On the eve of bringing (hopefully) new animals into our house, I thought it would be good to sit down and write a bit about one of my best friends, Clio, who is recently deceased. People get confused about her name, so some accounting is in order.
When we first moved to Syracuse, I was immersed in studying nineteenth century photographic history. Though I’d been a photographer most of my life, I hadn’t really thought about it as a livelihood. It was more a vocation, a calling, rather than an employment opportunity. The lens of history is selective, and it distorts things. For every photograph that rests on a museum wall, there are a thousand more in the museum of the basement or archive without celebration or often even attribution. They are the the leftovers of history, the pieces left out of the stories we construct to try to understand ourselves, and how we got here. Mostly, I was discovering, that in the late nineteenth century, for women and middle class men, photography was a way to make a living.
I arrived in Syracuse ready to build a new life, because my wife had achieved that impossible dream of a solid tenure-track position at a good university. I came out in advance, while she was finishing her dissertation, to find and buy (for the first time in my life) a house. I was shell-shocked at the sheer creepiness and ugliness of the place. The first day I drove in past (I kid you not) a seemingly abandoned strip club called the “Bada Bing.” Clearly, there was going to be an adjustment to living here compared to the Twin Cities. Thankfully, during grad school I had done well as an investor and was prepared to get us settled and get my wife through the tenure process. But living in this city really wasn’t my dream.
Nonetheless, we managed to locate a nice older tract house near the edge of the county, bordering on nice farm country. I found myself just relaxing driving to it, out of the city and past a tiny duck pond on a stream, to a quiet neighborhood. I felt like we could all think there. We bought it.
We were in the city, just leaving the mortgage broker’s office. Standing outside while the lawyers and real estate agents were making small talk, I heard a little “mew” from the bushes. Krista looked on in disbelief as I went tromping out into the shrubbery. I found her. And I named her almost immediately. She was small– not really old enough to be weened. The photo that leads this post was taken in my lap, as I sat in the car while Krista drove the Uhaul truck we rented to buy a bed with down to a pet store to buy kitten milk and supplies before I drove her there, our first new resident in our new home.
She was Clio, muse of history. Even though she grew up looking like a supermodel, she wasn’t named for Cleopatra. I felt like we were building a new history here, and from the moment we moved into our house she was with us. I enjoyed the pun of calling her my “mews,” and I didn’t know at the time that eventually we ended up calling her “mew” as often as anything else. She was the queen of this house.
Another popular nickname, though, was Fuzzolini. There wasn’t a thing that came into the house that she didn’t inspect. She made sure we were always in the correct place and time, herding us to get there. If we weren’t in the den at the correct time, she’d yell at you until you quit working and retired for the day. She sat on my wife’s desk as she slogged away at that first book, until at the appointed time she’d bug her until she quit. She was always the timekeeper, and the one that made sure that you followed through on anything you promised.
An unfortunate incident with canned cat food when she first got here almost made her a vegetarian, though she had a soft spot for factory fried chicken, “chicken of the cave” as Krista was fond of calling it. She was bossy, and persistent, and the master of protocol. I was only allowed (without protest) to pick her up in the kitchen, where it was my job to act as a mobile kitty platform and look out all the windows with her, and most of all, allow her to better keep an eye on Krista as she was cooking. As she got older, she became increasingly Krista’s kitty so much so that Krista insisted that we get Thalia so that I could have a kitty for myself.
But I had to remind her– I was the first one to hear Clio, and she always came to me when I was sad or troubled. She was my kitty too. And I miss her. She asked me to take her for a spin around the kitchen just a half an hour before she died. Everything seemed fine. She was happy, and purring. She died quickly and without warning, and left a huge hole in our house, which was as much hers as ours.
Clio was very much a winter kitty, part Maine Coon with huge pants like a cossack that were impossible to capture in pictures. It seems inconceivable to go through the winter without our companion.
On Sunday, we’ll drive north, nearly to Canada, to have a look at a brother and sister pair of cats that seem interesting. The shelter calls them their “lion king litter” and they’re about six months old. If they are interested, they might come live with us.