The neighbors were over visiting when their boy was three or so. Being just a little guy, he REALLY wanted to make friends with our cat, the dearly departed Elaine. Now as you probably know, Elaine was neither the friendliest nor the most tranquil of cats. She hissed and hid under the bed. Rich reached for her just as my husband yelled, “Don’t touch her!” There were two yelps, and Rich came away with a bloody hand. However, he also came away with a determination to be friends with that cat. Thus began the friendly siege.
For the next several years, every time he came over, he would sit near her. Eventually he was able to scritch her on the head. [NB: a scritch is a tiny, light scratch. This is not a typo.] Next came the gentle pets on the head and learning that she didn’t like her haunches touched (even then arthritis was setting in).
During elementary school, Rich came over once a week for help with his Language Arts. Before our lesson, he’d search through the house, find Elaine, say hello and have a little chat. After our lesson, he’d say good-bye to her. When we were out of town, he would come over and feed her.
Rich, now 12, came over the day before I had her put down. We sat near her and talked about her for a while, and then I went into the kitchen and left him to say good-bye. I heard him whisper, “Say hello to God for me, Elaine.”
The next day after school, after I’d buried her furry, little body, Rich came over. It was Halloween afternoon, and he wore the cowboy hat to his costume. We walked out to the garden. He removed the hat and said a few words over her grave.
“Well, Elaine and I were friends. She only liked Mrs. Simon and me. I think she was afraid a lot. She was a good cat. I wish she could have been braver.” We put a couple of (really old and quite dead) roses on her grave. Rich really wanted me to put a tombstone on it, and to forestall his making a wooden one (can you see it now, rotting in the snow and rain?), I moved a plaster cat lawn ornament to the site. He asked for a picture of her, put it in a plastic bag and anchored it under the plaster kitty.
That night, when he came trick-or-treating, he asked me if he could go again to pay his respects to Elaine.
“Any time, Rich. Any time you want.”
He was out there a good five minutes.
All I know is, from the time he was oh so little, this boy got it right. He was patient and tender and loving. Some girl’s gonna get a good deal.