We step out of the used appliance store on River Road in Eugene, make our way back to our car parked by the street. Husband looks out into the road...
A small tiger kitten, maybe twelve weeks old, is trying to make his way across the five-lane street which, luckily, isn't very busy this time of day.
Frozen in horror at the prospect of the little guy's imminent demise, we gape...until a young man on a bike swoops into the picture, scoops up the kitten, rides over and hands him to me.
"Is this yours?"
"He is now."
Yes, he was probably somebody's. Yes, he was wearing a collar (with no I.D. on it.) But I came to the swift and unwavering conclusion that anyone who would leave a baby outside where he could end up alone in the middle of a five-lane road did not deserve to have an animal and was not getting him back from me.
Home he went, with us. And with us he stayed. For almost twenty years.
"He's a cute little booger," my husband kept saying, with a mischievous gleam in his eye.
I put my foot down. "No. We are NOT calling him 'Booger.'"
We named him Bart instead. After Bart Simpson.
But, of course, he had nicknames. "Uh-oh Kitten" stuck for the rest of his life. And there was "La-boy," because the little noise he emitted when he wanted your attention came out sounding like, "La!" I called him "B" or "Mr. B." But mostly he was Bartie. Our boy, Bartie.
In his youth, he attached himself to Spritie--our boisterous, in-your-face cat-in-charge of the household in those days. Sprite tried to show him the ropes, tried to mold him in his own image of flamboyant felinity; but though Bartie was devoted to Sprite, he never quite took up that torch. Bartie was a pretty boy, and sweet... He really had no bad habits, other than his tendency to bite his brother Beaker's ear when they were milling around our feet at dinner time.
In 2007, when Spritie died, Bartie took on the mantle of elder statesman of the "herd." And he wore that distinction for ten years...almost to the day. Plagued with chronic digestive and tooth problems, his last two years were kind of rocky, but he just kept going, and going, and going. We pampered and petted him, pureed his food for him, laid a cushion or a blanket on every seat in the house for him... In the end, he energizer-bunnied his way almost to his twentieth birthday. His final decline was surprisingly swift. In two days, he went from his normal (though old and frail) self to too weak to walk. I sat beside him Monday afternoon...tried to talk him into going. But he was stubborn. So stubborn. I imagine that's how he got to be as old as he was. He was sticking around until he couldn't hang on anymore, by golly.
Of course, we couldn't let that happen. It didn't make sense. So we gave him that gentle final nudge, sent him on his way back to the Spirit of Creation last night.
We will miss you, Mr. B! But, oh...you're free now! Run to the light, be part of the stars!