She was twenty years old but not prematurely gray. She had been gray all her life, from the time she was just a handful of kitten and a gift from my wife to her mom.
Of course, I had never met any of them at that time. Fluffy was a companion for my mom-in-law, a shy under-bed dweller who was especially afraid of men.
I didn't let that stop me from trying to make her acquaintance. After a few visits to her mom's house in Texas, I coaxed her out from under the bed and found that she liked to have her head and belly rubbed - and that she liked to scratch and chew your hand gently when you obliged her.
When we moved my mom-in-law from Texas up to Little Rock to live nearer to us almost six years ago, Angi wanted to have Fluffy put to sleep rather than put a 14-year-old cat through the hot ride in mid-summer. I talked her out of it. I'm glad I did. She made the trip just fine. The place where my mom-in-law lives in Little Rock doesn't permit pets, though, so Fluffy came to live with us.
Our other two cats were more or less indifferent to her - as she was to them - but somehow respected her seniority. When we added a cocker spaniel a year ago, he indiscriminately took to all of them like long-lost cousins.
In the last year, Fluffy had grown thinner and thinner. As her teeth deteriorated, she could only eat soft food - and the other pets let her have plenty, preferring the crunchy kind - but her digestive system was never very happy. She grew gaunt. She hasn't been able to hop up to her rightful place on the bed for several months because of the arthritis in her back legs, but she never complained. (If you hang around some of the same blogs I do, you may remember that I commented about Fluffy on salguod's blog a couple of months ago.)
One of her favorite things to do was talk with us. She only knew two words - "Mama" and "Hello?" - but she got the pronunciation right and the inflection perfect, including the cleft-kitty-lipped "m," the aspirated "h," and the rising inflection at the end of "Hello?".
Sometimes when we came home, she would come sit at the top of the stairs and say "Hello?" and wait for us to say it back to her. She would go back and forth with us, repeating it for as long as we were willing. Sometimes, she'd do it even though we'd been home for a long time!
She would say "mama" mostly when she was hungry. She knew who fed her.
Last evening, while Angi and I were at a formal dinner at the University, something happened. It might have been a stroke. When we came home, I found Fluffy only semi-responsive, eyes glazed, reclined with her head against the water dish. She could barely get up. She couldn't eat. She couldn't drink. She couldn't fully stand. She'd just squat by the water dish, looking longingly at it. Once, she dipped her tongue into it. But she couldn't swallow. The drop of water dribbled down her chin.
We tried to make her comfortable, but she couldn't get comfortable. We had hoped maybe she would improve during the night, but by morning it was clear that she was suffering - and unwilling to put her head down, lest she fall asleep and not awaken again.
Laura was inconsolable for a while, wailing "I don't want her to die" over and over. Matthew, stolidly, just rubbed her head and belly.
After the children had had a chance to say goodbye to her and had gone to school; after Angi had called her mom to see if she wanted to go with me to the vet (she didn't), I took Fluffy for her last ride.
She was pretty close to gone before we got there.
I was handling it all right until the vet's assistants took her to the back room for the shot. Then I just sank into a chair and sobbed. The kindness of a stranger - an older lady with a quiet new puppy - consoled me with an arm around my shoulder.
Then they brought me her collar and tags, and I took them home.
It wasn't so much that we hardly knew ye - but that we knew you so long and you loved us so much.
We will miss your greeting when we come home.