Tuesday, July 8, 2008

My Best Birthday Present

When my wife and I got married, it was just the two of us and her dog, Amber, in a little house that had formerly been base housing for a nearby Air Force base. It was a nice place, and we did well in general, though we struggled financially while I was trying to get a new job. I had left my old job and moved over 300 miles so that she could keep hers.

While I was looking for work or only on spotty contract jobs in a town where I didn't know anyone but my wife, I got to spend a lot of time with the dog. She was a bright little golden fluffball, about 35lb. and very active. I trained her to do all sorts of tricks. She could sit up, dance on her hind legs with her front paws waving in the air, jump over things on command--even my leg if I held it out--or through a hoop. She'd also sit, stay, and "guard"--sitting while looking alert, though she wasn't actually guarding. She'd also wait to eat until told to,and balance treats on her nose.

One night I was on the couch with a book when my wife came home. She poked her head in the front door and said, "Close your eyes!"

It was my birthday, so I wasn't entirely surprised. I closed them and said, "OK!"

I heard her bustle through the room, then I heard the bedroom door close. After a minute, I figured I could open my eyes.

A few minutes later, she popped out of the bedroom with a small box in her hands with a ribbon around it. She carried it like it was explosive. She put it in my lap and said, "Open it quick!"

I undid the ribbon and pulled at the lid. No boom. When I removed the lid there was a furry little gray face with bright yellow eyes looking up at me.

I was completely choked up. Tears started to run down my face as I drank in the look of the sweet little kitten's face.

After some time I managed to choke out, "It's...a kitten."

My wife was silent. I lifted the kitten out of the box and held him. Then I turned to my wife, still barely able to speak, and said, "Thank you."

My wife let out the breath she'd been holding all this time.

"You're happy?" she asked.

I nodded. The little gray kitten was standing in my lap now, giving my hands a good sniffing.

"Oh, good," she said, "I was afraid you'd be angry!"

Then, while the kitten and I got to know each other she told me about how she'd heard me talk about my prior cat, a big gray and white fellow named Alexander, and seeing me with the dog she could tell that while I loved the dog there was a need the dog wasn't filling. So she decided to get me a gray kitten. She'd had to call around to several places--vets, the Humane Society, etc.--to find a place that had kittens (in August.)

When she got to a place that had kittens they didn't have any gray ones. Then a woman who was there spoke up and said she did. So my wife followed her home to a house filled with pets and kids. One of the kittens was a boxy little gray fellow. The kids were disappointed to see "Smokey" leave, but the woman was probably glad to reduce the number of pets to more manageable levels.

She brought him home to where she'd prepared a box and ribbon then hidden them under the bedcovers. He'd been pretty noisy on the drive home, and was wiggly as she put him in the box, so she'd expected him to give himself away before I opened the box. When she actually got him in the box, he surprised her by being still (and he hadn't cried out since coming in the house.)

I didn't find out that he'd been called Smokey until I had given him a name of my own choosing. And, though he didn't have Alex's white muzzle and mittens he was a beautiful cat. Powder gray all over except for little white patches on his chest and belly. His fur shone gold in the sun.

Phillip, as I later named him, and I had very nearly twenty years together. Since I got him for my 24th birthday he'd been with me almost half my life when his time came to an end.

He's the best birthday present I ever got.

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