The Alchemy of Love

black cat sleeping on floor by paiting

Mimi with Peaches

This scene gave me pause the other day; in the moment I saw Mimi by Peaches’ portrait I knew there was a bond being lovingly observed.

I’m finishing the process of setting up my spare-bedroom studio as a clean, bright and organized work space, finally at the point of hanging art on the walls. “Peaches and Peonies” has been in my shop at Carnegie Antiques for the past year because I had no good place to hang her portrait here. I happily decided that Peaches should come home to be a part of this dedication to my career as an artist, so I can study the painting and continue to draw inspiration from it, and so that Peaches can watch over me as I work.

I leaned the painting in a safe spot against the wall, then left for a while.

When I came back, there was Mimi, relaxing in a beam of sunlight, in front of Peaches’ portrait. I wondered briefly if Mimi only found this quiet sunny spot to have a bath and a nap—in a room where she rarely goes unless she follows me, and through a habit she rarely observes in sleeping on the floor.

black cat with painting

Mimi stayed quite a while.

Even though I know the portrait is only an inanimate object, that it’s questionable if Mimi can clearly see or would recognize the scene in a painting, and all cats, including Mimi, are drawn to little beams of sunlight for relaxation, I knew there was no coincidence.

She stayed for quite some time, until the sunlight faded, and I would not interrupt the moment, enjoying also a moment of my own. Peaches, as well as every other cat who has come to me in any way since I’ve lived in this house, began their life with me in that room, some ended their lives in that room too, and even with the total transformation the room will always carry memories for me and I’m sure all the cats too.

I remember too

two cats on table

Share the Love

I have been remembering my sweet Peaches since last October, little reminders every day in this first year after her passing, remembering her daily habits so intertwined with mine, her quiet and pleasant personality, her petite beauty. Browsing my photos in their daily folders, there she is in almost every one, having a bath, enjoying the sunshine, coaxing me out of bed to feed her breakfast, interacting with the other cats—especially Giuseppe, who very lovingly cared for her, and the Fantastic Four in general.

I also remember the simple moments that aren’t in any photographs, the tactile memories that are such an integral part of our relationship with our animal companions. I remember the particular soft plush of her fur, short but thick, as she would lift her face and bump her nose against my hand as I would start on her forehead and run my hand down her back, and the way her tail would swing straight up as my hand reached her hips so I could bump against it, then start again at her forehead, feeling her purr growing more resonant with each stroke. I remember the small rounded weight of her body, like a little pear, as she reclined on my lap each evening for a vigorous and complete after-dinner bath, her legs and tail and head emerging in front of me, then her process of turning around and around and around in both directions in preparation for sleep as I tried to work around her.

And as the season and fruits of July are fresh, I thought of Peaches as I placed my fresh local peaches in a bowl, remembering the nicknames of “my little Peach pit”, “my little Georgia Peach,” “my sweet Peach”, and every other variation on peach I made up just for her.

calico cat on table

Peaches on the table.

The memories are as sweet as she was, even the memories of assisting her through the months of renal failure, the more frequent doses of sub-q fluids, the variable appetite, the nausea and her increasing discomfort. I remember that brief part of her life less as time goes on, finding instead that I remember the way she looked at me, with total devotion, and smiling in this moment at the memory of her guileless, honest expression.

I’ll admit, also, something I don’t miss at all, and laugh when I remember…for whatever reason, Peaches never cared for the litterbox, instead choosing an inconvenient spot somewhere, which she changed frequently. She came to me at 15, her owner had died, and I have no idea what her history was, but as soon as I eased her back into the habit of using the box, she would begin to experiment with other areas. In the months after she passed, I also laughed to myself as I replaced stained old throw rugs with the better ones I’d packed away, well, until Peaches was no longer around to use them.

calico cat on table

Peaches Reflecting

And I am looking at how much my household has changed and rearranged; I had the three senior tri-color girls at my desk all day, but now just Cookie and Kelly, and even they spend part of their days in other sleeping places. I have a completely different wake-up committee. And I lost the only light-colored kitty in my household—now with five black cats and two torties it’s sometimes a challenge to distinguish one cat from another in my photos.

It’s all a process of the acceptance of loss, which is a part of the acceptance of change, the constant change that is a part of life. I may feel a twinge of sadness, or feel tears well at a memory, but this is the process we all mention when someone loses someone they love, that time heals all wounds, that the pain you feel is replaced by the love you will always carry. Each of these encounters helps to heal over a little bit more as the philosopher’s stone of the alchemist it turns the base metal of pain to the gold of loving memory, which is truly the elixir of everlasting life.

You can read more about Peaches by simply searching this blog for “Peaches”—you’ll find quite a lot, especially photos! You can also reference the series of articles I wrote in 2010 as she was about to turn 20 and we celebrated her “100th birthday” which are linked in the article It’s Peaches’ 100th Birthday!

A note about “Peaches and Peonies”

photograph of award

Peaches and Peonies Award

I learned that “Peaches and Peonies” had won a Certificate of Excellence as a Single Illustration used as a greeting card in the Cat Writers’ Association annual communications contest two days after Peaches died in October 2010. The painting went on to win a Muse Medallion in that category, which I have hanging on the painting. Since I couldn’t make it to last year’s conference, thanks to Ingrid King who thoughtfully took this photo for me to keep!

I also sell prints of “Peaches and Peonies” with a donation to benefit senior pet adoption programs and tell Peaches’ story to encourage people to adopt senior pets. Read about the Senior Pet Adoption Donation Program.

“Great Rescues” review by Marion Lane, former “ASPCA Animal Watch” editor

In part, it’s the creative conundrum of carrying around and then visualizing and realizing an idea over a period of time. I carried this idea for so long, then steeped myself in the creation of the whole book and I’m actually just getting a perspective on what I’ve done. It’s so gratifying to read the reviews; here are two quick excerpts from Marion’s review.

Marion writes, “Bernadette Kazmarski calls Great Rescues, her one-woman work of wonders a “calendar,” and it is, but that’s just for starters. Literally.”

And very touching to me, she noticed my dedication at the beginning of the calendar, “This book is dedicated to Bernadette’s first family of cats. All long since departed from the physical world, she notes that they are made immortal in everything she creates.”

Read the rest of Marion’s review on the blog for the Great Rescues website.

And you can read other reviews on the Reviews page, plus comments from recipients on the home page.