Red Fred, 1990-2008
In 1990, my family moved to Ohio. If you've ever talked to me about it, you know that I don't have many happy memories to relate about the experience. However, in Ohio, I gained a great friend.
Soon after we moved, my parents left for some sort of vacation. I don't remember where they went. My mother was taking classes at Wright State, and one of her classmates and her husband stayed at our house to keep my little sister (and me, I suppose) out of trouble. They brought their cat with them, who was not quite fully grown.
This was a very unusual cat. He was still a kitten, but he had none of the usual kitten hyperactivity. He was always utterly calm. He showed a keen interest in everything. He would peer down the sink drain intently, explore behind and underneath every piece of furniture, and sniff every plant in the garden. If you were eating something, he would wait patiently until he was allowed to examine it. Usually he didn't want to eat any, he just wanted to have a look and a sniff. He explored avidly, but carefully, methodically, and patiently. He had none of the aloofness or disdain that cats often show. His interest was genuine, but he just wasn't excitable.
He never made a sound. Not for any reason.
He was affectionate, but not attention-seeking. If you picked him up, he would purr, but he never bothered you for attention. When he wanted food, he would sit at his bowl and wait, patiently, and sometimes for hours.
My mother's friends felt bad keeping him in a small apartment, and they were going to move after they graduated. When my parents returned, they let us keep their cat. He was a beautiful orange tabby, and so they had named him Tigger. However, his personality had turned out so utterly un-Tiggerlike that we felt compelled to give him a new name. So, I named him Red Fred.
Fred grew into a massive, powerful cat. By the time he was five, he was a solid rectangular block of cat muscle, weighing perhaps eighteen pounds. He could easily have been the alpha cat, but he was uninterested. He left the alpha cat position to PVP (that name is another story), who was scrawny by comparison. Fred continued to patrol the neighborhood, evidently spending most of his time observing things. He would sit at the bottom of the driveway and watch people walking along the sidewalk for hours, or on fences staring into people's kitchens.
Whatever he did, there was a solemnness about it. He made you want to be quiet around him, so as not to disturb his observation and reflection.
When he hunted, he never bothered with birds or mice, and instead caught full-grown rabbits. As far as we know, he did not eat them. He would carefully carry them into the kitchen by the scruff of their necks, like kittens. He would then release them, and watch the resulting mayhem with interest. Some of the rabbits he caught were heavier than our other cats, and there was always a lot crashing about and shouting as we tried to expel them from the house.
He was also utterly trusting. One evening, he came to the door with a huge gash in his side, opening his flesh from his belly to his spine. He let my mother pick him up with just a small flinch. If you've ever had to work with an injured animal (or an injured person), you know how unusual that kind of self-control is. When she took him to the vet, he sat stoically on the examination table as they cleaned his wound and stitched him up. The vets were utterly astonished; there were three assistants in the room to hold him down, but they had nothing to do. They stood and watched as Fred bravely went under the needle, fully aware of what was happening. He still never made a sound.
Many years later, his friend PVP died. Thought his long life, PVP maintained a constant monotonous litany of hoarse, solemnly discordant meows. Fred found his body in the garden, and uttered his first sound. My mother came running to see what the strange noise was. After that, every few weeks, Fred hid himself alone in a closet or in the basement crawlspace, and imitated PVP's meow, eventually stretching it into a long, deep yowl. It was an eerie sound, much too deep, loud and extended than one would imagine could come out of a cat, or even a person. It sounded like he was on a PA system. He would do this for a few minutes, and then emerge from his hiding place as though nothing had happened. After that, this ritual became part of his life.
There are lots and lots of great stories about Fred, but they all share a common theme: Fred was a sage. I'd like to think that if there is such a thing as reincarnation, then he must have been a tulku, maybe taking one last look at the world.
On Tuesday, he had a stroke, and died without pain among people who love him. He was about nineteen years old.