebuilt it in 1972 and made a beautiful job of it.

I had a lovely moment when I went into the church to light a candle for my mum. Unlike most tourists I changed into some conservative clothes so as not to offend the locals. The tour book said that you might get some male attention if a solo female but nothing untoward should happen. I had the usual exorcist heads (swiveling inhumanly to get a better look at my ass) from drivers, when wearing shorts, but that happens in Houston too.

I was disappointed that you had to bring your own candle with you to light – I had noticed them for sale in the local shop but put money in the box and said a prayer anyway. As I exited the church, a yellow butterfly landed on my shoulder and my husband said, “That was your mum telling you not to worry about the candle”. I can feel tears welling up now as I think about that beautiful moment.

I suppose you still want to know about the missionaries? The mission party stuck their nose in the lives of the local native people who lived on the Baja peninsula and dared to tell them that they could only have one wife… They were a feisty tribe and promptly killed not one but two interfering priests. Quite right too – they were conquistadors looking for gold and riches. This amazing tile above the church commemorates the murder.

mission tile

Nana went to Heaven

Kerry_Trish_Nana

Nana with Kerry and a new cousin

I adored Nana, my maternal grandmother. After my parent’s marriage dissipated, my mother and I stayed in Nana’s apartment, then house, in Glasgow. In another blog ‘the day I knew I could write’, I mentioned that I had written a disturbing tale of a grandmother dying in a rocking chair when I was about 7 years old. Nana had a stroke then and I was just working through my anxiety about the prospect of her death. She was a strong, stabilizing influence on me when my mother was heading towards a severe mental breakdown when I was around 10 years old. My mother had many rounds of electric shock treatment and emerged a broken dove from psychiatric hospital. From then she went onto disability for the rest of her life.

A few months before my Nana’s death when I was 13 years old and she was 79, she was unwell and lying in bed during the daytime. I went into the garden and picked a small bouquet of red and white flowers and put them in a vase. As I entered her bedroom, she screamed to my mum, Kathleen, to take the flowers away. I didn’t realize that my very superstitious Irish grandmother thought that red and white flowers were a warning of death. To this day, I will not receive or give a red and white bouquet. This superstition is very old and reflects red blood and white bandages just like a Barber’s pole. In the past, Barbers often acted as part-time medics and their red and white pole indicated that you go there for medical help much like the green sign for pharmacies.

I am very intuitive and occasionally psychic. Back then I didn’t realize that I can smell and/or sense cancer. Unknown to me, and probably the rest of the family, Nana was dying of lung cancer. As a mature 13 year old, I started removing myself emotionally from my Nana. I still behaved the same but I was holding back some of my very strong affection and love just to protect myself. My life, as I predicted, was going to fall apart after my Nana’s death and quite spectacularly. I am certain that she sensed my withdrawal but I felt that she also withdrew from me – perhaps because I was unable to hide my pity or the truth in my child’s eyes. Everyone else, my mother and all her siblings seemed in denial about how soon she would die.

Just before she died, she asked for me to sit with her and I think we settled our uneasiness. I could not understand why she was so afraid of death, as a life-long Roman Catholic, and she was frightened of my pragmatic acceptance. Her children were terribly upset, naturally, when her death came. In those days the open coffin was kept in her bedroom so that friends and family could pray over the body. It settled me to see her dead body and kiss her goodbye as it was no longer her. My aunt was upset that the mortician had put too much make-up on her but when you are dead, you’re dead. I cried before she died and never did so again. At the funeral I was the only one who was tearless yet I had the most to lose from her death.

For years and up until this day, I have dreams that she has been alive all this time and I had forgotten about her. I feel great guilt and remorse in the dreams but I think I enjoy seeing her come to life just one more time. For some unknown reason I have always accepted death as part of the great circle of life and am not afraid – sometimes I long for it.

Help!

2mums and dad 001 I love this photograph of my mum (blonde), mum in law and dad in law. They are on a vacation to Spain that my parents in law kindly paid for. My husband and I are both only children, so almost always had celebrated Christmas with all three parents. One particular holiday, we were staying in one of the guest bedrooms of my mother’s house. Her house adjoined another terraced house and our bedroom had paper thin walls to the bedroom next door. My mum lived in a nice public housing estate which was full of working class people. The next door neighbor was an older lady, now widowed, who lived there with two sisters – the oldest was single and the other was a widow. They had been neighbors for more than 20 years and both were respectfully quiet – except on this occasion…

It was around midnight on Christmas Eve and we were being disturbed by strange noises in the bedroom next door. It sounded like furniture being moved around which was odd at that time of night. Then we heard a little voice shouting, “Help” out of the neighbor’s window. It was a quiet street and one of the neighbors across the street came out in her dressing gown and curlers, shouting “Who’s that shouting help?” She was a rather loud lady who sounded like a female Billy Connolly. By this time half of the street was out in their nightclothes trying to figure out what was wrong. Despite my mum’s own mental health issues, she was the voice of reason in the street and many people confided their problems in her.

No-one in the house next door had come out to explain what the problem was so my mum knocked at the front door and said, “Its Kathleen, let me help.” They very tentatively opened the door and were clearly mortified at being the center of attention. In those days Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, much like mental illness, was something you didn’t talk about. The oldest single sister had one or the other, had been deteriorating for months while the family tried to keep her illness secret. On this occasion she was delusional, thinking it was World War II and had barricaded the bedroom with the furniture to protect her against Nazi soldiers.

It took half the night for my mum to help the situation while the poor deluded sister was still shouting, “Help!” out of the window. None of us got much sleep that Christmas night. My husband and I were very young, still in our twenties, and didn’t realize how difficult the situation was. Life turned around to teach us a sharp lesson as my lovely mother-in-law who was glowing in the photograph above was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about 15 years ago. She was advantaged by new medical treatments, brain scans and therapy but it is still so hard to cope with. Now, she is the only parent we have still living and resides in a special care facility. People sometimes make very thoughtless comments such as, “I would never put my parent in a home” but how could you manage without specialist staff, hoists and all the other equipment they have? I couldn’t even change her diaper because of back problems.

We try to visit her every quarter, one or other of us, but she no longer remembers me which makes me sad. Everything about the situation makes my husband sad as he only sees glimmers of her former personality. I used to volunteer at a Dementia Ward in a hospital in Scotland and I know that we are very fortunate that she is calm, happy and easy for the staff to deal with. It is lovely to see them hug or kiss her with her smiling in response as she no longer has language. Despite all of this, we still laugh when we think of the very loud neighbor lady with the Billy Connolly voice – her heart was in the right place.