By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
It has been said, probably by Andrew Lloyd Webber, that a cat has nine lives. If that’s true, it means the cats in our humble home had 36.
It also means I should win a Tony Award because my version of “Cats” ran even longer than Lloyd Webber’s, 27 years to his 18 and 9,855 daily performances to his measly 7,485.
Unfortunately, the show ended recently when Bernice, the last of our four flaky, friendly and frequently flummoxed felines, went to that big litter box in the sky.
My wife, Sue, and I got our first cat in 1989, when we bowed to the pressure of our daughters, Katie and Lauren, who were then 9 and 7 years old, respectively, and adopted Ramona, a little black and white cutie named for Ramona Quimby, the star of the Beverly Cleary children’s books.
Ramona’s claim to fame was that she made it into “Who’s Who of Animals,” even though, as it said in her entry, “An intelligence test pitting Ramona and a loaf of Wonder Bread proved inconclusive.”
Ramona went from aloof to affectionate in 1995, when we adopted a dog named Lizzie, who was so sweet and lovable that Ramona must have figured, if indeed she was capable of rational thought, that if she didn’t shape up, she would stop getting all the attention and lose her crown as the family princess.
That did not stop her, however, from eating the boiled chicken that was part of Lizzie’s diet. Lizzie, in turn, ate Ramona’s cat food.
In 1998, when we moved from Stamford, Connecticut, to Long Island, New York, I started getting strange calls at work.
“Meow,” purred the voice on the other end of the phone.
“Who is this?” I asked the first time it happened.
It was Lauren, who said she wanted a cat.
“You already have a cat,” I told her.
“I want a real cat,” Lauren insisted. “Ramona’s an idiot.”
Enter Kitty, another black and white cutie whose personality was the polar opposite of Ramona’s. She was Miss Congeniality and, at a year old, proved it by getting pregnant.
One of Kitty’s kitties was Bernice; another was Henry, the only other male in the house besides me, but since he was a mama’s boy who loved Sue and Lizzie exclusively, it didn’t even count.
Ramona, who turned out to be sweet and even smart in her own way, despite not getting along with the other three cats, lived to be almost 20. Henry, who was never the same after Lizzie passed away, was stricken with a sudden illness a year later and died at 12. Kitty died last year at 17.
That left Bernice, who was perhaps the quirkiest of them all.
While her mommy, Kitty, was a little bit of a thing, Bernice was the feline equivalent of the Goodyear Blimp. And she hated to be picked up, which was just as well because anyone who tried would have either gotten a hernia or been scratched to death.
This did not explain how Bernice, who was not appreciably smarter than Ramona, hoisted herself onto the roof of our two-story house. Practically every day, Sue and I would discover that Bernice was stuck up there and was meowing at a bedroom window.
We theorized that she climbed a nearby tree and dropped with a thud onto the roof, though we are still not sure how she did it considering the tree was a fair distance from the house and Bernice weighed about as much as a full-grown male orangutan.
The tree was old and starting to rot, so we had it taken down before both it and Bernice crashed through the roof. Perhaps not coincidentally, her climbing adventures abruptly ended.
But her quirkiness didn’t. She loved to be petted and would jump onto Sue or me while we were watching TV, purring contentedly during shows that were appropriately mindless.
Now she’s gone, the last of our four family felines, and it’s the end of an era. Like Ramona, Kitty and Henry before her, Bernice was the cat’s meow.
Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima