“Banane” was our first cat.
Virginie Bournigal, who worked with Marie-Hélène and me at our law firm in Paris and lived in the southern suburb of Malakoff, gave her to me when her cat had kittens. It was late 1988 or early 1989. She arrived very small and adorable, and lived with Sunshine, Nick and Tom and me for a few years, first in Paris and then in Hermeray. When I moved out during that period, from late 1991 through the end of 1993, she stayed with Sunshine and the boys. I was just up the stairs or just around the block.
Then Sunshine moved out of our Hermeray house in early 1994, first to the nearby town of Epernon, and then back to Paris. She had no interest in keeping Banane, who thus stayed with Nick, Tom and me. Marie-Hélène, Daphné and Alban moved in later that year, and they all took to her warmly.
So that worked out pretty easily! No arguments between parents or children, just a pretty cat for the new blended family.
She got her name from Nick when she first arrived. He ate a lot of bananas for a while there, a ton of bananas, and when we asked him to name our new cat, that word (“banane” in French) was what he came up with. So that became her name. It may have been the only word that he could think of at the time!
When we moved to Santa Cruz during the summer of 1997, she stayed with Nick and Tom. They moved back to their mother’s apartment in Paris at the request of the Versailles Court of Appeals. As they were staying in France, and we weren’t sure what requirements US customs might impose on our importing a cat, we left her with them. Moving back in with Sunshine along with Nick and Tom, she was still with people she knew.
I didn’t expect to see her again after that, but when the Versailles Court of Appeals changed its mind about where Nick and Tom should live, and sent them back to us during the summer of 1999, Banane came too! No-one told us in advance, but the boys brought her on the plane with them, in the cabin. Neither the airline nor US customs said anything! It was a lovely surprise to have her with us again.
She spent a good three years in Santa Cruz, adapting easily to her new forest. Too soon, in the spring of 2002, she died of old age, having come back into the house that evening to Alban‘s room to see us all when she knew that she was on her way. She had that look in her eyes, staring down a tunnel, staring at us all one more time, saying good-bye to us. She knew, I swear she knew. We buried her by the Douglas Fir next to the carport maybe 30 yards from the house. Everyone cried.
This is one of our sadder pages. Living in a redwood forest has its attractions, but also a drawback that we did not envisage when we moved here: predators. We’ve seen coyotes regularly, a fox or two and, increasingly, bobcats. I met one bobcat walking up the driveway as I was walking down. He was tiny, barely bigger than a house cat, but had the look of a king. House cats can be a tad arrogant, but this little creature was clearly conscious of being close to the top of the food chain and not the least concerned about the human being bearing down on him wide-eyed. He deigned to avoid me by changing direction slightly.
For cat lovers like us, predators provoked great misery. Banane somehow survived, but her successors all disappeared over time, never to be seen again. As it was happening, we didn’t know why. Each just disappeared one day.
Pucci was our last arrival before this memoir ends, in May 2007 in the arms of Alban. He had been talking about bringing a kitten home from one of his friends, where a litter was eager to be distributed. We had no-no’d the idea, because Snip had been the lone cat in the house for about nine months, had never had kittens, and was not particularly fond of other cats.
There was another reason: we’d already lost Mittens (see below): that’s why Snip was alone. We didn’t know that there was a predator, of course: there were plenty of other ways that she could have disappeared. But if there was one, once a predator finds prey, it is likely to check out the same spot again. We were waiting and hoping that it didn’t in this case.
Needless to say, our worries had no impact on Alban, a teenager, who did what he wanted to do and brought Pucci home, so that Snip would no longer be lonely. Perfectly commendable sentiment on his part.
Pucci was one wild and crazy kitten. She played with everything and everyone, even Snip. The latter began by growling every time the kitten approached, a symptom of her solitude, but grew more playful herself as she became accustomed to her new little pest.
Pucci was short for Puccinella, and congratulations if you know where her name came from! She loved to explore. She loved to go crazy. This kitten played her heart out!! Then, before she was a year old, she disappeared, as Mittens had before her. Alban didn’t bring another kitten to our home in the woods for quite a while.
Snip and Mittens arrived before Pucci. They came to us from Project Purr, a local SPCA-type organization, shortly after Banane died. Sisters, they had been abandoned very young and then looked after briefly by human “foster parents” affiliated with the organization until we came along.
They were not easy to distinguish physically, with Snip having a white spot on her nose and the end of her tail, and Mitty having white mittens on her paws. It was Charlie who christened her because of those mittens. Mitty is rolling over in the photo on the cottage roof, and Snip behind her.
Personality-wise, Snip was social, hung around us a lot, tended to bully her smaller sister and lacked some of the key feline skills. What she did best was join in. What she did poorly was hunt.
Although she was a fearless hunter, her principal prey consisting of gloves, socks and shin guards! She knew where they were kept, in the garage, and would pull them out of there just to bring them to us. We were, of course, very appreciative. Over time, we were obliged to acquire plastic boxes which closed and locked the soccer things and the gardening gloves inside. That way, she could not constantly find the easiest prey and bring it to us. Twice a day!
Mittens was our hunter. She brought in the mouse, not Snip. And there was a problem. Cats are supposed to dispose of vermine in the house. Mittens brought the vermine in!
Mice, rats and moles inhabit the forest we live in (see our home). Until Mittens stumbled across them. She then felt compelled to bring them in to show us what she had done, although not as proudly as Snip showed us her gloves! Once deposited in the middle of the floor, Mittens left her prey alone. And one way or another, we cleaned up!
We miss their little presents, of course, animate and inanimate.
Snip was the last to survive, until Christmas 2009.
That was our last Christmas with all of us (almost: Tom was still in Paris) together. It went wrong on so many levels, the only time that I can remember that happening for us at Christmas, but the worst was Snip. She went outside late on Christmas Eve, as was her custom, and never came home again. We could see Christmas morning that she had not returned, and somehow sensed that something was very wrong.
Over time, what happened became clearer. The possible predators were several that we have seen here and there over the years, including foxes, coyotes and bobcats, and one that Nick and Alban (maybe another of the children?) saw once in our back yard through the window, a full-grown mountain lion. As a predator, these beautiful beasts, who weigh upwards of 140 pounds and look as casual and effortless as they look powerful, have no equal in our neck of the woods.
The local newspaper carried stories of disappearing pets on the outskirts of Santa Cruz that Christmas Eve, and a friend’s goats a few miles further into the mountains on Jarvis Road were attacked by a mountain lion. Our house is located right between the two. Poor Snip.
All of our cats were much-loved parts of the family. The little guys adored them. Even our teenagers let their guard down for them and pampered them, especially Alban. It wasn’t a coincidence that Banane went to his room when her time came.
We all played with them and stroked them and showered them with affection. They each enriched our lives for years, fascinating us with their diverse personalities and constantly adorable poses. Yes, they all died before the end of this memoir, but cats simply don’t live as long as humans. That’s the way it is.
And I’m pleased to report that Marie-Helene’s house, the one that we all used to live in, now has other resident cats, and they too are much loved and offer a lot to their humans.