|Patches, Peaches, and Dreams|
The glass, cat-shaped dish on my desk is filled with peanut butter M&M’s and foil-wrapped candy Easter eggs. It is actually a small, votive candle holder, but I use it for snacks. My co-worker, Stanley, stopped by one morning for a chat and a few chocolates. Knowing I am a cat-lover and owner of five felines, he told about his friend’s cat, Peaches. This Long Island fur-ball is so thrilled when her owner returns from work that she follows him around the house for several hours. Since her cat-food bowl is kept filled regularly, apparently Peaches does not have an ulterior motive, such as seeking out more munchies.
Peaches!! That was one of the nicknames I had given my beloved calico cat Patches. I guessed that Peaches was also a calico cat (correct, per my friend Stanley), but I thought “Who are these people, stealing my cat’s nickname?” I thought “Peaches” or “Peach” or “Pooches Peach” was mine alone, a unique segue way from the name Patches.
Patches passed away at home on March 29, 2003. She had been diagnosed with adeno-carcinoma, a particularly virulent form of cancer with a high rate of re-occurrence, in late October 2002. Patches would have been eleven years old on March 30, 2003. She was born in my third-floor brownstone apartment on President Street in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. I was a nervous human “midwife” to cat-mother Boots on that long-ago Sunday night. I remember that I finally fell asleep on the floor with my head inside the bedroom closet, where Boots was having her kittens. Several weeks later Patches was the first of the litter to step out of that closet and have a look at my sun-filled, front bedroom. My first thought – “She is my cat and her name is Patches.” Her favorite places in my Carroll Gardens apartment were the kitchen window that looked out on adjoining back yards and a basket on top of the covered radiator in my bedroom. On many winter mornings I woke up to see Patches looking warm and toasty, as she sat all curled up in that basket.
In November of 1996 I decided to move to Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn. I found an apartment I loved, with wainscoting in the kitchen, and wall molding that reminded me of the dining room in my childhood home on Amboy Road in Huguenot. I now had four adult cats to move as well as some furniture and other possessions. Our official “Moving Day” was Election Day and I hired a professional mover to take care of the furniture, books and most of my clothes. During the weekend before moving day I planned to bring the cats to the new apartment as well as some clothing and linens. I left Carroll Gardens about lunchtime Saturday with four overstuffed soft-side suitcases and headed up the block to the F train station, for a short ride to the new neighborhood (the Fort Hamilton Parkway stop on the F train). I was excited about moving and tried to get through one of the old, wooden, revolving-door turnstiles with all four suitcases at once. As I squeezed myself into the turnstile after dropping my token in the slot, I got stuck; the revolving turnstile door was jammed on both ends by my overloaded suitcases.
Panic was not an option! I decided another subway rider would come along soon and help untangle me from the turnstile. A life-long Brooklyn resident came into the station a few minutes later and pushed enough so I got the suitcases and me out of the turnstile. We took the subway together and talked all about the gentrification of Brownstone Brooklyn and the almost-forgotten and unchanged character of some of the non-landmark blocks in those neighborhoods. I arrived in Windsor Terrace absolutely certain that it was a wise decision to move there after 18 years in a Carroll Gardens brownstone.
The following day I was up and dressed at 4:00 am and at 5:00 am I packed a surprised Patches away in the cat carrier. She howled and cried all the way to Fort Hamilton Parkway on the quiet F train. Once we arrived in our new apartment, Patches ran to a corner in the living room and was inconsolable. I returned to Carroll Gardens and managed to get Boots (Patches’ mother) into the cat carrier by placing a can of Fancy Feast “Fish and Shrimp” flavor in one corner. Our subway ride was uneventful except for the usual howling. We arrived safely and walked up the subway stairs into brilliant sunshine. And, a small army of fluffy, furry, white and orange cats was assembling as we walked along Prospect Avenue towards home. “The local cats are welcoming us,” I thought, completely charmed by their sudden appearance. Later on in the apartment I realized it had been the smell of the Fish & Shrimp cat food that had attracted the neighborhood cats.
My “cat family” was intact and happy for several years in our new neighborhood. I had moved my other cats, Tiger and Penelope to the new apartment with the help of a brand-new large-sized, cat carrier. The Saturday night Carroll Park denizens actually howled back at Tiger and me as we walked to the subway station. Both cats howled every five seconds on the F train while I pretended not to notice.
Boots and Patches often marched around side by side, seeming to talk to each other in their own cat language during those early Windsor Terrace days. Tiger and Penelope raced across my living room for no apparent reason, scattering my throw rugs in their wake. All the cats liked to sit in my front windows on spring and summer evenings and watch me and my neighbors come home from work. I always seemed to be taking those throw rugs to the laundry, but my cats were such fun I did not mind all that laundry.
Boots passed away in October 1999. She had been a feral cat, I did not know how old she was, and she did not suffer. Tiger (13) and Penelope (19) are still with me and I live in the same Windsor Terrace apartment. My bedroom window looks out over several back yards and there are huge trees filled with birds and the squirrels scamper around all day out on my neighbor’s deck. The afternoon sun often lights up my bedroom for long hours. Patches spent many of her last days in that room and had lots and lots of bright sunshine.
Last Sunday I bought a 5’ by 7’ emerald-green rug for the living room. As I put it down and the cats inspected it, I remembered the old throw rugs I had used years and years ago in that room. I remembered how upset Patches was on her moving day and how she went to the corner in the living room. I laugh often, thinking of how I moved all those cats on the subway. My family has had many laughs over my subsequent use of a car service to bring odds and ends to the new apartment. “You are the only person we know who moved in a taxi,” they joke.
About a month after Patches died I had decided to adopt another homeless cat in her memory. In May 2003 I adopted Felix, who had been abandoned by his Park Slope owner. His front paws had been de-clawed so he could not have survived for long on the outside. Felix is a true house cat and loves to spend hours on the futon. By the way, Felix loves my new green rug.
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