It was just a little puff of gray fur weighing about a pound. The feral kitten had been coming around the house for about a week before I spied it up in one of the yew trees in the front yard one day. Up until then, it had only been a little ghost that skittered every time I came close, but today, it was sitting on a branch at eye level, and when I came near, it meowed pitifully. I knew where it came from: the house at the end of the street had about 20 outdoor cats, mostly wild and always hungry. The owners of the 'cat house' were a hippie-dippy couple that didn't believe in spaying their animals, and so there was a colony of cats living there. They were invisible until feeding time, which was about sunset, when one of the couple came out with a big pot of table scraps and set it out in the yard- then cats came from everywhere-the nearby woods, from the crawlspace beneath the next door neighbor's house, from under bushes, cars and down trees until they became a swarming, yowling tapestry of undulating fur, all trying to get close to the pot for a mouthful or two of food. It was a nightly ritual, until the evening when the one gray kitten broke ranks and climbed the yew tree between the house and the street where I parked my car.
I tried to ignore it. I really did. We already had a beautiful black momma cat my Grandfather named Weenie-short for Halloween. Her feline BFF Kimmy, a Siamese, had died three years earlier, just after Weenie had her litter of five, from which I kept the one single male-a sleek little gray tiger I named Peitie. Pop refused to have him fixed, and he kept wondering off as tomcats do, until the time he never came home. I walked the neighborhood, hoping to see him or to at least find his body. I never did. We went from one cat to two,then to three-too many in our small house- so when Peitie vanished and Kimmy crossed the Rainbow Bridge at the grand old age of 20, I decreed that one cat was enough. Pop had died the year before and money was tight; we could barely feed ourselves and that one cat. We didn't need another pet, but this kitten seemed determined to hang around. I tried to pursued it to leave by giving it a good dousing with the garden hose, but it just clung to the branch, wet and miserable and meowing.
Several nights later in the week I drove my Grandmother and I to Denny's for a treat, and as I was making the turn into the parking lot, I looked up into the rear view mirror...and there was that damned gray kitten, squatted down on the backseat of the car! I drove all the way home and tossed it into the front yard, then Mom and I went back to Denny's. The kitten was sitting on the front porch, waiting patiently when we arrived home and greeted us with a loud, " Well, it's about time you got back!" cry. I knew I shouldn't have done it, but I let it in the house...and suddenly, we had another cat.
And not just another cat... my cat. I was adopted by this tiny puff of fur that couldn't have been more than a month or two old, by the size of it. The first night in the house the kitten clawed its way up the blankets and slept in the crook of my arm. Within the week I scheduled an appointment at the Vet to have it wormed and get it's shots. Much to my surprise, after examining the kitten, the Vet told me that she-we now new it's gender- was probably about ten months old, according to the development of her teeth. Because she had to fight off the other cats, she had failed to grow and thrive, and probably would have died if I hadn't taken her in. I felt like the Cat Savior. My new found little buddy cost me $200, so I named her Tinker- an Irish term meaning one who was a nomadic or itinerant traveler...and more likely than not a thief, too. And a thief she proved to be- because she stole my heart.
Tinker grew into a beautiful, fat, lazy feline with lush striped fur. She was the Supreme Mouser. The feral cat I identified as her mother was a calico; Tinker had apricot, black and gray markings. The stripes on the top of her tail were gray, but the flip side were pale orange with a tiny white tip. She had an intense gaze, her eyes were always alert. She was always inquisitive, always ready to participate in whatever I was doing and maybe earn a tidbit treat. When I was deep in solitary ritual, she sat by, just outside my circle, the ever vigilant guardian and embodiment of Bast. She would narrow her feline gaze and join the meditation, and when the circle was cut, she would come in to get her well-earned reward of a pat on the head and a tail scratching.
We moved into my first apartment since college together after I sold my Grandparents house. I worried that she wouldn't adapt to her new surroundings-but she did. She went with me the summer I took an internship as a chaplain at a homeless facility in Maryland, during which she succumbed to old age and passed into the loving arms of Bast with the help of her doctor. I held a funeral ritual for her, and she was buried at the edge of a meadow, accompanied by things she loved in life- a catnip toy and a raw mushroom. After anointing her nose,ears and feet with blessed oil, I placed my pentacle bracelet around her thin neck, and she was wrapped in her favorite blanket and placed in a wooden box donated by a friend, who also dug her grave. Before I nailed the box closed, I placed some mugwort, a spring of rosemary, and lavender over the blanket. She was buried as a descendant of Egyptian royalty- which she was and all cats are. (They know this...and they have ways of never letting humans forget it!) There is a chapter of my personal Book of Shadows which contain journal entries about what Tinker and I shared in life, and about her death. I painstakingly wrote about her burial preparation and the ritual I performed in long hand,including formulas and prayers- so I would never forget even a second of our last few moments before I said goodbye. You may be thinking she was just merely a cat, but I can tell you that a part of my soul lived in her and left with her last breath, and because of this sacred connection, she is my guide into the next world and beyond the Veil. When it's my time to cross the Veil between this life and the next, the first thing I want to see is my beloved familiar trotting toward me with her tail held high.
The anniversary of her death will be in a few days- eight long years without my beloved companion in this life. There is not a week that goes by that I don't fondly recall some little thing she did that delighted me, or something we shared together. There is a Native American belief that a loved one is only truly dead when their name is spoken for the last time; if that is true, then Tinker has not died but lived on with me. I see her in every cat I come across on the street or as a friend's pet. There are days when I see that gray and orange stripped tail curl around a corner just at the edge of my peripheral vision and nights when there is a spot on the bed that feels like a warm depression made by a cat-sized body. I will be sitting at home alone, quietly writing as I am now, and I will hear a soft sound, much like that made by a small child...or a cat...and when I look up, there will a nothing in the room with me- that I can see. What is not seen with mortal eyes (and felt) is another matter. It's experienced on another level of consciousness, in far off realm of existence....and I know that Tinker is in that room, unseen to eyes which can only see what is in this life. It is not a ghost, but a spiritual presence, a prevailing love from beyond the veil that comes echoing back over the years.
I believe that love...true, unconditional love, given just for the sake of nothing more than loving and being loved... even the love of a cat...never dies.