Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Untold Story of Maggie the Cat

Countless times, I’ve asked Maggie, my cat, to tell me about her life before she came to live with me. She always declines. Perhaps the memories are too painful. Or maybe like all cats, Maggie lives in the present, and does not care to revisit times gone by.

I adopted Maggie through the St. Louis Cat Network 13 years ago to serve as a companion for Ginger (my big orange guy cat) a few months after Ginger's half-brother, Scoop, died. I thought it would perk up Ginger to have a friend, and the two could be company for one another when I was at work. This beautiful tortoise cat came with a name and a small pink-flowered bed. I allowed her to keep both. The vet estimated Maggie’s age at about 2.

For the first three months, Maggie hid under the couch. Ginger ignored her. When she emerged, she started following Ginger around, begging him to play. He ignored her. At long last, they became friends and eventually were inseparable. Ginger got diabetes and I treated him for three years before he reversed it. (Only cats can do that.) He lived a few more years and then, at 18, became senile and his health went downhill.

Maggie and I both grieved Ginger’s passing. About six months later, I brought home a tuxedo cat who needed a home. He had lost his siblings in a farm accident and was missing a foot, though you would never know it from how well he maneuvered. Tux was about 3 years old, and I thought he might cheer up Maggie. Instead, she was furious. Maggie yelled and cried. Tux yelled and cried. I yelled and cried. I took Tux back to the vet, who found a new home for him.

One day about four years ago, I was cleaning out my folder marked “Cats.” That’s where I keep vaccination records. Maggie’s adoption papers were in the folder, and tucked among the tips on how to care for a cat and feed a cat and love a cat was an envelope I had never opened. Inside were the papers from the day Maggie was turned in to the Cat Network.

“I don’t need these,” I thought and started to pitch them. I even wondered if I had been given the papers by mistake. Then for some reason, I unfolded the papers and read them. I discovered that longtime actor and director John Grassilli had brought Maggie to the Cat Network in early 1996. That explained her name! (Maggie is the lead character in the play “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”) I had known John slightly, as I was second-string theater critic at the Post-Dispatch at the time. I also knew John had left St. Louis some time ago, so I thought no more about the connection.

I did ask Maggie about John, but again, she had nothing to say. On Tuesday, my waking thought was that John Grassilli likely was on Facebook. I looked. He was. I sent him this note:

“Hi John -- I was at the Post much of the time you were in St. Louis, and often reviewed theater. More importantly -- and I didn't realize for a long time that you were involved -- I have Maggie the Cat, a tortoise-colored cat you turned in to the Cat Network rescue program. We've been together 13 years! I'd love to hear your story about her, and fill you in, if you are interested.”

Just hours later, this came back:

“Hi Pat. Maggie...after all these years..very good to hear. We (now ex-wife Sara and I) were walking in Tower Grove Park when we heard her cry from a sewer drain. She wouldn't come out so we went back home, got the car and some cat food and then coaxed her out and took her home. We were going to keep her but our female cat Rita would have none of it. She was a bit of a bully too so we looked around and found the shelter. We thought it was a great place and we trusted they would do good by her. (We didn't know how good as it turned out.) We always wondered what had happened to her. Thanks for letting me know. Her extended story would be great to know if you have the time. Rita, who is standing behind me now demanding supper, in her better moments would like to know too, I'm sure.”

I sent John more details and a handful of photos. Then I gathered Maggie up in my arms and said, “Tell me about the day you were in a sewer drain – how horrible! You must have been really scared! Thank goodness John and his wife rescued you!”

Maggie wriggled and squirmed, jumped down, flicked her tail and went into the kitchen for a snack.

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