Sixty years ago, Robert Heinlein wrote a wonderful tale about a family living in the distant future, who kept a strange alien creature as a family pet. Since the unusual beast lived for eleven generations, John Stuart left the slow-growing pet to his son to play with and care for.
No one really knew where the creature had come from or much about it, but each generation loved, fed, and cared for it. Finally, John Stuart XI encountered the beast’s relatives, who had been desperately searching for their wayward relative for centuries. When asked what he had been doing for the last 250 years, the “pet” calmly answered, “Raising John Stuarts.”
While the book, Star Beast, is considered one of the books comprising Heinlein’s Juvenile Series, this is not entirely apt. In fact, there are a lot of books that people seem to believe are strictly for children—such as Gulliver’s Travels, Treasure Island, and Huckleberry Finn—that frequently have meanings that children miss and adults need.
My son, The-Other-One (not What’s-His-Name), brought Heinlein’s book to mind this week. Unfortunately, a beloved family pet passed away after twenty years. According to the veterinarian, Hobbes was the oldest cat in Corpus Christi.
I saw in the news last week that behavioral scientists have determined that cats really do form attachments to people. I sure as hell hope they didn’t spend a lot of taxpayer money on that study, for their conclusion was evident the day he brought that little black and white kitten home. It took one look at my youngest son and the cat to see that the link was obvious. The cat had picked his human.
My son was in Middle School, which was a daily trial for Hobbes. About half an hour before the school bus was due to arrive, Hobbes would sit down by the front door and wait for the boy to arrive. For some reason, those same behavioral scientists don’t believe that cats have any sense of time. (Or, maybe they just say that in hopes of getting more grant money to conduct another research project.)
During non-school days, boy and cat were seldom separated. And at night, Hobbes slept in a “hammock” his boy had made from an old t-shirt above the bed, just inches over his sleeping boy’s head. I never actually told my son to go to bed, instead I would tell him to take his cat to bed.
Hobbes stuck with his boy through high school and college, and followed his boy when his career moved him all over Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Few cats like to travel, and Hobbes was no exception, but after every move, he accepted his responsibility to help turn a house into a home.
When my son married, Hobbes accepted this new responsibility, too. Though it took time—and much biting her hair while she watched television and practiced yoga—eventually she, too was worthy of being accepted into Hobbes’ family.
And of course, in time, there were new Milliorns to raise, for my son has three daughters, all of whom at one time or another briefly believed that Hobbes was a special form of animated toy. I am not going to say that he was especially gentle and loving with children, for Hobbes practiced a form of tough love with strict rules. The girls learned from Hobbes, even if some of the lessons required bandaids.
As Mark Twain said, “A person that started in to carry a cat home by the tail was getting knowledge that was always going to be useful to him, and warn't ever going to grow dim or doubtful.”
The girls learned quickly, and eventually were lovingly added to Hobbes’ growing family.
We forget all the lessons that a harmless, necessary cat can teach us. We learn patience—for a cat only knows two meanings of time; now and never. When they are hungry, you need to feed them NOW, because the last time you fed them was NEVER. Since you have NEVER scratched their ears, you need to do so NOW!
Cats teach us dignity and to be calm. By their very nature, they bring us peace. As Albert Schweitzer said, “There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.” In a pinch, you can do without the music.
Cats evidently teach us to read. I don’t have any direct evidence of this, but every time I look for a book, I inevitably find my cat asleep on it. And it is almost impossible to read a book without a cat in your lap, checking to see if you are doing it correctly.
Strangely, he seems to have taught my youngest granddaughter to talk. Her first word was neither “Mama” nor “Daddy”. Instead, she learned to make a noise exactly like Hobbes. Only the two of them know exactly what it means.
Most importantly, cats teach people to be good and decent room mates. Cats are independent, have no sense of humor, and don’t associate long with people who don’t deserve their attention. Like every other cat, Hobbes made a big show of saying hello. He was loud and noisy as he approached you, rubbed your ankles and expected to be noticed. But when Hobbes was done with you, he walked away without looking back. And Hobbes would never, ever return unless you deserved it. (He was, however, a pushover for someone with a brush for his fur!)
The fact that he loved my son every day of his life is the best proof possible that my son was worthy of such affection. I am proud of my son for many reasons, not the least of which is that everyday he was worthy of (and generously returned) Hobbes’ devotion.
Hobbes was twenty years old when his work was finally done. He will certainly be missed by his boy, the boy’s wife, their daughters, and yes—two grandparents. His work is done—he has done a fine job of raising Milliorns.