Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Pete Morin Editorial Review #2012--14

Skippy, the Sage Books Cat

When you open a used bookshop, there's a couple of things you can't do without. The first thing is books, and the second thing is a bookstore cat. We had the first point pretty much covered, but the second  wasn't fulfilled until the fall of 1998 when Itty Bitty Kitty arrived on the scene. A young, scared little black cat that didn't much care for being alone, or outside, showed up at the backdoor to the shop on a cold November day. She became family almost immediately and enjoyed not only the store, but was a delight to the customers as well.

Now, you'd think that having one bookstore cat would be enough, but something else happened on a late November night in 1999 that enriched our lives and changed our little bookstore family beyond measure. That night Sue was putting out the closed sign when she noticed a big orange fluffy cat quickly headed in her direction. At first she assumed the worst, that perhaps he intended to attack or claw her. As he got near, however, he stopped and stretched his front legs as far as they would go up the side of her leg. She could see by the look in his eyes that he was asking for help. "I'm cold and hungry, can you please help me?" So Sue did the only thing that a cat lover could do. She said, "Alright, I'm going to open the front door to the store. If you want in, then come in." He took just a moment to judge the situation, then made a beeline through the door. Skippy, the bookstore cat had arrived, and he would never leave.

We had no idea where he had come from, only that upon inquiring about the neighborhood found out that everybody in proximity to the store had been feeding him through most of the summer and fall. We had even seen him sleeping once near the foundation of the house, but didn't think much of it since there were, from time to time, stray cats seen around the local properties. After checking with all our neighbors, no one knowing anything about who owned him, we decided to make him our #2 official bookstore cat.

Skippy (he got this name because we thought, perhaps, that he had hitchhiked a ride from parts unknown and was dropped off locally) quickly acclimated himself to the store. He found an excellent sleeping spot in a kitty basket under the new arrival section located directly over a heating vent. He ate himself silly, slept large and did his best to investigate every nook and cranny of ten rooms of books. He had found his sweet spot, his nirvana and we were sure he felt safe in our presence.

As winter turned to spring he showed signs of wanting to take a look at more than just the confines of the store. One day in early May, when a customer entered the store, he saw his chance and ran out the door to the check the delights of a beautiful Spring day. As he motored down the sidewalk we thought that perhaps he had regained his confidence and found it time to leave our employ. He was moving quickly, and since we couldn't leave the store with customers inside, thought that maybe he had gone to seek new adventures. But at exactly ten minutes before we close the store, at ten of five, guess who comes sauntering up the sidewalk obviously proud of a day in the sun? Skippy! He was just doing what any mature male cat would do, out patrolling the neighborhood. He knew where his food and his bed were, and he wasn't about to give those things up.

As time passed, he became a mainstay to the store and the neighborhood, including the Congregational Church two houses over. Rev. Gardiner, Pastor of the church, found Skippy strolling down the aisle of the church during services and would inform the congregants that Skippy, the bookstore cat had arrived. He spent leisurely hours with Ron & Cindy, our next door neighbors, watching a movie or football game. He even jumped into a customer's car that had its windows open on a sunny summer day and ended up half way to New York before they realized who was tagging along. Thank goodness they returned our wanderlust cat to his proper home.

Skippy kept his special acts for the customers and he especially enjoyed being petted under the chin and on his head. He often sat on the check out desk next to me while customers scratched his head and marveled at his size. The good food and fine living conditions had enabled him to put on weight and he now tipped the scales at 18 pounds. His other antics included jumping into boxes of books as if to say, "hey, check out these great reads!" Lying on the floor and exposing his big belly was another favorite pastime. He'd convince you that he wanted  to be scratched on his tummy only to playfully attack anyone who tried to do the scratching.

Skippy loved to be with Sue in our garden. We had a scarecrow called Eleanor Digby, 'who sat on a hill surrounded by dill' that Sue would dress up according to the seasons. Skippy would give Sue such a fright when he'd hide underneath Eleanor's skirt and pounce when the time was right. At other times he would stay perfectly still and end up locked inside the garden when Sue finished attending to the plants. Hours would go by until we finally figured out where he was. Then we'd see him in the garden sheepishly asking to be sprung from his foolish incarceration. There didn't seem to be anything he wouldn't do. When a neighbor's house and barn were sold, he found himself locked in the barn. I had to introduce myself to the new neighbors by asking that they come to the barn (they weren't living at the house at the time) and extricate our trespassing cat. Evidently, our new neighbor hadn't noticed Skippy entering the barn when he locked the door and left.
As the years passed Skippy was more than just a bookstore cat, he was family and a large part of our customers experience. Our regular customers would, upon entering the store immediately ask, "where's Skippy, we want to show him to our friends." He could often be found lounging on the front porch furniture taking a snooze before his patrolling duties would commence, or in the big blue chair next to the fireplace. Skip knew how to enjoy his surroundings and made the most of his time in the yard.

By 2009, we noticed something strange in Skippy's behavior. He seemed to gag when he tried to eat. he was either in pain, or had a difficult time swallowing. We took him to a veterinarian specializing in dentistry to find out that he had a severe inflammation in his throat and several very bad teeth. The doctor proceeded to remove several teeth with instructions to return in one week. Before the end of a week, however, things took a turn for the worse and we took him to another doctor as an emergency visit. This vet gave him a prednisone injection to limit the swelling, but little did we know that he was allergic to this type of medicine. He looked like he might be a goner when we took him to the emergency animal hospital in South Deerfield. Thankfully, however, he pulled through and we felt relieved that the worst might be behind him.

Skip continued on his regular jaunts about the area, sometimes straying into a nearby field. When I saw this, I would call out his name in a cadence that had become recognizable to him, and when he heard me, he'd come running to my side. SKIP-SKIP-SKIPPEEEEEE! Come home Skip. Come on home. Like a flash he'd come running, to be picked up gently to the safety of his home.

In 2010 the same throat problem appeared resulting in more teeth being removed, and in 2011 he suffered a hematoma of his left ear resulting in a misshapen ear as if he'd been in a cat fight. He may not have retained his usual good looks, but he was still our wonderful Skippy.

As in all things there comes an end, but it wasn't Skippy. It was our bookstore. A store that we had labored and loved for over fifteen years was closed on August 31, 2011, and a part of our lives that we treasured beyond description passed before our eyes. Closing the store wasn't fun, but the prospect of retirement loomed in the near future. Business had fallen off dramatically in last 2-3 years and I felt the time was right to close and move. The economy wasn't good, so we felt now was the time to move to Georgia. In 2005 we had taken a short vacation in Savannah, Georgia and fell in love with the area. In 2006 and in 2008, we even looked at houses in the hopes of finding something we liked. In the Spring of 2011 we found our perfect spot with a home in Richmond Hill, Georgia. The move took place on October 1, 2011. Now we were official Georgians and the cats seemed to accept the new house with certain reservations. We now had four cats, two that resided in the former bookstore , and two that were in our residence side of the business. Willow and Jenny, our house cats, had always gotten along. Besides they were only 3 and 4 years old respectively. But for Itty and Skippy, things were not so wonderful. Itty was intimidated by Willow, and Skippy just couldn't understand why he couldn't go outside. But Skip did what he could to make the best of the situation and tried to co-exist in his new environment.

Then it happened again. The gaging, trouble swallowing and general slowing down of an elderly cat. When we found Skippy, his age was estimated at 4-5 years. Now, that would put his age at about 17. Not young for any cat. We took him to a local vet who gave us anti-bacterial medicine to be administered twice daily. She felt it was an infection and could be controlled through medication. We hoped for the best, but he was losing weight at a dramatic pace. We returned to the vet and were given the news that all animal lovers dread to hear: cancer.

And so it was that on Monday, August 27, 2012  our wonderful bookstore cat, our beloved Skippy loosed his earthly bonds to run to a happier place. I can almost see him now far across a field, and as I call his name I see his tail lift high and his fur flying in the wind, running to my side. SKIP-SKIP-SKIPPEEEE!! Come home buddy. Come on home.

In memory of Skippy 1994?-2012

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