Lambert was extraordinarily good at napping.
A headline from The Onion once read “Forward thinking cat shits outside the box.” My husband and I often laughed about this until our new kitten expressed this exact same sense of forward-thinking onto several pages of my husband’s sheet music.
Sheet music, I observed. Get it?
Today’s post is about grief because our yellow cat died yesterday. Twelve years is respectable for a cat, especially a cat plagued with issues: obesity, skin condition, ear crud, fleas, and kidney problems. In addition to the physical, our cat was also surly and antagonistic. Imagine, I said to a friend, an enormous bully who commandeers the food bowl and drags his dirty bum on the bath mat. The friend returned in kind. “I had no idea you were living with my brother-in-law.”
This cat acted so bad, my husband and I began singing songs about him. Power ballads, Broadway, and one Electronica version that still makes me laugh. Inspired, my husband hung onto a blues riff, and that blues riff eventually became the title track of his first solo recording project “Yellow Cat Blues.”
(If you want to hear the song, this is the Spotify link
The anecdotes in the song are all true, and Travis has been a staunch advocate of this cat—often the only
advocate in our house.
So when the cat pooped in the tub every time we had guests, and when I rescued the dog from the humiliated corners he was cowering in, and when I swore every time I did laundry in the basement and found the cat squatting beside-not in-the litter pan—it all came with a sense of resignation.
He earned his orange “use leather gloves” sticker on the front of his veterinary record file, and I was not amused. We brought this cat to the vet more than any of our other cats, combined. And just when I would reach my breaking point of “This cat must go,” my husband would note that nobody else would take such a rotten cat. He was right.
And that’s just about when the cat would heft all 16 pounds of himself onto my lap and purr. He would purr loudly, like a chainsaw, and he would root into my fleece pajama bottoms while I stroked the sweet spot between his eyes. I’d watch his ears with the tiny little tufts of fur at the tips, and my heart would soften. Then he’d roll over, and I would rub his massive, obese track of belly for another hour.
It was a tenuous relationship, but I loved him because this cat was ours.
This is the vintage, retro red velvet chair that Lambert destroyed.
Most people know that Travis and I had a blushing, two week courtship. When we first moved in together, we adopted two kittens. I suffered more stress about these cats than about the entire relationship. We could always break up, but with the cats, I was committing to be responsible for something’s life until it died.
I took that responsibility seriously, so when the yellow cat, in the span of two days, began to have difficulty breathing and moving—when he refused all food and water, I made the appointment. I made the appointment, but my husband drove him. For the first time in his life, the cat did not resist the carrier. My husband held him during the exam (probably cancer, said the vet, definitely dying), and then he held him during the process.
My husband was glad I did not go. He wanted responsibility for just his own grief in that moment, and he didn’t want me to see him upset. I understood.
Travis went above and beyond for Lambert's comfort.
The world is divided into people who appreciate pet eulogies and people who do not. I want to remember our yellow cat because for 12 years, he traveled with us. He saw us through the beginning of my relationship with Travis, he inspired songs, he made us laugh, and during the difficult times when I swore he’d pooped his last tub poop, he brought us together. You can’t choose family, Travis would say, you just have to love them through it.
A day later, the house feels empty. I claim my crazy cat lady status with this observation, but the three remaining cats don't feel like enough. Three cats, when there once were four, feels inadequate.
Our cat was a big presence in our life, but he impacted others, too. The soldier who turned up after one of Trav’s shows to tell him how often he listened to that first cd when he was stationed in Iraq. Our wedding guests, treated many years ago to a spontaneous, yellow cat-inspired song tribute of “There’s nothing like drinking from the toilet.” Condolences from friends as far away as Israel, Australia, and Greece—all who understand the impact of a pet’s death. The bar owner who was so kind when Travis cancelled his show. He'd lost a dog this week, too.
Lambert used to fall asleep, mid project.
During his life, our cat inspired music, made people laugh, brought us joy, and forced us into tolerance. Upon his death, he inspired compassion and sent that compassionate ripple into the universe of our friends and family.
That, I think, is the highest sort of life for a cat.
So rest in peace yellow cat, you were one of the good ones. We will see you on the other side.
The implication, naturally, is that first equals best, and I am not sure that I agree. In running, prizes, and position at the DMV line, absolutely. But, I would never call my first attempt at making soufflé the best-tasting. Same for kisses, parallel parking, and manuscript drafts. Some things just need re-visiting and practice.
She continues to editorialize throughout the recipe, and even disputes the claim on the chocolate chip bag. "Although you will find the recipe for these cookies on the package of chocolate bits, stating that it is the original recipe, it is not this recipe. This is the one that was printed on a long-ago package and it is the original recipe-really."
(For what it's worth, life is extraordinarily better when you banish should, would, could, and ought from your mindset and vocabulary.)
I am right now imagining Marjorie clucking over the many times I have made the recipe on the back of the Nestle bag, thinking I was keeping close to tradition. "Bless her heart," I imagine her saying.
So, I was very excited to try this recipe. Ingredients into a bowl, and knowing how easy it is to overeat cookies, I halved the recipe.
Mix into batter.
Add chocolate chips.
Drop onto greased cookie sheet.
Et voila. "Et voila" is French for "Yum, they are finally done. Let's try them."
Marjorie was right. These do not taste like a chewy, gooey Toll House cookie. They are decidedly crisp on the outside, with a spongy cake-like middle. Very, very tasty, but not a bit like the thick coffee house variety. Less sweet, too, which I appreciated. Not better or worse, in my estimation, just different.
My husband though, he saw a winner.
"Just like my Nana used to make."
And that, gentle readers, is what makes them the best.
While I was tasting the cookies, Tobie stepped quietly into the camera frame. It is a gratuitous pup shot, for sure, but isn't he adorable?
Challenge: What is one thing that you consider a gold standard, by which all others must be measured?
Last weekend I was called "Straight out of Rumford with less food knowledge than a Bolivian sloth."
It's okay to laugh. I did.
Why? Because I don't mind if a restaurant serves frozen spinach. I also don't mind a cheap wine list if the flavors harmonize well with the food. I understand the principles of fine dining, but I don't get hung up on them. Einstein said that if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will forever think it is stupid. It's the same with dining. A four star hot dog is still four stars, y'know?
All this to note that I consider myself a decent home cook. I am not a professional like my friend Carrie at Fields of Cake
, but I do okay in my kitchen. Marjorie did okay, too. While neither of us are baking up Carrie's exquisite creations (for real, she makes these
), here is Marjorie's recipe for chocolate cake.
Because there are just two of us in my house, I halved the recipe. Ingredients in bowl. (I use butter, not shortening.)
Mix into batter. (Resist the urge to lick the beaters, as this will give you a debilitating case of worms. So I am told.)
Batter into cupcake pan.
Out of the oven, onto the counter to cool.
I frosted them with a simple buttercream. No real recipe, but approximately a half stick of soft butter, powdered sugar (maybe a cup or two?), a few spoons of cocoa, vanilla, and enough milk to create the right consistency. Beat until smooth. Frost.
Challenge: Remember a moment when somebody said something hurtful to you. If that person was a character in your novel, how would you write the scene?