Last week Thursday, Newman didn't come home for dinner. He didn't come in for breakfast either.
When I was working at Art Vision in Viroqua, Aly, my coworker’s daughter, came in with a basket. Inside the basket was an orange kitty. She told me the kitty was left over from the farmer's market earlier in the day where she had taken the kittens to find them homes. Nobody wanted him. I picked up the warm kitty and said, "I want him."
That is how Newman came to live with me over 10 years ago. Newman got his name because his eyes were a clear blue, just like the actor, Paul Newman. Only years later did I learn that almost all kittens have blue eyes. It can take up to seven months for their final eye color to appear. Newman's turned green!
Newman was tiny. He would often sit on top of Diego, my donkey. He liked to rub up against Diego's leg. One day Diego must not have been paying attention when Newman crept into the pasture because Diego's back leg shot out when Newman leaned against it. Poor little Newman went flying. I ran over and picked him up and carried him into the house where I laid him down in his new cat bed. There he stayed for two days until he recovered enough to go back outside. Sure enough, down to the pasture he went to visit his friend Diego. Diego never kicked Newman again.
My faithful, three-legged dog, Moses, had his paws full, watching over Newman. Newman was a curious kitty that liked everybody and got into everything. When I would pull into the driveway, coming home from work, Newman would rush out to greet me, and Moses would hobble up, grab Newman by his neck, and drag him out of the way. Newman's paws would be flailing away, I'd be yelling out the window for Moses to drop him, and Moses would drop him, but not until he was clear of the driveway and on the grass. When I finally was able to pick up Newman to say hello, his neck would be wringing wet and Moses would be standing waiting for his greeting. Soon the two of them would be lying in the sun together. Newman never held grudges.
Newman was my first cat that seemed to get sick despite regular vet visits. I know this had a lot to do with his skill as a hunter. Hardly a day went by in Newman’s teenage years that I didn't come home to a mouse or vole on my doorstep. I'm not sure how he did it, but I also came home to a squirrel that he dragged up the steps and left for me. Eventually, he'd end up not feeling well with a belly full of worms, and he needed to be treated.
I never did have to worry about Newman going hungry. Newman's preferred method of operating back then was one mouse for him and one on the doorstep for me. Despite all the fresh meat Newman had, I always kept a bowl of dry food in the basement. He had access to it via the doggy door. There was also a bowl of food on the kitchen counter for him whenever he wanted to come inside. A friend was appalled when she witnessed me putting Newman's food on the kitchen counter. I was quick to tell her there was no way I could put Newman's food on the floor where the dogs would eat it!
Newman was a good fit with all the critters that came to live here. Last week he was sitting outside my pig Louisa's pen, visiting. It was common to see Newman in the middle of Tickles and The Professor and the rest of the flock as they moseyed around the yard looking for food. One time I heard a crash on the porch and turned on the outside light to discover a raccoon had just tipped over the compost bucket. Newman was sound asleep in his bed, not even two feet away. He just plain liked everybody, and was content to let them do as they may. Teté, my challenging dog, was notorious for playing too rough with Newman. Yet in the evening, when everyone would come in, Newman would often be lying curled up against Teté.
When Newman was diagnosed with diabetes two years ago, I didn't think twice about giving him his morning and evening injections of insulin. Newman, true blue cat that he was, never even flinched, from his first shot on. In fact, he seemed to understand that he needed to have his medicine. Like clockwork, he'd be waiting for his morning shot, and again each evening.
Until last week that is. My guess is that Newman knew it was time to die. He walked into the backyard, down to the pasture, saying goodbye to all his friends, and kept right on going till he couldn't look back and see any of us anymore. Tired, he stopped, sniffed the ground, lay down, and never got back up.
I'll never stop thinking that when I open the door, I'll see Newman waiting. Rest well, Newman with the green eyes. Everyone here misses you.
Originally Published December 15th, 2016 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout