While searching among the cages at a local animal shelter, my dad spotted a tiny grey kitten who extended her little paw as if to say, “Please take me home with you.” With my help, he took her home and named her Penelope after his favorite character in Greek mythology.
Weeks before, I finally talked my dad into adopting a kitten from the local animal shelter. Having just turned 85, he seemed lonely after his second wife died of cancer and I thought he would benefit from the companionship of an easy-care pet. Since my dad leaned a bit on the stubborn side, he resisted the idea of adopting a pet until I got my own kitty. Fondly playing with my cat, my dad softened on the idea of getting a pet.
Little Penelope adapted to my dad’s home by knocking objects off my dad’s counters, tables, and shelves. After pawing a newfound treasure onto the carpeted floor, she would bat it around for hours. Although my dad gently scolded Penelope for her antics, he quickly forgave her. That kitty truly had my dad wrapped around her little paw.
When Penelope sauntered into the living room, my dad’s face lit up with joy as he called her name repeatedly. Being a kitty, she played hard to get, which only added to her allure. On monumental occasions she allowed him to pet her.
In no time, my dad dubbed Penelope “Queen of the Manor.” Her every whim and wish became his command — nothing but the best food, treats, litter, and toys for Queen Penelope. In return, she allowed my dad to reside in his home.
When Queen Penelope deemed the cleanliness of her litter box to be short of her royal standards, she alerted my dad by pooping on the rug in the basement. Always the dutiful servant, my dad cleaned up her mess cheerfully.
Queen Penelope’s arrival coincided with Dad’s renewed interest in chess. A retired engineer, my dad quickly grew bored of merely playing the game. Instead, he set up a chessboard with black and grey pieces to study the board layout and calculate statistical probabilities of various moves.
One Sunday when I visited my dad at his home, Queen Penelope was batting a small object on the floor. I took a closer look. It was a chess piece – the gray queen. Out of the 32 chess pieces on the board, Penelope had somehow chosen the one piece that resembled her most. Even more amazing was my dad’s report that she consistently chose only that chess piece to bat around the floor.
“Queen Penelope wouldn’t bother with a lowly rook or pawn.” he joked.
Although his mood brightened with Penelope as his daily companion, my dad’s physical stamina deteriorated, which made living alone more difficult. He refused my invitations to live in my home and stubbornly refused to wear a medic-alert button in case he fell. He grumbled as I connected cordless phones in each room of his home and insisted that he purchase a cell phone to place it in his shirt pocket.
Although not ideal, I satisfied my concerns by frequently calling and visiting frequently and securing his next-door neighbor’s assistance with periodic check-ins.
Penelope continued to be the apple of my dad’s eye, but I recognized that caring for a kitty placed a strain on him. So, I started cleaning the kitty litter box and filling her food and water dishes.
This went well for a while, and I hoped the situation would be sustainable. Then, one Saturday evening, I called my dad at our usual time. Sounding tired, he reported that he ran errands and completed several household chores. I promised to visit the next day with the warning that I planned to bring paperwork for purchasing a medic-alert button. Of course, he scoffed at the idea as he watched little Penelope batting the Queen chess piece on the floor.
The next morning, I called Dad, but there was no answer on his phone. I called his neighbor, but there was no answer there either. Then I called the hospital where his current doctor was affiliated. The staff member refused to give any information, citing privacy laws. I slammed down the phone in frustration.
I called another hospital and learned my father had been admitted to the emergency room an hour before.
Racing to the hospital, I wondered, “What happened? Why didn’t my dad call me?” When I arrived at the emergency room, my dad looked bruised and exhausted. With a very weak voice, he explained that after our phone call the previous night, he started to prepare his dinner when he fell. Unable to get up, he tried to use his cell phone, but it wouldn’t work. He crawled across the kitchen floor to the cordless phone, but it was dead. Over the next ten hours, he slowly inched his way to the other cordless phone in the living room and was finally able to call 911.
Tears streamed down my face as I heard him recount how Penelope remained at his side through his painful ordeal. Once a queen, Penelope now proved to be a loyal servant to my dad in his hours of desperate need. After a long day in the hospital, I went to my dad’s home to check in on little Penelope. She was too scared to approach me. As I noticed the severely burned pans on the stove and the phones on the floor, I imagined the tragic encounter between Penelope and my dad.
The next day, the hospital doctor reported, “Your father has terminal cancer.” As those horrible words reeled in my mind, I took Penelope home with me. She hid under my bed all night.
Ten days later, Dad died. During our last conversation, he thanked me for convincing him to adopt Penelope. Although a queen, she served him in his moments of joy and pain.
Honoring my dad’s last request, I paid a royal tribute to Queen Penelope at his memorial service and place the gray chess piece in his pocket so she could accompany him in spirit.
Happily, my own kitty welcomed Penelope into our home. Every time I look at the Queen who served, I remember my father and the joy she brought him.
Image under license from Shutterstock.com
Story published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Life Lessons from the Cat