The first chapter in the life and times of Simone, a little white cat.
Simone: Looking a little worried that the garden voles might be bigger than she is
My mother’s cat, Simone, enjoyed a well-travelled, storied life. She was born in Osaka, Japan, where my cousin and his wife taught English as a Second Language for several years in the 1990s. My cousins are diehard cat people, and when it comes to taking pity on strays, each has a big “S” (for Sucker) emblazoned on the forehead. When the teaching gig ended and they came back to Canada, they brought five (or was it six?) rescue cats with them.
One of these wayward waifs was Gulliver, so named because he was an enormous black-and-white boy with a comical moustache and an insatiable appetite for kibble and a whole lotta lovin’. If he wanted cuddles (once he realized with great sadness that a treat wasn’t in his immediate future), he’d peer up with dinner-plate eyes, attempting to mesmerize with his goofy brand of big-boned charm. That rather unsettling green gaze was his way of telegraphing intent to embark on a full-body snuggle, there to stay forever if you let him. Prepare to be boarded was what those eyes were saying. And he did weigh about the same as a jumbo jet. If he sensed we were about to put him down, perhaps to restore circulation to our cold, dead arms, he’d go all limp and pseudo-comatose, as if to project how helpless and hopelessly lovable he was. You could practically hear him beg, I won’t be a bother. I promise I’ll be good, but please, please don’t ever let me go!
Gulliver: “I’m not fat … just big boned”
The other Japanese import who came into our lives via the nomadic cousins was Simone. She was the polar opposite of her adopted brother: small and dainty, self-possessed and somewhat aloof. For some reason still unknown to me, my cousins (English teachers, if you recall), decided to pronounce the name SIH muh nee. Naturally, that eventually got shortened to Simmy, Sim-sim, Simkin and a couple of other variations.
Back in Japan, Simone was urged upon my hapless cousins by a well-meaning yet rather conniving store owner who’d noticed the young cat struggling to make a living in the mean Osakan streets outside his shop. According to him, the little cat, who was probably two or three years old at the time, had already borne at least one litter of kittens, which she’d once defended from a vicious dog attack. This she had done quite valiantly, claimed the shop keeper, who would have made a great spin doctor or grifter if the corner store had gone under. But what made the tough little cat truly special, he declared, was that she was a Turkish Van, a truly blessed feline indeed. Pronounced VAWN, this breed was developed in the United Kingdom from cats obtained from several cities in Turkey. They are short- to medium-haired, mainly white, with colour – usually red, brown, cream or black – restricted to the head and tail plus a few random body spots. The head colouring forms a vague M shape on the crown between the ears. The shopkeeper insisted this had been created when Allah placed his thumbs on the cat’s forehead in divine blessing ̶ thus bestowing on that scrappy street urchin a status above all others of her species.
Simmy had another rather unique attribute: her foreshortened, deformed tail. Its origin was the subject of some speculation by vets and owners alike. It was about two-thirds normal length, and had a curious bony nobble on the end. I always thought it was the result of a terrible accident, but one doctor guessed it may have been a birth defect. Further reading revealed that Vans sometimes have shorter tails! They also share several behavioural traits which I’ll talk about later.
If you’d met these peculiar creatures and heard such a tail tale, I bet you would have done exactly what my cousins did: rescue Simmy and four or five of her gang (they found Japanese homes for the kittens), get them all fixed up by a veterinarian, and transport them at great expense to their forever home on the other side of the world. Except that “forever” didn’t exactly pan out as my cousins had intended. After a few months on their native soil, it was clear there was still no employment to be had, so off they scarpered to New Zealand, where they took jobs teaching ESL to Maori children. Because of that country’s strict animal importation laws, it wasn’t possible to bring the cats with them, so before they left, they were forced to farm them out to friends and unsuspecting family.
When I say unsuspecting, I do mean just that. My mother’s brother (and father to the cat-loving cousin in question) very helpfully “volunteered” his sister as a willing foster mother … without speaking to her first. Mom, who shares the “S” gene mentioned above, reluctantly agreed to take two of the cats, on condition that they go back to their owners once the Kiwi stint was done. And so Gulliver and Simone were dropped off at her house on my cousins’ the way to the airport. Gulliver, who was never possessed of much self-esteem or bravado, shot immediately down the basement stairs and hid behind the washing machine for three days. (He probably lost at least half a gram in the process.) Simmy, on the other hand, minced out of her carrier on delicate white paws, cool as a cucumber with petite ginger-stamped head and cropped tail held high. One patrician sniff of her new surroundings made it clear that she was Queen of the Castle now, thank you very much, and we were all henceforth her royal subjects. From that instant, Her Majesty stole our hearts completely, and never looked back.
~ To be continued ~