Text and photos © Robert Barry Francos
Memphis and MingSitting here in the vetenerian’s office leads me to think of pets. Presently one of our 10-year-old cats has a recurring bladder infection, and this is her third time here.
I never really had a pet before our present cats; my dad did not believe in keeping animals in the house. I do not remember what was my mom’s opinion on the subject; I just knew we did not have pets. Yes, we did have a pair of turtles (named Romeo and Juliet) and a couple of goldfish over the years of my early youth, but they never lasted longer than a week. Usually, I would just play with other people’s cats and dogs, such as my Aunt Elsie’s pooch, Rusty.
Mostly I was a dog person. Dogs always seemed to appreciate affection better, but everyone knows the differences that have been covered so many times. I won’t bore you with that, but it should come as no surprise that since I have my cats, I’ve become much more open to both.
While visiting relations that lived a distance away in 1998, we learned about a litter of kittens born under the back stairs of the neighbors where we were staying. Seems the mother disappeared a couple of days after the birth, never to return. Locals adopted two of the kittens, and one or two died. This left another pair.
Our relation would go over and give them milk when she could, but at less than 3 weeks, the owners of the house decided that when the kittens opened their eyes, they were old enough to start eating real food, and give them some cans. The cats walked over the open tins looking for appropriate food. They were starving.
During this visit, I was upstairs when I heard crying from below. Going down to investigate, there was my partner and relations, sobbing over the cats. Our daughter held the two of them in one hand. Though 3 weeks old, they were tiny and thin, and it was pretty obvious that this was probably their last day.
MemphisThen my partner said to me exactly what I knew she was going to say: Think we can take them home and rescue them?
I had no choice but to say yes, but there was no doubt it was the right decision, right then and there.
First thing I did was to go to the mall. I stopped by a big pharmacy where I bought a sterile glass eyedropper. Next was to the pet store to buy some cans of Mother’s Milk. Honestly, I had never heard of it before, but my partner filled me in on what was needed.
We put the cats into a newspaper-lined VCR box, and on the long drive home, my partner kept feeding them from the dropper. At one point, the smaller one, who practically had no face at all, climbed onto her shoulder to sleep in the sun. The bigger one (relatively) was so weak she would walk a couple of steps and have to rest, was soon roaming around the box. We knew that they would probably be okay.
One of my partner’s earliest books was TS Eliot’s Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats , which she had memorized in grade school. She named the bigger cat Tugger (short for Rum Tum Tugger) and the smaller one Mephistopheles.
MingWhen we arrived home, we returned to a full house. There was a couple visiting from Berlin, and a two cousins visiting from out West. And all were cat friendly. Time zones worked out well for us, because the Berliners were six hours ahead, and the cousins were two hours behind, so the kittens had nearly around-the-clock attention for their first week in Brooklyn. Everyone was grateful, and the cats started to fill out. They are both long hair calicos and despite their puniness, they were quite pretty, and affectionate. Of course, they as both females, as nearly all calicos are; seems the gene that causes calico is not present in males.
A couple of days later, I said to my partner, “Y’know, I’m not that fond of the name Mephistopheles. Even beyond that it is the name of the devil, it’s certainly a mouthful. What are we going to call her for short, ‘Memphy’? Yuck.”
Eye of Horus
She thought about it and said, “Well, what about Memphis?” The kitten has a marking around one of her yes that is similar to the Eye of Horus. We had been to the original Memphis in Egypt, and loved the whole mythology, so that worked. Plus, being the homeland of rock and roll here (Cleveland? Bah!), Memphis it was! Isis would be proud.
After a couple of more days, I said, “Y'know, I’m not that fond of the name Tugger, either. It’s so common, like Rover or Spot. Boring!”
My partner thought about this, and said, “Well, she’s had the name for over a week, won’t she find it confusing?”
“I have never seen her respond to it, yet. And better now, that a year later.”
And here is the weird part: she picked up this tiny, month old kitten and said, “Okay, what do you want to be called? The kitty, which had not yet made a sound at all, answered with a “meeew.”
With a smile, my partner smiled, and put the cat down, who started to walk away. “She wants to be called Ming.” When she said the name, the newly christened Ming turned around as if to say, “You called?” Spooky.
MemphisTheir personalities have developed over the years, and though they are womb-sisters, they are quite different in taste and temperament. Memphis is super friendly and likes to meet people at the door, whereas Ming is more reticent at first. Ming has an “elevator butt” when scratched behind the tail, Memphis likes to lick your finger so you can rub the hard to reach part at the top of her head. Memphis likes to drink out of the bathroom tap, and Ming prefers the toilet. Ming likes strings dragged along the floor; Memphis likes to chase toys that are tossed. They chase each other down the hall, and sleep together at nap times, but never during night-sleep.
Now they are 10 years old, and hairy at middle age. Ming is the strong, older sister. With Memphis, she has favored her hind legs since the beginning, but she loves to run in a slightly crooked way. But Memphis has developed a urinary tract infection 3 times now in the last year and a half, and having to give her injections has been one of the hardest things I’ve had to do with them. But she and her sister have taken care of us over the years, and I am willing to do the same.