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R.I.P. Maggie

My sister Katy texted me last night to tell me that our Mom’s cat Maggie passed away sometime during the day.

Mom had cats for just about my entire life. When I was born she and Dad had a cat named Dinah, whom I barely remember, although I dimly remember thinking she was someone to avoid. She died when I was still quite young. I grew up with an Abyssinian cat named Amos – I’m not sure if they got him before or after I was born – and he was around until 1987, along with our Welsh Corgi, Punkin, who joined us in 1976. I always found Amos somewhat aloof, even for a cat, just doing his own thing. I don’t really have strong memories of him, even though I was a teenager for part of his life.

In 1988, after I went to college and Amos passed away, Mom and got a couple of cats, a sweet tabby named William, and a feisty polydactyl calico named Jenny. William was my buddy whenever I visited, and I was very sad when he passed away in 2000. Jenny lived a couple more years, and I think enjoyed being an only cat.

We weren’t sure Mom would get another cat after Jenny – well, maybe Mom was less sure than the rest of us – but she found Maggie at a shelter, I think around 2003. The shelter said she’d been found pregnant and with a collar on her neck which was too small. And she was a small cat – maybe 7 pounds – a calico with smoky fur and a smudge on her nose. Mom adopted her, and really had to stick out caring for her for that first year, because she said Maggie took a long time to warm up to her, and even longer to really become her friend. But eventually she settled in with Mom, coming down for treats or to lie on the newspaper, and moving from room to room to lie in the sun in various windows. I guess she would growl and hiss loudly at cats who came into her yard, and avidly watched all the birds which flew into the yard.

She was not a very friendly cat, usually running and hiding when visitors came. It would take several days after I’d arrive to visit before she’d do more than look at me around a corner. She didn’t bite or scratch (much), she just wasn’t very friendly. She did warm up to me when I stayed at Mom’s house while she was recovering from knee replacement surgery in 2012, even getting into the morning paper routine. She’d even sit at the top of the stairs and meow for me to come to bed when it was Mom’s usual bedtime!

She had a bit of a mischievous streak: Mom said she once got outside, and Mom left both the front and back doors open for her to come back in. After an hour, she walked in the front door… and before Mom could close the doors she walked all the way through the house and went out the back. She did come in to stay later in the day, though. She also loved to play with tabs from plastic milk cartons, and would sometimes carry one to the top of the stairs and meow until Mom came out and told her what a good kitty she was. (When we were preparing to sell the house, I found dozens of the tabs behind the oven.)

Maggie had a hard time in Mom’s apartment in assisted living, with people coming in and out several times a day, and having a pretty small place to live. Mom played with her a lot, but as Mom declined (and I see in hindsight that she hid a lot of the symptoms of her decline from us) I think she became neglected and lonely.

The nursing staff told us that when Mom passed away she meowed loudly for a while afterwards, and then she had to endure several days in the apartment alone, with the occasional visitor to give her food and scoop her litter, until Katy and I came to clean out the place.

Katy volunteered to adopt her, and something remarkable happened: She moved into Katy’s house, with her son and her two young cats, and she totally took over the house. She whipped the young cats into line, and became very friendly to the humans. Katy says when she’d have workmen over, the other cats with disappear but Maggie would stay and supervise them. And last December, when Katy adopted a young dog, Maggie told the dog who’s boss, and used him against the other cats, since they didn’t like him.

So after everything, Maggie got her happy ending, a year and a half in a nice old house, with friendly humans, lots of wet cat food, and plenty of time lying in the sun on the porch.

Katy said Maggie had been getting small and thin lately, and we’re not really sure how old she was. Our best guess is that she’s 13, about the same as our calico Roulette, but she could easily have been a year or two (or more!) older than that. She always had kind of cruddy teeth, which is not a recipe for long-term health. So it was not really a surprise, though the suddenness was a bit of a shock. I don’t think Maggie would have done well with a long decline, anyway.

Katy says she’s having Maggie cremated and will spread her ashes over Mom’s grave next time she visits. I think they’d both like the thought of that.

(photo by Katy)

(photo by Katy)

Can’t Go Home Again

Our big vacation for this summer was in a sense “just” another trip east to visit our families. But actually a lot has changed since our last trip. For me, anyway, things have changed.

This was our first visit in over a year, since Mom’s memorial in May of last year. And really neither of our trips last year were “visits”, since they both primarily dealt with the aftermath of Mom passing away.

I’ve been staying with my Dad when I go to visit since summer of 2012 when Mom moved out of her house and into assisted living, so that part wasn’t really different, but the “routine” of the visit was different. The big difference, of course, being that I wasn’t visiting Mom. In past trips I made sure to schedule time at least every other day to visit with Mom, spend time with her, run errands with her, and do any tasks on behalf of her affairs which I needed her presence for (and there was always something). This meant I was always scheduling my trip to make sure I had time for that – and more, it meant I was just scheduling my trip, which made it less of a vacation. So it turned out that I had a bunch more unscheduled time on this trip than I’d anticipated, and in hindsight I should have set up some visits with one or two local friends, but I didn’t realize how it would work out.

Of course, more to the point is that I don’t have Mom to visit with anymore. On the other hand, this means I get to spend more time with Dad.

Well okay, I can still “visit” Mom, because as it happened the week we flew out the marker for her grave had arrived and been set at Mount Auburn Cemetery:

Mom's Memorial

The marker was designed by Karin Sprague, whom my sister engaged for the job and visited last summer and said she knew immediately she’d made the right choice on her visit. As you can see, it looks great! Elegant, distinctive, and with a sense of Mom’s personality. It’s certainly the most unique marker in the immediate area, and has a lot more character than almost any other marker I’ve seen at Mount Auburn.

The view from the marker is pretty awesome, too:

Lake View

Dad and I visited and I took a bunch of pictures of the area around Mom’s site, and then we walked and drove around the cemetery, including climbing to the top of the tower at its center, which has a great view of the surrounding cities. Mount Auburn is beautiful and a popular scenic place to visit, and I’d certainly recommend it if you’re in the area.

Dad and I also drove out to Waban where I grew up to see how things had changed. In particular I wanted to stop in Waban Hardware, which was purchased and renovated after the retirement of the previous owner (who had been there for as long as I can remember). They’ve done a great job sprucing things up, and doubled its floor space by opening up the basement. They also have many great old photos of the store and of Waban Square in the stairwell to the basement, so if you’ve lived in Waban yourself, stop by and check it out.

We also walked around the new Angier School, where I went to elementary school. The old 1920s build was knocked down a couple of years ago and has been replaced with a new, modern building, which looks pretty nifty. While I have many fond memories of the old building, honestly I was aware even when I was going there that it was outdated, with an inflexible, unexpandable design, and needed to be replaced. This was a long time in coming. (The next closest school, Zervas – formerly Beethoven – has also been demolished and was being rebuilt when we drove by.)

Finally, there’s the site of Mom’s old house, the house I grew up in. We sold the house in 2013, knowing that the house itself had relatively little value since – like Angier – it was outdated and difficult to expand and modernize. Sure enough, the old house was demolished, and a large new house was built on the site. The new house is huge – about three times as big as the old house – but honestly it fits in very well with the neighborhood, fixes many of the problems with the old house, and doesn’t look like it dominates the site. I am perhaps a little sad that some of the nice trees around the property were removed and not replaced, but that could be changed; otherwise, I think it looks great. Probably as nice as anyone could have hoped for.

It's enormous!

It’s enormous!

I’d say that this part was a weird visit, but it wasn’t really that weird, just another step forward in the inexorable march of time. I think emptying and selling Mom’s house in 2012-13 was the really difficult step, and it’s been a long – if sometimes traumatic – transitional period since then. And it never really ends.

Anyway, I spent the second half of the week with Debbi and her family. We spent a couple of days at a beach house they have on the south shore, which we’ve both visited in years past. We actually went down the first weekend with Dad to hang out for an afternoon. Mid-week we spent time with Debbi’s sister and some of her kids.

The Road to the Sea

The biggest downside to the visit was that it was hot and humid for most of our trip – I’d forgotten how ugly Boston summers can be. And we spent two nights at the beach house without air conditioning, which was okay since it cooled off reasonably well overnight, but it made the late afternoon and evening a bit ugly. It didn’t stop us from sitting on the beach, either, or making an excursion to the nearby coastal town. It also didn’t stop us from waking up early to watch the sun rise.

Sunrise

We had fun with Debbi’s other sister playing video games (she’s ridiculously good at Wii Tetris) and running around the back yard with their dogs. And then on Saturday we played frisbee golf with several of them on a forested course. I’d heard of disc golf and had some familiarity with it, but I’d never played before. It’s pretty challenging! None of us were great at it, but we did pretty well, making par on a couple of holes, and throwing the disc into the trees on others. I don’t think we actually lost any discs, though (which is more than could be said for at least one party we passed).

We spent the last night with my Dad and then headed to the airport on Sunday and flew home, getting in late and collapsing into bed exhausted. We were smart enough to take Monday off to get our bearings again.

It was a good trip, although I felt like the heat dampened my motivation to do stuff while we were there. (I’d thought of making a trip into Boston, for example.) Hopefully it will be cooler for our next trip. But, it’s always good to see our families!