Overheard in a Thrift Shop

discount store

Tuesday is Rescue Story Day, but it’s been a while since I’ve posted this poem about rescues and about life, literally written from a conversation I overheard in a thrift shop.  

Overheard in a Thrift Shop

© 2010 Bernadette E. Kazmarski

Oh, look at this yellow lab painting, it’s so nice. I’ve always liked yellow labs. I have one now.

I don’t have a dog, but I wish I could.

Well, I always said I wouldn’t get a dog unless it was a rescue,
so I probably wouldn’t get a yellow lab,
but this dog came from a neighbor’s daughter
her brother had been feeding the dog—
she had twelve puppies.

Twelve puppies?!

Yes, and they all lived.
The owner put them all outside
and he probably never fed her right.
The boys found her and started taking her food.
Their sister found out
and went and told the guy she was taking the dog and the puppies.
He didn’t care.

Well, how did you get the dog?

Well, this girl, she was only 17,
but she knew right from wrong,
and she found homes for a few puppies and took the rest to the shelter.
She got the mother spayed and things were fine,
then she was killed in a car accident.

Oh, my!

Her father took care of the dog, but then he went to jail.

Oh, no. So did you take the dog?

I offered to keep the dog until he got out;
it’s a short sentence—
he’ll be out later this year.

Bless your heart!
Are you sure he wants the dog?

He already asked about her.
Think it has to do with losing his daughter.
I mean, she was only 17, and killed in an accident.

Shame.

I’m sure the cat will miss the dog too. They’re friends.

You have a cat too?
You sure got a full house.

Yeah, the cat belonged to my daughter-in-law,
she got him for the boys,
but after a year or so, the cat started to pee on the boys’ things,
they were going into puberty, you know,
I think it was that hormonal thing.
She tried everything, but the cat wouldn’t stop.
She gave him to a neighbor, an older man
who lived by himself,
and the man kept the cat in the basement with a litterbox and food and water.
Then the man told me the cat was getting some litter on the floor.
That’s okay, I told him, just sweep it up, it’s probably clean.
Then the cat started coming upstairs,
and he told me it was pushing his golf balls around.
That’s okay, I said, that’s playful.
Then he said the cat woke him up in the morning, he touched his nose to the man’s,
and I said, just give the cat to me.

Bless your heart! You are a soft touch.

Yeah, I don’t know how it will be when the dog goes,
but he lives close, I’ll be able to see her,
and I’ll be ready to take her back at any time.
At least I’ll have my cat.

This was a conversation between two people which I overheard, secretly taking notes, as I was browsing the overcrowded racks of a local thrift shop after dropping off some dishes for donation. The rhythm of a conversation between two people who know each other well and working in tandem, in this case the cashier and a volunteer who were unpacking and tagging things, has a rhythm of its own built on the familiarity of the two people, and can often sound like poetry, so instead of my initial idea for a short story based on their conversation, I wrote it up as verse.

Honest, open, unguarded conversation between two people is so precious.

I showed the cashier my writing later and asked if she minded if I published her story in this way. She was fine with the idea and told her friend, the volunteer. The cashier and I have since become friends.

cat rug

The cat rug (folded).

I was determined not to purchase anything when I dropped off my donations, but right inside the door was this feline-themed rug…and I was hooked. These are nice to have around the house, and often I use them in my displays at shows or festivals, indoors or out, especially if I’m on concrete. They also come in handy as donation items to benefit shelters and animal organizations. Since this one looks completely new, that may be its fate, my way of thanking the universe for giving me this poem.

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All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used in any way without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


The Gift of a Morning

tortoiseshell cat in greens

Cookie in my garden.

My sincerest wish as I remember Cookie is that all of you who read what I write, each of you who has a relationship with one or more animals, that your relationship is as deep, complex, satisfying and, if your species or breed allows it, as long-lasting as was Cookie’s and mine. I could never feel that I have any regrets, that Cookie and I “missed” anything but we lived as full a life as a human and cat could do. It depends on many things often beyond our control, but I wish those things for everyone who loves an animal, now and always.

Cookie gave me many gifts in all the years she was with me, including the visual discoveries from this particular morning in September 2011 which led to a poem and insights beyond what I wrote that morning, and remembering that morning and other mornings I have come to the end of a stage. The poem text and an audio version of the poem with a slideshow are at the end of this post.

tortie cat in front of painting

Cookie, my art assistant at age 19.

The last weeks have been working through a series of “never agains” as I remember and let go of the unique things Cookie did—stepping into a warmed pasta bowl while my back was turned; quietly climbing her way into any spot in the house despite her disabilities; loving every cat who was in the house when she came here and all the ones who came after; greeting everyone at the door with sincerity and making them feel welcome.

tortie cat with painting

Cookie my art assistant, at age one!

I have also been resuming everyday activities I had been intentionally avoiding somewhat or completely, those that Cookie and I enjoyed together and I now do alone or without her—sitting in the kitchen after dinner to crochet or read with all the cats around, where you see so many photos of her interacting with my crochet materials; visiting the deck and back yard each morning regardless of weather to feed the birds, drink coffee and take photos; and gardening, from starting the seeds in the basement to getting dirty out in the soil.

Much to the joy of the household, I’ve begun to take a break after dinner again so everyone can walk on me and test my crochet projects. Until yesterday I totally avoided my deck except for the first few days in February when Mimi joined me, only filling the feeder outside my office window, and yesterday I spent my first full afternoon in the yard without a cat in many years.

tortie cat on lap with crochet

A relaxed hour on the deck.

And this morning I sat outside on my swing with coffee and crochet, a Sunday morning ritual whenever the weather was nice enough (nice to me and Cookie was anything above 40 degrees and no heavy precipitation) as I remembered all the years she had gone off to explore the yard then come back to climb up on my lap and have a nap, just Cookie and me doing things we enjoyed and each other, best friends.

We knew

I’ve been sharing daily photos and stories from previous years because so many more readers have found The Creative Cat in the past few months. We see a lot of Cookie from last year, including a number of photo essays of her adventures outdoors. I photographed her excessively all through the years, but the extra postings were intentional. I knew what was coming. I knew because Cookie knew, and let me know.

tortie cat on coat

You're Not Going Anywhere For A While

From January 2011, around the time my mother died when Cookie grew weak and lethargic for no apparent reason, we presumed it was because she, as usual, was carrying part of my stress. She recovered, but I saw in her expression a realization. She kept slipping back every month or so, losing a little ground in between and even having a few close calls with her kidneys, and we decided we’d treat every symptom we could and enjoy the rest of our time together.

She stole her last month, January 2012, right out of the jaws of death as after Christmas 2011 she was again lethargic and anorexic, and worst of all suddenly lost use of her hind legs, her body temperature kept dropping and her heart rate increased; her blood tests were frightening. That truly was to be the time but she fought it off, a little adjustment in medications helped but mostly it was her working very hard for just a little more time. We saw her in January looking and acting like Cookie, but I saw she had little control of her hind legs, her body temperature remained depressed, she had increasing difficulty breathing as her heart grew more enlarged and her heart rate slowly increased.

cat looking into flower pot

Cookie checks the "cookie jar", an old canister I used for outdoor plants this year.

Cookie needed a little help getting started each day, but once she was going she was Cookie again, until that last day. The previous afternoon, warm for February 1, we went outside, a treat since that was usually reserved for mornings only during the week, perhaps we knew. She had no interest in exploring but got herself onto my lap as soon as I sat down, curled up and purred. We went in with the memory of that warm sunny afternoon. The next morning I had to carry her outside for the first time in her life, and as I sat with her on my lap she did not revive as usual, ready to explore even just a little, just remained curled on my lap purring.

sparrow in forsythia

The song sparrow in the forsythia (it's hard to find).

Though it was still winter the birds were singing their spring songs, our friends the chickadees and cardinals and wrens who we’d fed and watched all winter. During a brief silence a song sparrow landed in the forsythia just a few feet away from us and sang its familiar three-note-then-warble melody several times, and I knew it was singing to us, and I knew what it meant. It was February 2, that magical cross-quarter day when winter finally begins to turn into spring, a time of transition where death falls away and new life begins. They were singing her home.

tortoiseshell cat in purple

Holding Cookie that last morning.

I am so grateful that I could just drop everything that day and spend her last hours with her, monitoring her condition and managing her discomfort with the advice and materials given to me by my veterinarian, sitting with her on my lap in the studio, our favorite room, ready to call my veterinarian or run her to the emergency clinic at a moment’s notice if the need arose. In the course of that last month there were many things I wanted to do for her but simply could not afford and tried not to be regretful in those last hours, thinking they would have made any difference or bought any more time; they were superfluous in her condition, and likely would only have made me feel better, not Cookie. What she wanted was me, and that I could give to her.

At 3:00 the next morning, February 3, lying next to me on the floor with all the other cats around, she opened her eyes and found my face, put her paw on my hand and held my gaze for several seconds, comforting me, thanking me and saying goodbye; she stopped breathing about an hour later.

Always with us

Loss is never made easier or less painful by any amount of experience or knowledge, but the long, slow goodbye of that last year was sweeter than words can describe. Relationships like Cookie’s and mine are rare but we who have experienced them know they never end, not even with death. Cookie has visited me in spirit, but she is always with me as well, just as she was for 19 happy years.

photo of cat and flowered dress

Cookie and I have lunch al fresco.

On the day, at the moment, when I regretfully and emotionally decided to close my shop at Carnegie Antiques where she was my “shop cat”, the back door of the room lightly blew open and I felt Cookie enter, could see her hobbled little gait as she walked a circle around my feet, one of her lifetime habits, and her tilted face looking up at me half orange and half black, her green eyes with gold flecks; she was with me as I walked all around the building remembering all the places I’d seen and photographed her in the times she’d been there with me. As always, she appeared at just the right moment with her comforting and practical manner. I should only hope to meet a human with half as much wisdom and willing compassion as that little tortie cat.

We haven’t seen the last of Cookie. She will still show up in new postings of prior daily photos, and I’ve had a few paintings of or including her that I’ve been planning for a while.

And the passing of an animal companion like Cookie has always meant for me the coming of a time of transition and personal growth. Cookie led me to the door and opened it, it’s up to me to walk through and do something when I get there.

Here is the poem, and you can also watch it with the embedded video, below, or view it on YouTube.

The Gift of a Morning

I thought Cookie
was being stubborn, contrary,
when she wandered away
into the overgrown garden
sauntering at her own pace beneath the stems
of fallen burdock and grasses
and through the forest
of tall goldenrod and burdock
where I couldn’t follow.

She sat calmly among grasses and blooming beggar’s ticks
and when I arrived at her side, irritated,
skirt prickly with stickseed and burdock pods.
I reached to pick her up, bad girl,
and turned to see what she studied,
and saw my garden awash with sun
majestic tufts of goldenrod backlit by beams of light
humming with hungry bees finding
the sweetest autumn nectar for their final meal,
white poofs of sow thistle holy in their radiance,
and the first calico asters, my favorite
dappled with passing drops of sun
against the backdrop of dark silhouetted trees;
so much to love in a sweet autumn morning
so much I would have missed.

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All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used in any way without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


Pawprints and Raindrops

photo of cat on drawing table

Cookie on my art table

This post is really not about the gratuitous photo of Cookie reclining on my art table out on the deck one fine summer afternoon a few years ago, though I do fondly remember how often she accompanied me—no, she supervised me—wherever I was, demanding to be outside with me and promising to be good. This photo was with the original post in 2010.

In addition to Cookie, this post was one I published two years ago on this day and it includes a poem I’d written and read that year at my annual poetry reading at Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall entitled “Pawprints and Raindrops” and it actually features my other tortoiseshell kitty, Kelly.

This poem went on to be published in a variety of sites on the internet, and it also won both a Certificate of Excellence and Muse Medallion for poetry from the Cat Writer’s Association in 2010. Since I’m on a roll with practicing the recording of readings, I thought I’d record this one along with a slideshow of images. A link is after the poem, below.

Coming Spring poetry reading, 2010.

Thursday, February 18, 2010 was the date for “Coming Spring”, my fourth annual poetry reading and art exhibit at Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in Carnegie, my home town. I featured 10 new poems and and the fourth and final painting of my “Art of the Watershed” series, “Spring Morning at a Bend in the Creek”, plus a display of favorite originals, prints and notecards; you can see the painting and read more about this event on my “What’s New?” blog.

My biggest inspiration for poetry, prose and artwork is the world right around me, and I enjoy the opportunity to share it from the perspective of one who walks and hikes and bikes and carries a camera, art materials and journal everywhere—even around the house—so the inspirations are fresh.

Looking at my body of work, this, of course, includes my cats, and my cats are vitally involved in the paintings and photos I create; even if they aren’t the subject, they are somehow physically involved with their creation by sitting on my lap, rolling pastels off my table, drinking watercolor rinse water and so on.

Most visitors to The Creative Cat are familiar with my feline paintings, but I haven’t published too much of my feline poetry. I read this poem at my reading this year, and sometime soon I’ll feature other poems as well, some of which have photos, paintings or illustrations to accompany.

About this poem…have you ever partly awakened and combined your sleepy thoughts with the reality of your surroundings? So I did one rainy morning in summer. As at least one of my kitties is always vigilant about me, my little tortoiseshell kitty Kelly realized that I was nearing waking probably before I did and came over to greet me, and with her help I slipped off into an illusion of dreamy contentment.

PAWPRINTS AND RAINDROPS

I am not awake but aware
of the sound of raindrops
whispering in the leaves and tapping on the roof
in the early morning, still dark
and little Kelly, sensing my awareness
hurries over and steps on my back;
I feel her tiny cold paws dimpling the surface of my skin
as I drift off in the murmur of her purr and the rain
I think of raindrops on water,
I am the water, my skin the surface
and I can look up and in the increasing daylight
see the circular ripples of contentment
mingling on my own surface.

poem © 2010 B. E. Kazmarski

Now you can listen to the poem too

I’ve recorded it with a slideshow of images and uploaded it to YouTube, but you can click the embedded video below and watch it right here.

And visit yesterday’s poem too, Things I Found in the Woods.

Other places it was published

I am grateful to the websites who published this poem and led to my winning the Certificate and Medallion. Pawprints and Raindrops and my painting “Sunday Morning” were featured on the award-winning The Daily Tail blog (now Taildom)! Please visit to read and enjoy, and also to read wide-ranging daily stories and images about cats, dogs, cows, birds, deer and just about anything else with fur or feathers…or scales…or…

This poem was also featured in Catnip Chronicles in April 2010, and this was the reference for which I won the award, so click over there to read it and then subscribe to this monthly online journal of all things cat!

I’ll have one more cat poem from 2010 tomorrow, but I’m not sure what I’ll use for the slideshow…

About my poetry and poetry readings

In December, 2006, two of my poems were chosen to be published on a section of the Prairie Home Companion website entitled “Stories From Home/First Person” for submissions of writing about the place we feel most familiar. ACFL&MH invited me to perform a poetry reading and to display the artwork that inspired those poems.

After each show I’ve built a web page with the poetry and art I featured. Please visit, read my poetry and view my artwork. My prior readings have been:

paths i have walked poetry book

"Paths I Have Walked", book of poetry.

“Paths I Have Walked”in 2007, featuring “Dusk in the Woods”;

“Winter Twilight” in 2008, featuring “Summer Morning on the Creek”;

“Change of Season” in 2009, featuring “Autumn Comes to the Valley”;

“Coming Spring” in 2010, featuring “Spring Comes to a Bend in the Creek”

In 2011 I published a small book of my poetry from these four readings entitled Paths I Have Walked. Right now it’s still available in print—read more about it on my Portraits of Animals Marketplace blog or order it from my website—but one of the reasons I keep reading these poems is to practice reading them for the audio version of this book. I am also preparing it for various e-readers.

I’ll have one more poem from this year tomorrow.

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All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.


Instant Old Friends

two cats in cat bed

Holly and Houdini, rescued by Judi Stadler

You just never know where you’ll meet another cat lover. The only sure thing is that you will meet them, even when you’re just on a simple quick errand and you meet during the process of something else entirely.

I needed a can of matte black spray paint for a sign bracket I’ll be installing today, and I discovered I was completely out. The local Family Dollar usually carries this so I decided at 8:30 p.m. to drive the quarter mile to the store to save time, then I could come back and have dinner.

I faced an empty shelf in that department, apparently their truck had come in late and several of us were wandering around trying to figure out if we should just go home or try another store.

A woman was wandering aisle to aisle hoping to find, as I learned, canned milk, which was also an empty spot on a shelf. We commiserated, “Darn, they always have black spray paint!” “Darn, they always have canned milk! And I was here earlier and came back when they said they might have the stuff unpacked!” and tried to figure out if there was anyone else near who carried these things. There is not, and we knew that.

She mentioned the closest place was a grocery store about three miles away, but she was walking and didn’t have a car, and I could see she had a stiffness in her gait.

I had decided that, since I had to paint this thing tonight, I had to run to Lowe’s, which was right by the grocery store.

“Well, do you want to ride down there with me?” I asked. “I have to go to Lowe’s, it’s right next door.”

Read the rest of this entry »


“Pawprints and Raindrops” is Featured on The Daily Tail!

pastel painting of a cat on a bed

Sunday Morning, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

My award-winning* feline-inspired poem Pawprints and Raindrops and my painting “Sunday Morning” are featured on the award-winning The Daily Tail blog! Please visit to read and enjoy, and also to read wide-ranging daily stories and images about cats, dogs, cows, birds, deer and just about anything else with fur or feathers…or scales…or…

Thank you, Daniela, for being a faithful reader of my blog too!

Catnip Chronicles

This poem was also featured in Catnip Chronicles in April 2010, so click over there to read it and then subscribe to this monthly online journal of all things cat!

2010 Award from Cat Writers’ Association

Pawprints and Raindrops won both a Certificate of Excellence and Muse Medallion in the 2010 Cat Writers’ Association annual Communication Contest in the poetry category.

I also wrote an article earlier in 2010, around the time of my annual poetry reading, when I’d be reading this poem in public for the first time, and I wrote about my inspirations for poetry and art, and the inspiration for this poem in particular, and included the poem in that article, Pawprints and Raindrops.


A Sweet Award

Peaches and Peonies Detail

Peaches and Peonies Detail, pastel © B.E. Kazmarski

I was honored and excited to see that “Peaches and Peonies” had won a Certificate of Excellence in the illustration category for my line of feline art cards in the Cat Writer’s Association Annual Communication Contest.

I also won another Certificate in the contest, for my poem “Pawprints and Raindrops” which was published in the April issue of Catnip Chronicles. Kelly is the subject of this poem, and they used “Sunday Morning”, a painting of Moses, as the illustration.

The Cat Writer’s Annual Communication Contest includes self-submitted works in categories from books and articles to websites and cartoons, anything published that includes feline interests as its subject. The Certificates are awarded to works achieved 90 points or above in a scale of 100 as judged by our peers. The entry receiving the highest award in each category wins a Muse Medallion, but this won’t be announced until the Cat Writer’s annual conference in November.

I have also entered Peaches’ image in one of the special award categories focused on senior cats, so we’ll see in November how it goes. I was hesitating to plan for the conference seeing Peaches’ condition as we came into the autumn, but now I can consider it.

Many thanks for your condolences

I’d like to thank everyone who commented, e-mailed, sent e-cards or whatever else you’ve done to let me know you care. Every message is another step to healing, and I’m sure Peaches is off somewhere knowing she deserves the memories. Because she came to me as a senior I knew our time would be brief, but still it’s hard to believe she was only with me for five years—we packed a lifetime into those five years. As she slipped into chronic kidney failure this spring and very slowly gave into it, and especially in the past week, she and I had plenty of time to think about what life would be like without her here and I used these many late nights to convince myself to face this reality. I have the wisdom of the twelve cats who’ve crossed the Bridge before Peaches and who taught me to accept it by preparing myself because they wanted their last moments with me to be moments of joy, not pain, and they didn’t want to see me suffering any more than I would see them suffer. I actually feel Peaches’ elation at being freed of the body that was holding her back.

So for now, and for always, I will remember her in that moment of inspiration that became her portrait, pretty, petite, and simply going about her daily routine.

Future articles

I have had a number of articles in the works for September and October, but Peaches’ constantly changing condition was my priority in the past two months and I was hard pressed to even write the articles about her that I had planned. When she began to refuse food last weekend, I knew her time was imminent and was writing an article about “how you know” and how to prepare yourself. I thought we had a few more days, but with a kitty the size and age of Peaches, changes happen quickly. She was fully in charge and knew exactly what to do and where to go, and I only followed along to support her. I will finish this article with a slightly different ending than I had thought, but I will take a little more time with it.

I will also finish off the other articles I have on hand—I have three portrait commissions right now and some artwork I’ve been planning, I had word that the subject of a portrait I’d done years ago has crossed the Bridge and I’d like to tell you about her, and a friend’s cat is approaching a critical state with his heart condition. I also have information on processing your own pumpkin for your pets, and about getting out your feeders for your backyard birds as well as saving vegetable seeds to feed to them through the winter. And for Halloween, some stories of feline visits.

As I’ve traveled around to shows and festivals this year, I’ve found some truly unique handmade feline-oriented merchandise inspired by actual kitties just as my work is, and I’ll be writing up these stories and providing links on where to find the goods.

I also have lots of feline photos, including many of Peaches looking darned good in her last few days, and the Gang of Four, and sometimes their mom, complaining about the drop in temperatures.


Perhaps the Storm is Finally Over

My July anniversaries of births, adoptions and losses have passed, and now in August it is time once again to take those lessons and move forward with their knowledge.

I initially published this story on August 30, 2009, as a coda to the loss of Namir and all the other cats I’d lost at that time, looking back at the beginning of that cycle in 2005 when my household held a different group of cats, and musings on how connected my creative self is with these felines’ presence and activities in my life. Before I move on to new works and new ideas, I’d like to share it again.

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pastel painting of a sprint sunrise

Spring Sunrise, pastel © B. E. Kazmarski

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.


With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this
Calling

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets 4: Little Gidding
, quoted from verse V

_________________________________________________________

Hurricane Katrina, Namir, a household of cats and my personal creative inspiration

"Awakening", block print

"Awakening", block print

I remember the night Katrina was headed toward New Orleans, partly scoffing at the hyperactive media reports and partly worried that the storm of the century really was heading for the Gulf Coast and knowing that, if it did, many people, most people, would not take it seriously. For all the dire warnings, natural disasters rarely fulfill their potential so it’s easy to sit back and wait for a while, much easier to stay in the place where you feel the most safe and guard the things you hold most dear; just stay home. At the beginning, we can never know the final impact, or what the disaster will encompass.

And sometimes a public event marks a time or a circumstance in your life, in fact stands as a metaphor for your circumstances, even though it has no connection with you or your life at all; yet, whenever you encounter a remembrance of that event, it brings back that time in your life as if it was a slideshow playing for your review.

I don’t have a television. I heard about the storm on the radio and read about it on the internet, then visited The Weather Channel to actually look at the meteorology of it. I would naturally avoid all the hype of 24-hour news stations making a story out of possibly nothing in the slow news flow of late August.

The only reason I saw any television coverage was because it was on in the waiting room of the animal emergency hospital where I was waiting for the diagnosis of Namir’s sudden, frightening condition. I paced all night long between visits from the attending veterinarian as they x-rayed, blood tested and medicated Namir, then placed him in an oxygen cage. The veterinarian’s face was blank to grim, though no final word was given until nearly dawn.

Sophie, "The Perfect Camouflage"

Sophie, "The Perfect Camouflage"

I’d noticed that he wasn’t his goofy self for a few days, just subdued, then on that day he had begun crouching on the floor instead of sitting on my lap or my desk. I noticed his breathing was shallow, he wouldn’t eat dinner. He had had a compromising bladder condition for several years so I always observed his activity and took action with whatever seemed appropriate, but these symptoms were not indicating that condition. He looked up at me imploringly in the evening, those lovely, slanted, gentle tourmaline eyes telling me this was serious. I called the emergency hospital, packed him in a carrier and drove with cold, stiff fingers and my own shallow breathing, knowing this was not good.

Kublai, "Are You Looking at Me?"

Kublai, "Are You Looking at Me?"

As the veterinarian and technicians went through their paces and I watched Katrina spin toward New Orleans, I was sure, in my middle-of-the-night fearfulness, that the world was really coming to an end. I took hope for both New Orleans and Namir when the storm was reduced to a Category 4 sometime in those hours; even the smallest improvement could have a vast positive outcome.

Yet as the dawn began to open details in the black outside the windows the veterinarian told me that Namir had developed congestive heart failure through hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. I fully understood the detailed explanation the vet gave me, following his sketches and descriptions in my own visual language, visualizing Namir’s damaged heart inside his delicate feline chest, struggling to move the blood through but not quite moving all of it every time, the blood circling and swishing around in the chamber, the walls thickening, the fluids building up instead of washing away. I understood that Namir was in very serious condition, that the condition could not be cured.

The hospital closed at 7:00 a.m. being only for overnight emergencies, but in the same rooms the specialty clinic opened at 8:00 a.m. Namir would stay there and see a doctor who specialized in his condition in just a few hours, have more comprehensive diagnostic tests done.

Namir's "Bedroom Eyes"

Namir's "Bedroom Eyes"

They allowed me to say goodbye to him in the oxygen cage. I couldn’t touch him, and he didn’t come to the window but crouched close to it with an IV in one leg and several shaved patches and looked at me with those same eyes, but instead of the worry, near panic, I’d seen earlier, I saw hope, and perhaps he saw the sadness and fear in my eyes temper with it. We would work together on this, no matter what happened.

Katrina was reaching landfall as I drove home through the growing dawn and early morning traffic and I equated the gray misty light with the howling gray images I’d seen of New Orleans and elsewhere along the coast, pondering the veterinarian’s prognosis of Namir’s recovery: about a month with no treatment, six months with medication and careful observation, perhaps a year if we were lucky. Even with recovery his quality of life might not be optimal, he might actually experience a lot of discomfort and even great pain. I would know more the next day after an ultrasound and other tests.

Stanley, "After Dinner Nap"

Stanley, "After Dinner Nap"

In August 2005, I was occasionally dosing Stanley with sub-q fluids for chronic kidney failure, but he was overall well—amazing for being somewhere past 20. All the others were fine, Moses at 19, Sophie at 16, Cookie at 13, Kelly at 9, and even the two new senior fosters, Peaches and Cream, estimated at 15, were adjusting well.

In the following year I would lose four members of my household, my four oldest cats, and three of them my oldest friends, Moses, then Cream, then Sophie and finally Stanley, and shortly after Stanley, the kitten I’d taken in and simply adored after all that loss, Lucy, at 15 months.

Lucy, Pink and Gray

Lucy, Pink and Gray

Namir lived almost four years with his condition, and hardly evidenced any discomfort though he hated his twice-daily medications and needed to stop back at the emergency hospital for a tune-up now and then. I don’t know how many times in those four years I said, “Namir was first diagnosed with congestive heart failure the night Katrina hit New Orleans…” Namir and I certainly had a better outcome and what we experienced in no way compares with what happened there, but whenever I hear about Hurricane Katrina I remember that night when my own storm began, my own little life inexorably pulled apart by circumstances beyond my household’s control, but in much the same way as the aftermath of Katrina it was the hidden reserves of strength that determined the final outcome, individuals pooling and sharing their strength and supporting each other.

Cookie, "The Goddess"

Cookie, "The Goddess"

I heeded my own natural disaster as best I could with the warnings I was given. Now I hope that my storm is finally over for a while. I know that I will have losses again, and with older cats likely I’ll have a few illnesses to treat. Even though Peaches hasn’t seemed to age a day since she came here and can still jump right up onto the kitchen island where she eats, she is 19 years old. Cookie hasn’t seemed to age since she was about 3, but I can see her slowing down and experiencing a little hearing difficulty, though we act as if we don’t notice. Little Kelly, who has to be at least 13, hasn’t shown any diminishing of ability and it’s hard to imagine her as a senior. My “Golden Girls” as I classify them…And I now have a big jump in age to Mimi, who is likely 6, then her kids, who just turned 2, though as I learned with Lucy and FIP that illness and death have no recognition of age.

After all this I was surprised I haven’t been in pain over Namir’s loss, considering the big personality he was and how close we were. He left strict instructions with “the kids” on my care and feeding, however, and I have never felt alone since Namir’s been gone—I’ll be writing more about this later, now that I have a perspective. But it hasn’t been just Namir’s loss, but all the others, too, all of them together, through it all knowing that I’d lose Namir, too, and finally I feel that process is complete.

Moses, "A Rosy Glow"

Moses, "A Rosy Glow"

The one thing I can’t avoid is that in two months I haven’t done much that’s creative—no blog entries, no new poetry, I’ve had to drag myself into my studio and still I’ve only done one piece of artwork, only a few photo sessions and all the other things I’ve done daily for years to keep my creative intellect in shape have just been neglected.

I know why that is. That’s the very core of myself, and in opening myself up to those creative experiences I leave myself vulnerable to hurt. It’s easy just to live on the surface as if floating on clear water, able to look at the beauty of the depths but frightened to go there, even though the risk, the plunge, the exploration and the return with new insights to share far outweighs any pain that might be experienced in the endeavor.

Now that the deepest part of my grief has passed, I’m ready to finish and fulfill the things I’ve planned, and to move on with new things. The hardest part of grief is letting go and feeling that who and what you leave behind will be forgotten, but we leave behind and let go in a million ways every day without ever knowing. Namir came to me one year after I lost the love of my life, my Kublai, and if I had kept myself closed off and held on to Kublai’s memory for fear of his being forgotten, I would never have known Namir, which would have done none of the three of us any good, or any other of the foster cats who became loves, or the people or the places I’ve known and experienced since then.

So I’m a little out of shape, but it’s never taken me too long to get back into it before. I love this time of year, and probably most inspired by it, when summer changes to autumn and I can feel the pace of life slowing a little.

Last year, I had a wonderful feline portrait and a reunion with an old friend with which to begin that new season, Madison. This year I’ve just finished another, and I’ll write about that one in a few days as well as other plans.


Overheard in a Thrift Shop

discount store

Overheard in a Thrift Shop

© 2010 Bernadette E. Kazmarski

Oh, look at this yellow lab painting, it’s so nice. I’ve always liked yellow labs. I have one now.

I don’t have a dog, but I wish I could.

Well, I always said I wouldn’t get a dog unless it was a rescue,
so I probably wouldn’t get a yellow lab,
but this dog came from a neighbor’s daughter
her brother had been feeding the dog—
she had twelve puppies.

Twelve puppies?!

Yes, and they all lived.
The owner put them all outside
and he probably never fed her right.
The boys found her and started taking her food.
Their sister found out
and went and told the guy she was taking the dog and the puppies.
He didn’t care.

Well, how did you get the dog?

Well, this girl, she was only 17,
but she knew right from wrong,
and she found homes for a few puppies and took the rest to the shelter.
She got the mother spayed and things were fine,
then she was killed in a car accident.

Oh, my!

Her father took care of the dog, but then he went to jail.

Oh, no. So did you take the dog?

I offered to keep the dog until he got out;
it’s a short sentence—
he’ll be out later this year.

Bless your heart!
Are you sure he wants the dog?

He already asked about her.
Think it has to do with losing his daughter.
I mean, she was only 17, and killed in an accident.

Shame.

I’m sure the cat will miss the dog too. They’re friends.

You have a cat too?
You sure got a full house.

Yeah, the cat belonged to my daughter-in-law,
she got him for the boys,
but after a year or so, the cat started to pee on the boys’ things,
they were going into puberty, you know,
I think it was that hormonal thing.
She tried everything, but the cat wouldn’t stop.
She gave him to a neighbor, an older man
who lived by himself,
and the man kept the cat in the basement with a litterbox and food and water.
Then the man told me the cat was getting some litter on the floor.
That’s okay, I told him, just sweep it up, it’s probably clean.
Then the cat started coming upstairs,
and he told me it was pushing his golf balls around.
That’s okay, I said, that’s playful.
Then he said the cat woke him up in the morning, he touched his nose to the man’s,
and I said, just give the cat to me.

Bless your heart! You are a soft touch.

Yeah, I don’t know how it will be when the dog goes,
but he lives close, I’ll be able to see her,
and I’ll be ready to take her back at any time.
At least I’ll have my cat.

This was a conversation between two people which I overheard, secretly taking notes, as I was browsing the overcrowded racks of a local second-hand shop after dropping off some dishes for donation. The rhythm of a conversation between two people who know each other well and working in tandem, in this case the cashier and a volunteer who were unpacking and tagging things, has a rhythm of its own built on the familiarity of the two people, and can often sound like poetry, so instead of my initial idea for a short story based on their conversation, I wrote it up as verse.

Honest, open, unguarded conversation between two people is so precious.

cat rug

The cat rug (folded).

I was determined not to purchase anything when I dropped off my donations, but right inside the door was this feline-themed rug…and I was hooked. These are nice to have around the house, and often I use them in my displays at shows or festivals, indoors or out, especially if I’m on concrete. They also come in handy as donation items to benefit shelters and animal organizations. Since this one looks completely new, that may be its fate, my way of thanking the universe for giving me this poem.


And finally, the e-newsletter!

black tote bag with five cats

"The Whole Family Gets Together"

It took a little longer than I had thought, but we finally got it done.

My quarterly e-newsletter encompasses not only what happens in my art studio and Portraits of Animals store, but also in my work as a graphic designer and web designer, a photographer and writer and other disciplines that utilize design, writing and promotion. It’s handy for people to know all the different things I do, and while I blog about it on a regular basis, there is really no better way to get the word out than to package everything together.

So please enjoy reading about not only the new animal-inspired merchandise, but also the environmental projects I’ve worked with, the performers I’ve had the pleasure of photographing and the newsletters I’ve designed.

And it’s good for me to stop once in a while and take a look at where I’ve been!

Now will you quit playing with that computer and play with us?!

I guess I’ve been a little bit preoccupied…

Read it here: http://hosted-p0.vresp.com/713503/c9fe8e1499/ARCHIVE


The Dogs of War, Specifically One Named Sallie

I am fascinated at how dogs have served us in both armed conflicts and in keeping the peace, in finding the living and dead after a disaster and in serving those who are physically or emotionally challenged.

Right now, highly trained canines are sniffing out IEDs and other explosive devices in Afghanistan and Iraq, sniffing the streets and buildings in Tennessee after the tragic flooding that surprisingly took so many lives, and in the past few months have done their duty after earthquakes in Haiti and Chile.

In between their times of service, they are just dogs again, our friendly, happy, tail-waving playful canine friends, again doing service to bring a respite to those who serve in battle and in disaster.

I participated in a poetry reading on April 29 entitled “Civil War Voices in Poetry, Story and Song” which was sponsored by the Pittsburgh Poetry Society. Poet Shirley S. Stevens read two poems about “Civil War Heroines”, and I was ready to hear about women who had selflessly provided medical services or who had actually dressed as men and fought on the front lines.

I was surprised and moved, however, when the first poem, entitled “Sallie”, was not about a human.

Sallie

A pug nosed, brindle bull terrier,
barely five weeks old,
Sallie, named for a West Chester beauty,
grew to recognize the drum roll for reveille.
First out of quarters to attend roll call,
she stationed herself alongside
regimental colors.
Serving at Antietam, Fredericksburg,
and Chancellorsville, she bared her teeth
at Johnny Rebs, led the Union charge at Oak Ridge,
stood guard over dead and wounded infantry.
Even Abe doffed his stovepipe hat to this lady
on dress parade with her men.
Struck by a bullet at Hatcher’s Run,
she was buried on the battle field.
Sallie stand in bronze at Gettysburg,
devoted to the men of the 11th Pennsylvania.

“Sallie” © Shirley S. Stevens

I had no idea. I was moved by all of the poetry read that night, but so moved by this poem that I asked Shirley if I could share it with readers of The Creative Cat.

Shirley herself is a “cat person”, stating that “every poet needs a cat”, and I won’t divulge her e-mail address but I will say that her address contains both “poet” and “cat”.

I didn’t find any internet pages about Sallie, but I did find a book written about Sallie which you could check out of your local public library, Sallie Civil War Dog: War Dog of the Rebellion, by Helene Smith. In addition, I found a pretty comprehensive reading list about dogs who have served in war from the Alabama War Dogs Foundation.

I have also written a post entitled “Heartwarming Tales of Dogs” with lots of links where you can read modern stories about service dogs, and my article “Helping Haiti, People and Animals” also includes links to search and rescue dogs and more stories.