Red Buttons

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This is a sad cat post so, given that it is Father’s Day and you may already have your own issues you may want to skip this one. However, having said that, I always remind myself that we do the best we can for our feline friends, give them a home and hopefully a great life and we should be happy about that when they depart this world. With some luck they lived out their years granted in comfort and beloved – after all, what more can any of us really ask? Therefore, I will just say that today I am celebrating and honoring Red.

Red was my father’s cat, which is why I have chosen to mark his recent passing today on Father’s Day. Decades ago now, my parents had been in the habit of feeding a few neighborhood cats – one or two proper strays and probably a few wise guy neighborhood ringers who were just grabbing some extra food on the hoof. At one point Red, a sweet faced orange tabby, joined the passing parade. At first it wasn’t clear that he was homeless, but over time it became evident.

My folks were already well endowed with indoor living cats and were not looking to expand the tribe. However, a day came when there was a terrible snow storm and Red pressed himself up against the backdoor window. Abandoning all caution my parents decided to let him in and that, as we say, was that. Red, so named by Dad, immediately became a member of the Butler cat colony and family. Quickly, he distinguished himself as an especially well-natured fellow and over time as my father’s particular fast friend. (My Dad’s memory deteriorated in his final years and dramatically in his last few months however one day out of the blue he told me the story of acquiring Red with details I had never heard before. I was stunned that such a detailed piece of memory would land like a gem in my lap.)

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Red came along about the time my father was retiring from his decades-long career at ABC News as a cameraman and although he had always liked the cats, Dad became a bit more involved in the life of cats in the house as a result of being home more. Notably, Dad liked to eat smoked salmon and a smart cat could sidle up at the right time and in the right way and get cut in on it. Red did but was never aggressive or pushy, a gentleman cat. (By contrast Blackie comes running every time he hears the toaster in hopes that it might lead to smoked salmon, loudly demanding. It does occasionally enough pay off that hope lives eternal.) My father was the only one who also called him Red Buttons.

He was among the best behaved cats I have ever known, which Pictorama readers know covers a swath of cats. I never knew him to chase another cat or misbehave. The only flaw I can report is that every few years he’d get a crazy notion and shoot outside when a door was open and no one was looking. It would then take considerable work and wooing to get him back in the house. No idea what he was thinking.

That is the thing about strays, right? You don’t know their history or why they might react the way they do to things. Red had clearly been a house cat, not on the streets for long when he came our way. He understood the ways of houses – litter boxes, refrigerators meant food and the like. My parents notified the local SPCA and animal control in case anyone had reported him missing. We were all relieved though when no one claimed him.

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Red on Dad’s lap many years ago now.

 

He enjoyed his position as Dad’s cat and would happily sit on his lap for hours while Dad read or listened to the radio, and generally slept with him at night. Oddly though, when I came to visit he would take it upon himself to be my temporary cat during the course of my stay and escort me to my room and curl up on the bed with me. It reminded me of the Japanese hotel cats I have read about – rent a cat with your room for the night, but self-initiated.

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Red acting as hotel cat, early one sunny morning

 

Another interesting aspect of Red was he had toys he called his own, a clutch of no fewer than six or eight toy mice (and some large ones made by a friend of my mom’s that could only be described as rats) which he was very proprietary over. He liked to carry them around and line them up in patterns that only (but clearly) divined something to him. When I stayed over in recent years he would bring them upstairs to me and line them up in front of my bedroom door, usually in a line from there to the bathroom or the nearby stairs. He meowed and muttered loudly to himself while undertaking this activity. Busy with cat business.

 

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The mysterious line up of Red’s toys.

 

Those of you who have co-existed with cats know that there are a few (I want to say exclusively the boys) who roam the house meowing and bellowing at night and Red, as a very verbal fellow, would indulge in this occasionally. The regular denizens of the house had long trained themselves to sleep through it. I will admit, that combined with my father’s rather maniacal fondness for clocks which would chime throughout the night, overnight visits to Jersey were not my best rested.

When my father eventually became so infirm that he was confined to bed, Red kept a constant vigil, sleeping on the bed next to him. When I would come in he would come to me and try to tell me a long story about it all before settling back on the bed with Dad. When eventually Dad was moved to a hospice I would go down on the weekend to see him and I would show him recent photos of Red and we would talk about him like the old mutual friend he was.

Dad and Red

Arriving back at the house after visiting at the hospice, Red would be sleeping in Dad’s chair off the kitchen, but he would come running to see me and talk to me about my visit. I think he could smell my father on me, through all the hospital smells. After Dad died I couldn’t shake the feeling that Red knew the difference. I was there but I had not been to see Dad. He would come to me and stare into my eyes all knowing, meow and we’d have a conversation.

About a year and a half ago, following some tragedies in her own life, a cousin began spending the nights at my mom’s house. The cats all love her, but Red in particular adopted her and became very devoted to her, bringing her his toys and sleeping with her as he had my Dad. However, as before, when I came to stay he would instead spend the night with me, still ever the host, hotel cat style.

 

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Sleeping on Dad’s chair

 

We became aware over time that he had cancer and he lived with it without much incident for a several years, eating fairly well and only losing a bit of weight. Sadly though, about a month ago he developed a terrible infection in his mouth. The vet got him through surgery but he died about a day later.

While in the midst of a pandemic, with so much loss all around, it is hard to confess my deep sadness about the death of an elderly cat. And it is tempered with what I said at the beginning, Red had an excellent life with us and although we cannot know his actual age, he must have approached the two decade mark. Still, his passing marks a final link to my Dad broken. On Father’s Day I will raise a bowl of ice cream in Dad’s honor (a favorite, although he liked a dry martini too, but not quite my style), but I am thinking about Red too.

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