Francis was old. Very old.
I first met Kay’s orange cat when he was a spry 14, still able to scale the drainpipe to her second-story balcony, catch the occasional mouse and disappear on nocturnal jaunts. Francis, also known as Frannie, was a very serious cat and didn’t suffer fools gladly.
I had been raised with dogs and my only childhood experience with cats was our next-door neighbor’s plump tabby, “Purr-fessor,” who annoyed my mother by trespassing in our driveway and causing our dachshund, Hildy, to bark incessantly. I always assumed I was exclusively a dog person.
Then I met Frannie. When I looked into his unblinking green eyes, I knew there was a fiercely intelligent, sentient being looking back.
He was dismissive of all toys, but loved catnip. Once, we tried to entice him with a hollow wooden ball that was guaranteed to “induce involuntary playfulness” when filled with the aromatic herb. At least that’s what it said on the box it came in.
Kay stuffed the ball with top-grade catnip, secured the stopper and placed it on the floor in front of a clearly disgruntled cat. Nearly an hour passed as Francis sat huffily studying the offending object. Suddenly, one paw shot out, and he executed a perfect slapshot into the wall, where the lid popped off and catnip spewed across the hardwood floor. After eating most of it and rolling around on the rest of it, old Frannie had a good, long nap.
Eventually, age caught up to this distinguished gent. Diagnosed with kidney disease, he started losing weight and slowing down. Over the years, he’d also lost most of his teeth, but he never lost his dignity.
One Thanksgiving, Kay had gone to Ohio to be with her family, and I was in charge of Frannie. As I got ready to head over to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving dinner, I couldn’t bear the thought of the little, old gent having to spend the holiday alone. I put him in the cat carrier and loaded it into the car with my dog, Emma, and trekked out to Kenmore.
My mother, the former cat hater, had been converted by several of my sisters’ cats, and she welcomed Frannie to the family gathering with open arms. He charmed the entire family that day by stalking around screaming for treats. He had been put on a special, low-protein, kidney diet, and was hungry all the time. As someone who had suffered many diets, I could sympathize.
The giant bird emerged from the oven and was consumed with gusto. Frannie enjoyed many turkey scraps during the carving, serving and eating phases of the meal. As we were clearing the table and putting leftovers away, Francis proved that though he had lost a step or two to age, he had lost none of his guile.
“What are you doing?” My father bellowed, then started to laugh. We all ran into the kitchen, where we witnessed Francis, all five pounds of him, up on his hind legs with one of his remaining teeth hooked onto the turkey carcass in the refrigerator. He was jerking backward with all his might, and that bird was moving, inch by inch, almost to the tipping point. One more tug and that 20-pound bird would have landed right on top of Frannie. But he would have died happy.
Francis lived to enjoy almost another year, and for that, we were truly thankful.