I've only had a dog once in my life - my father's German shepherd, Toker. Maybe it was because Toker was such a big dog when I was so little. Maybe it was because in our house, there were twice as many cats as there were dogs. (That would be two cats.) But whatever the reason, I've been a "cat person" for as long as I can remember.
One day, I shall own a Tonkinese.
Kitty was a stray calico in the apartment complex where my mother was living. "That's the ugliest cat I've ever seen," she declared upon seeing the cat, but she quickly fell in love. The only problem was a name - while all sorts of endearing nicknames were applied to the cat, none stuck. "Kitty" was finally chosen, and I later added the middle name "Yvonne" to compensate for this slight lack of originality. Kitty was a very gentle cat. Even when in a playful mood, if she came into contact with skin, her claws would retract. She liked to have her tummy rubbed, but there was one particular area right under a patch of black fur that would send her into "attack mode" if tickled too violently. Kitty was blessed with a very long life, finally passing away in March of 1993 at the age of 21. I think she was the best cat we've ever had.
Sampson was given as a birthday gift to my mother on the same day that she learned she was pregnant. Because he was such a strong kitten, my parents named him after the well-known Biblical man, only they spelled it wrong. He was a much friskier cat than Kitty, although also more outgoing. He had no qualms about rough play, and family members - and friends - frequently suffered scratches when engaging him in combat. He used to really like Toker, and we believe he thought of himself as a dog. While Kitty was an indoor cat, Sampson was almost strictly outdoors. They traded places every once in a while, but it wasn't really often, as Sampson was liable to get into trouble! Sampson also had a long life, reaching 16 years.
Fredricka was a little black-and-white stray who arrived in our driveway shortly after we moved to North Carolina, in 1988. She was named for a cat on an Amoré commercial who lovingly licked her owner's cheek, as did our little Fredricka. She was never really a permanent household feature, though, always just showing up at our door when she wanted to visit. That Christmas we went away for a week, and when we came back, Fredricka had moved on. I choose to believe that she found a wonderful family to adopt.
While looking for a better picture of Sampson, I came across two photos of a cat I didn't remember us having - Maybea, another stray who wandered to our door in August of 1990. I recall that we weren't sure whether the cat was male or female - as it turned out, she was a she - so we named it Maybea. The "bea" was after my grandmother Beatrice. According to the back of one of the photos, we gave Maybea to one of our neighbors, who renamed her Smoky. Here's where the creepy part starts. Despite having a much fluffier tail, Maybea has markings very similar to those of Wilhelmina, who also belongs to one of our neighbors (a different one, though) and who is also named Smoky. Could they be the same cat? Wilhelmina isn't talking, but it would explain why she wants to live here so much.
After both Kitty and Sampson had died, our family spent several intolerable months without a cat. My mother and I could barely stand it, so for my sixteenth birthday, my father agreed to get another cat - but not from a shelter! I had my heart set on a Siamese, Mom was partial toward tabbies. We set out looking, and eventually ended up in a Garner animal shelter - whoops. I formed an emotional attachment with a very meek silver tabby sitting at the back of a cage. After we adopted her, we discovered that she was only meek because she was so sick. Our little guttersnipe, Eliza (named for the character of My Fair Lady fame), was nursed back to health and became something of a terror. She innocently clawed up furniture and used the bathroom on our antique couch. We soon decided that our delusions about having another indoor cat were destined to failure, and released Eliza into the great outdoors. She loved it. In fact, she rarely came home. When she did, the cat next door fought her for space on our deck, and Eliza frequently lost, coming indoors with wounded leg after wounded leg. We finally decided that it would be better for poor Eliza if we gave her a better home, and now she lives with Miss Garner!
After Eliza's departure, the cat next door couldn't have been happier. She promptly moved in, sitting on our deck furniture whenever she felt like it. Gradually she got on friendlier terms with us and even began venturing into the house. Around this time, we felt like she ought to have a name, and I thought "Wilma" was most appropriate. After all, the Buck Rogers character of the same name was played by Erin Grey, and that was the color of Wilma's fur. But my parents weren't overly thrilled with it, and it was eventually expanded to Wilhelmina, a nice German name. (I like giving her nicknames, though, so she often responds to Wilms, Willikins, Willers, et cetera! Only, she seems to prefer "kitty kitty!") Wilhelmina currently spends almost all of her free time with us, and we think she just goes home to eat. I have to wonder if this is the same thing Eliza did! It's weird, too, because we're trying to be good and not feed or entertain her, yet she still prefers to stay with us because we give her attention. Unlike Kitty and Sampson, who preferred to sniff noses, or Eliza, who liked to rub her jaw on one's nose, Wilhelmina enjoys chewing on the fingers of those she loves. Precious, but painful.