Born on the 3rd anniversary of our first date.
You weren't supposed to be our cat.
We had picked out a grey kitten at my Aunt Pam's farm a few weeks earlier, because I'd always wanted a grey cat. But on the day we arrived to take her home my cousin Jack placed a dying kitten in my hands and said "I'm so glad you're here to take him and make him better." We knew right then we'd have to pick a different cat. And as we sat on Jack's bed as my cousins brought in kitten after adorable kitten, I tried to hide that dying kitten in my hands in hopes that my cousins wouldn't have to see its sad end. And when it died in my hands I carefully handed him off to John to take back out to the barn. We spent hours trying to decide which of the 32 kittens we'd bring home. How does one choose a cat? Each one was cuter then the next. My young cousins suggested doing kitten races, drawing descriptions of each kitten out of a hat and performing temperament tests by seeing which kitten meowed the least when held over ones head.
In the end we selected an adorable calico with long curly hair. But on the way out the door I had a change of heart. I'd never had a long haired cat and worried what would happen to that long curly hair when the cat grew up. My eyes settled on you. You were grey on top, with a little peach and a sweet white face and white underneath. You had won the temperament test hands down and you were cute as a button. John agreed...you would be our cat.
We took you home not knowing you were only 3 weeks old. That first night you cried for your mama and peed all over me. You kept me up all night as I struggled to feed you milk from a syringe. When we took you to the vet two days later we were scolded for taking you away from your mama. Little did we know, that was the best mistake we ever made (within a few months time you were the only survivor from that huge farm litter, probably because we had taken you away before you were infected with distemper like all your brothers, sisters and cousins on the farm).
We took you home to John's parents house, where we were both living before the wedding which was a month away. Keeping track of a tiny kitten in a huge house became a daunting task, so we turned the downstairs sunroom into your temporary room.
You didn't have a name for the first two days. We wanted to find the perfect name and had mulled over several lists trying things out, unsatisfied with most. Then we stumbled on the name Elsa. Elsa. The only association I had with the name was the name of a lion in one of my favorite movies from childhood called "Born Free"...Elsa. The name of a Lion...it seemed appropriate as I remember the cub in the movie being hand fed by bottles just as we were hand feeding you. I walked up stairs with the name bumbling around in my brain. That's when I ran into Kathy and mentioned the new name I was contemplating. Kathy instantly perked up and with great enthusiasm as she exclaimed "Elsa was the name of John's great grandmother, she would be so honored to know you named your cat after her." And that was that. We'd found the perfect name. (Little did we know Disney would exploit your name (and your brothers name) 10 years later...but how could know?)
As you grew stronger we weaned you off of syringe feeds and laughed as we watched you learn to eat from a dish. You loved to snuggle next to grandpa Steve and nibble his toes which is how you got your first nick-name "foot-foot". I distinctly remember coming home from work one day to see you out of your room playing on the table while grandpa Steve and his friend Joe played a game. You were being naughty and got in the way and grandpa Steve scolded you and said "go to your room Elsa" and to our surprise you obeyed and went straight to your room and sulked on your blanket. You always seemed to understand us.
I worried about you constantly when we left you with John's grandparents while we went on our honeymoon for 7 days. When came home, I'll never forget the reunion and how you purred and slept on me for 3 hours. The first of many snuggles to come.
When we moved to Louisville, after the wedding, you were just a few months old. Without grandpa Steve's toes to tackle you quickly decided tackling everyones toes was the best method for play. You soon became known as vampire kitten as we struggled to figure out how to derail the constant nips and tackles. We poured through "Kittens for Dummies" trying every method from squirt bottles to shaking coins in cans...nothing helped. Finally we decided to take the book's number one advice...and got another cat. I'm sure you'd remember that day as a dark one, the day we brought home 5 month old Sven (whom we decided to name after my great-grandfather and because the name went well with yours). There was a lot of hissing and growling on your part, but by the second day we found you two grooming each other and we knew it had been the right decision. You were the perfect pair.
I'll never forget moving to NYC with you and Sven in the cab of our Penske truck as we drove through Times Square. The two of you peering out the window sitting on my lap, paws on the glass, you meowing your lyrical calico meow. You never did well on road trips until a few hours in, when you'd finally relax enough to lie down and take a rest. John recalls a trip he took alone with you and Sven to Chicago and you sat on his shoulder, draped over the front seat looking out the back for the entire trip, meowing all the way.
It was sometime during our years in NYC that you started coming to bed with me. I would tell you "night night" and you'd follow me into the bedroom, jump up on the bed and crawl on top of me and knead on my chest and purr until you fell asleep, usually with your paws resting on my chin. It was a special bond that we shared for several years until your arthritis kept you from being able to jump up onto our bed. But every now and then you'd still snuggle with me if I carried you into bed.
Anyone who stayed over night with us would learn about your strange obsession with beanie-baby lobsters. And how you would carry them in your mouth late at night after everyone had gone to sleep and you'd meow your latest meow and drop the lobsters in sinks, toilets or water dishes. We never understood this, but we found it cute and encouraged it by buying you lots of lobsters.
You always hated the vet and most visitors, but you were always sweet to us. We were so surprised to find your nurturing motherly side when our nephew William came to visit when he was a little older then a year. And we learned you truly were a nurse maid when we brought Gunnar home from the hospital. You would meow at us and paw us whenever he was crying. And during those days when we were sleep training you were the first one to break and sat below his crib purring and meowing letting him know someone cared.
When you were happiest, and your belly was full, you'd lie on your back with your paws shaped like a bunny. We called those your bunny sits. Somewhere along the line John started to call you Count Dooku which then got shortened to duke dukes. We also called you peanut and princess.
We didn't want to let you go, which is why we put it off so long. I'm sorry you were in so much pain and that we didn't bring you peace sooner. You haven't been yourself for quite a while and you were giving us every sign. But you see, you were our first baby...its hard to say goodbye. I'm thankful you allowed me one last cuddle last night even though I could tell you were in pain. I'm glad you got a sunny day today, I'm glad you got to soak up the sun one last time. I had to laugh when you peed on me as I put you in the carrier...full circle from our first day together to our last. I know you didn't mean to...I know you couldn't help it. And I'm glad the vet knew the inspiration for your name when she called you little lioness as she prepped your final rest.
I'll miss your bent tail, the beautiful ornamentation of your meow and the chirps you'd make at birds when watching out the window. I'll miss the leg rubs you'd give us whenever we came home. I'll miss finding you cuddling with your brother, it about burst my heart every time. I'm so glad my eyes came back to you, that day on the farm. I'm so glad we took you home and brought you into our lives for the last ten and a half years.
Rest in Peace sweet Duke Dukes, our Peanut Princess Elsa. I hope you find lots of lobsters and boxes, bags and bowls to sleep in up in heaven. Until we see you again, your earth bound family will love you and remember you.