In 1996, Pam and I moved into our first apartment together in Boston’s South End. 529 Columbus Avenue was our first real home together. We were recently engaged and loved our three story walkup. It had a back porch with an amazing panoramic view of the Back Bay and our bedroom window looked down on Jae’s Cafe, which doubled as our kitchen table.
Pam had a cat named Sadie that she brought to our relationship but that didn’t stop her from thinking we should get another. Not exactly a cat person at the time, you can imagine my surprise when she brought home two new kittens from the pound, a mangy brother & sister who were found on the streets and were both pretty sick to boot.
We named them Jerry & Betty. The brother was easy. A tiger-looking tabby (who’s still with us), he had the marking of a giant peace sign on his side when he was a kitten (since faded). I’m pretty sure Pam caved and let me name him Jerry in honor of Jerry Garcia and his unique “tattoo.” Pam named the sister Betty in honor of her best friend Lynn. (makes perfect sense, right?). Lynn’s middle name is Betty and they’ve called each other by their middle names since they were kids.
I remember we put them in the tiny room next to our bedroom to nurse them back to health. It was then that we discovered what would become Betty’s lifelong favorite game. Being extremely skittish, she wasn’t a lap kitty until her last couple of years. But as long as she had some sort of barrier between you and her, she loved to play with our fingers. She would stick her whole skinny arm under the crack at the bottom of the door and chase our fingers. She had furry little paws and our whole family delighted in playing this with her. Through our next three homes, Betty always found a place where she could play the “finger game” where she felt secure with a barrier but could still play her favorite game.
Betty was a real lady, that’s how she earned the nickname “Miss Betty.” No rough stuff for her. Skittish for years, as she got older she’d surprise us by curling up next to us if we were really still. In her last couple of years, she would finally let us pick her up and stroke her in our lap. Her favorite spot was always under our bed where should could avoid the chaos of our two young kids, two dogs and two other cats. Betty’s weakness was Salmon which has always been big in our house. She’d smell it cooking and come running. No sooner than we’d sit down for dinner and Betty would have her front paws on your leg looking for the little Salmon treats that we all enjoyed giving her.
Last week Betty grew weak. She stopped eating and had a hard time standing up. After some tests we learned her kidneys were failing. It was the right decision for us to put Betty to sleep yesterday. We could have kept her alive with needles every day but if there was one thing Betty hated it was being pushed and prodded. We knew that this would be what she wanted. She’s now curled up in a blanket in a beautiful box hand-painted by Mimi (my talented mother-in-law). We had an “open casket” yesterday where we caressed her, shared our memories and cried our eyes out. Later today, we’ll have a ceremony on the side of our house where Sadie is buried and lay her to rest.
It dawned on me yesterday that Betty represents the first commitment that Pam and I ever made with each other. She and Jerry were the first animals that I ever really had feelings for (bawling as I write this) and her life has marked my time with Pam. It’s going to be strange not having her around. Rest in peace Miss Betty. You were loved and we’ll miss you…