I've buried yet another cat this morning. Holly Berry, a probable drop-off several years ago, came to our farm scared of the world and people. I had discovered her staked out in the garage hiding, alternately, under the Rover and Edgar's vet truck. In the beginning, I caught mere glimpses of her retreating hind end; she was, at least, partially feral, or had been badly treated by humans. Despite what must have been lousy experiences with the human race, she attempted to communicate with me. Every time I went outside, which is primarily through the garage, a loud "meow" sounded. Understanding cat language as well as I do, I knew she was testing me out--to see whether I'd respond in like fashion to her conversation. So, I hunched down and meowed back. She talked; I talked. Holly howled; I howled. In a short time, I transitioned to English, which she obviously didn't understand, so I howled in the voice she was accustomed to, only yelling in words.
"WHA-A-AT'S THE MA-A-ATER? WHA-A-AT ARE YOU HOLLARI-I-I-ING ABOUT? YOU'RE ALWAYS HOLLARI-I-I-ING!" I called to the little gray and white cat.
Then she replied in an equally loud voice from her hiding place beneath the truck, "RE-O-O-OW!! RE-O-O-OW! RE-O-O-OW!"
Eventually, through mutual conversation and food offerings, Holly, named after her "hollaring" talent, became a good friend. At Christmas I added "Berry" to her name, just for the hell of it, and "Holly Berry" stuck, then, for the rest of the seasons.
The garage was her home, and I had a cat apartment readied for her to escape the wind and cold. One early spring morning after Edgar had left on his veterinary calls, I rushed through the garage toward the barn where chores awaited. I didn't hear or see Holly--strange. Holly was always in the garage--it was her home. This day, however, she was visibly and audibly absent. I looked up into the rafters, under the Rover, inside the cat apartment. I called and hollared, "HOLLY!" until I was blue. No Holly. Then I searched just beyond the garage: in the gardens, in the barn--everywhere. No Holly. I was worried, but I had had other barn cats that would take a vacation for a few days, though Holly had never left her garage before this.
In the evening Edgar came home, and we began to feed everyone. Suddenly, there sat Holly, awaiting supper, in the garage.
"HOLLY!" I hollared.
"RE-O-O-O-OW!" she yelled back.
No other explanation existed for her garage-absence for an entire day other than she had crawled up underneath Edgar's truck during the night or early morning and had ridden along on all his vet calls in the undercarriage, perhaps where the spare tire hung. And when Edgar pulled into the garage, she knew she was home and hopped down. I broached the subject to Edgar, who laughed and said that he had been flying at seventy mph on 78, and that she had to have been freezing under there going at that speed.
So, Holly Berry, in her short lifetime, was well-traveled, at least for a day.
Holly Berry remained a shy, vocal cat for the next couple of years, but when I rescued two mother kittens and their babies from a Philadelphia kill-shelter this spring, she gravitated to the barn loft. And even though I fed wet food, supplied free-choice dry, and water up there, Holly didn't thrive. We'd talk when I brought her and the other "loft" cats dinner, but she just didn't seem as happy. It as her choice to abandon her garage; I didn't force her into the barn, though the barn loft, with its bales of stacked hay, was inviting to a cat.
Then, a few days ago Holly Berry walked over to me as I was feeding the cats in the barn. She said in a feeble voice, "Ow, . . . ow." I knew something was really wrong and scooped her in my arms and ran to the house.
"Her gums are almost white," I said. She was having trouble breathing, her chest heaving with each breath.
"Yeah. They are really blanched," Edgar said.
"Leukemia?" I said.
"Good chance. I thought we tested her, and I know she's vaccinated," he said. "Well, let's give her fluids, put her on antibiotics, and hope for the best."
But hope neither did her nor us any good. The evening before she died, I held her, talked to her, and she nudged my hand. She was comfortable--for being that close to death. I told her how much she meant to me, and she meowed in a frail voice the same to me.
And this morning she was gone--my Holly Berry.