Friday, September 10, 2010

Remembering The General

Sometimes when you can’t decide what to write or which approach to take, it is wise to take a step back…and decide to clean out your summer bag to make the transition to one of your autumn bags. It’s surprising the amount of debris that accumulates in both wallets and handbags over the course of a season’s use; movie stubs, tote tickets and straw sleeves from Dunkin Donuts.

While sorting through one of the pockets in my wallet I came upon a photo that cleared away all the cobwebs and I knew I had to put together a long-overdue obituary for my beloved Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson Moscovitz Davidusky Schmenckmann, whom we lost on the 11th of September 2008. (Talk about making a difficult day exponentially more difficult.)
The Schmenckmanns from left to right: Simba Louise, The General and Mieux

Young master Schmenckmann began his life on a farm in Wisconsin as the runt of a litter of tabby-striped barn cats. He and his two fortunate sisters escaped a life of cold winters, drafty barns and serious mousing for a slightly more gentrified life as the trio of mousers (their quarry included but was not limited to mice, bats, chipmunks) in a historic home in Rochester, Minnesota.

The trio would become known to tour guides and visitors alike as The Schmenckmanns. Mieux Schmenckmann was obviously named after hockey great Mario Lemieux, while Simba Louise took her name from The Lion King. And then there was Jack.  The General, as the museum’s director called him, he gradually just became Stonewall Jackson. He was alternately known (depending on how naughty he’d been) as Jack Schmenckmann, Stonewall Jackson, General Jackson, or JACKSON!@#
The General

Jackson would pass his days lazing around in the mansion’s staff quarters, usually sprawled out in one of the wide, old windowsills while his sisters would be on the lookout for the various varmints that found their way into the house. He clearly enjoyed watching his talented and ambitious sisters leap acrobatically while knocking down a bat or two or terrorizing a mouse, but he didn’t show any interest in exerting that much energy himself. He was, after all, The General.

When the time came for me to leave, two loving tour guides adopted the Schmenckmann sisters and Jackson came home with me. I couldn’t leave him, he’d grown up to be a beautiful tabby with eyes as green as envy.

And so our feline friend enters the next stage of his life. No more mansions, no more mousing—as if there’d been much to speak of anyway—but there would be another well established cat (portly and used to being in charge, Koji) to win over. Oh, and a big orange dog.

Koji, the current occupant and HCIC (Head Cat In Charge) would prove most challenging to win over. Koji by then was well into his teens and must have been terribly annoyed by the young and still kittenish Jackson. The first few days were filled with standoffs and hissing and then gradually a kind of détente was reached. Territorial battles were still pitched, but they were rare, and when the two of them managed to squeeze into a small basket together, they looked like a perfect two-tabby version of Yin and Yang.

Jackson would outlive Koji and Beaujolais (the aforementioned big orange dog) and go on to co-exist peaceably with Remi-Roo (a second big orange dog) and even Lady, (a third big orange dog.)

He was mischievous to a fault. Green eyes gazing and cajoling, daring you to be cross about the vase of flowers he’d knocked down from on top of the piano or that he’d snuck outside and required long minutes of shaking the treat container to bring him in. Jackson was a gorgeous and beloved cat and he knew it. If cats have egos, Jack’s was the size of Texas. I always imagined him as being the real live counterpart to the impish and carefree cats Edward Gorey drew with such charm.

When the time came for me to move to New York, Jackson had to stay in Minnesota. I was heartbroken, but I knew my parents loved him and would take very good care of him in my absence. Every time I flew between Minnesota and New York I’d threaten to take him back east with me, after all, he was already cozily curled up in my suitcase.

Jackson had a terribly comfortable and coddled existence after I left. He was the lone housecat and Lady, the Golden Retriever, was made immediately aware that Jack was neither interested in, nor amused by, her presence. Now and then Lady would watch Jack playing or tearing through the halls and look like she wanted to play too, but she mostly knew better than to try to join in.
Lady and Jackson, an armed truce being observed
When Jack got sick and eventually had to be put to sleep I was beyond devastated. That his beautiful, tiger-striped face and lively green eyes wouldn’t be there to greet me when I visited my parents was unimaginable; that I'd never again feel the warm rumble of his contented purr, heartbreaking. And that it all happened on a date already rife with difficult emotions and hair-trigger memories meant torrents of tears. Not only was he a beloved and loving pet, he represented a time in my life that while not necessarily perfect, was important and memorable.

In hindsight, that I got to say goodbye to him, albeit over the phone in a call to the vet’s office, before he was put to sleep, was a real blessing. I owed him that, to know that even though I couldn’t be there, I loved him and knew this was what was best for him. I couldn’t bear the thought of him suffering, not after all the laughs and joy he’d brought to our whole family over the years.

The little runt of the litter that grew up to be a strapping tomcat left quite a hole in our collective hearts. I am happy to report, however, that he now lives with me, or at least his ashes do. He’s on my dresser where he’s watched over by a stuffed lion that he used to love to sleep next to on my bed.

Goodnight, Jack Schmenckmann, your charming, furry, striped soul is still missed and is certainly not forgotten.


sid fernando said...

I had a silver tabby, a runt,who grew into a handsome,strapping male. He was Nick, and he was my companion from 13, to college,to marriage. He died in my hands at the vet's when I was 30, just shy of 17, and that same devastation you described incapacitated me for two days--when I literally slept on the living room floor in a cold sweat for two days.

Here's to The Generals and Nicks of the world! Slainte!

The Paper Tyger said...

All too familiar with that feeling, grief is the price we pay for such a big love. If any two runt tabbies ever deserved a toast, our Nick and Jackson do! Here's to them and all the grand memories--skoal!