Posted by: jevcat | October 20, 2010

A History of Cats—Mine—or Cat Chronicles, Part the First: Gabby

None of the cats with whom I have been associated (I would not dare to say I owned them) have been bought, nor have I gone out looking for them.  My first cat very definitely adopted me, not the other way around.  This is her story:

Back, as my Beloved would say, when cows ruled the earth and I was still living with my parents and brother, the building began to have a rodent problem.  Around that time, we began to see a young black-and-white cat – a few months old – loitering in the neighborhood.  She had obviously been a house cat, as she was very affectionate, but we were not sure we were ready to be cat people yet.  She apparently had other ideas.  One chilly, rainy March morning, I left home early, intending to vote in a primary election.  The elevator door opened onto the first floor lobby to the sound of yowling.  There was the cat:  dirty, wet, skinny – and LOUD.  I squatted down to pet her, and she climbed into my lap and settled her chin in the crook of my arm.

I was betwixt and between:  we’d talked about getting a cat, but how would Mom, Dad, and my younger brother feel?  It wasn’t just my decision.  Reluctantly, I disengaged the cat, got back in the elevator, and went back to the fifth floor.  I woke Mom, who wasn’t working that day, and waylaid Dad, and we discussed it.  Although they had misgivings, they agreed we should take the cat in.

Coming out of the apartment, I saw a neighbor just getting into the elevator, who held the door for me.  When we got the lobby, there was silence.  I looked around:  no sign of the cat.  My neighbor asked, “Are you looking for a cat?”  I said, “There was one down here a few minutes ago.”  To which he responded, “There was just one up on five.”

I got back into the elevator.  When the door opened on five, I was greeted with a peremptory “Mrowr!”  She walked with me to the apartment door, I opened it, she walked in – and ran my life for the next 16 years.  We named her Gabrielle, because it was the feast of the Annunciation, which was quickly shortened to Gabby, because, as a friend later said, “She’s a very verbal cat.”  She was talkative, bossy, fastidious, svelte, smart, frequently mean-tempered, had an outsized personality – an alpha cat in every way, and she knew it.  We adored her.

We took to gathering on Mom and Dad’s bed and taking turns petting her.  Mom dubbed this communal activity “worshipping at the shrine.”  We would pet and oh and ah at her and, one evening when Gabby had been with us a few weeks, Mom looked around at us all and asked, “What did we used to do for entertainment?”

A vet told us Gabby was very likely a good portion Siamese, and her voice certainly had a Siamese stridence.  She was very inclined to kvetch, and we had whole conversations.  One day, after I had moved into my own apartment, I was stretched out on the sofa talking on the phone to the man I had recently started dating when Gabby came over, placed first one front paw, then the other, on the cushion next to the receiver I was holding, put her face right up to the speaking end and went “ROWR!” then removed her paws, again one at a time, and continued across the living room, while my startled boyfriend yelled, “What was THAT?”

We learned of her preference for Italian food early.  Shortly after we got her, a friend of my brother’s came over and they ordered a half plain, half pepperoni pizza, but left a couple of slices of each.  In innocence, my brother left the box undefended while walking his friend to the elevator after dinner.  When he returned, all the remaining slices were plain.  Later, her fondness for lasagna earned her the nickname “Garfielda.”

Regal, magisterial, autocratic, she trained me to keep a spotless litter box – if I didn’t, she simply used the easy chair in my bedroom.  I was a fast learner.  She trained Mom to feed her before I got up by standing and bellowing incessantly outside Mom’s bedroom door.  Mom used to ask me, “She’s your cat; she sleeps with you.  Why doesn’t she yowl outside your door?”  And I would answer, “Because I don’t get up and feed her when she tries it.”

She did get me to feed her early one afternoon when I was still living at home, though.  I was sitting on my bed, reading, but became aware of a “clump, clump, clump” sound, growing gradually closer, like threatening footsteps in a horror movie.  Eventually, the sound was right behind me.  I turned to find Gabby pulling a half-full tin of cat food (which when last seen had been on top of the refrigerator) by hooking one fang through the hole on the pull tab on the plastic storage cap, bringing it to me because she hadn’t been able to work the lid off herself.

Gabby was the only cat I’ve ever personally known who would fetch – in her case, a ping-pong ball – and only for my mother.  Occasionally, my mother would be woken by a ping-pong ball being dropped on her face in the middle of the night.  One time, when Mom had been away on business, when she returned and was unpacking, Gabby came and dropped the ping-pong ball into the suitcase.

Once Gabby took up residence, we could no longer keep nuts in the shell in open dishes during the holidays – she would use them as hockey pucks.  Although on one occasion she tried baseball:  as I watched, she removed a walnut from the dish, snapped her head up to one side while opening her mouth to toss it into the air and then smacked it mid-air with her paw for a home run.  She also once got her head stuck inside an empty pewter pitcher decorating a table in the foyer, which my father discovered when he investigated the clunking coming from the hall and saw a pitcher with a tail running down the hall.

Toward the end of her life, it became her nightly ritual when I got into bed to settle next to my pillow and wash my hand and lower arm, sometimes so thoroughly as to leave little friction-burn marks with her sandpaper tongue.  Sometimes I still feel a little nostalgic about that, scratches and all …


  1. What a delightful, complex personality your Gabby had. Thanks for sharing her story.

    • Gabby still ranks as the most intelligent, vocal, complex cat I’ve ever had — although, of course, I love them all.

  2. Aww…I do love a good cat story…and here I mean, a good cat…and a good cat story… 🙂

    makes me miss my Jonzi cat…she was black and white, too…begged us to adopt her out of the jail cell that was the pound…we loved her for 14 years…she got shot, once, and was the meanest bully to other cats…brought us home a pigeon, once, and killed it under the bed for us…

    our two, now, are but milquetoast in comparison…
    great post,

    • Gabby was a bully, too, and she also kept a strict watch over me. If I wasn’t in bed by 10 any night, she’d come to whatever room I was in and start yelling at me. When I was dating, she’d come stand outside the closed living room’s French doors and look in through the windows — my mother used to say one night she was going to send Gabby out with a shotgun between her teeth. And when I was away on business, my mother reported, Gabby would sit on the china closet in the foyer waiting for me in the evenings — although when I came home, I would walk through the door and she would stand up, turn around, and ostentatiously settle in again with her back to me. She once presented me with a live mouse while I was cooking dinner and I do think she believed I was not appreciative enough.

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