Marmaduke is dead. She died suddenly. The people from whom we got Marmaduke said she was born on the 4th of July, but then perhaps all farm cats are born on the 4th of July. My wife June brought Duke come from school with her a little more than a year after we married. We gave half of Marmaduke, already named, to Fran, June's youngest daughter, for her birthday—the other half was mine—it was—and hopefully still is a tie that binds Fran and me. We loved Duke and Duke loved us.
It was a joke that the front quarter and back quarter were mine and middle half Fran’s since I fed Duke most of the time and I changed the kitty litter. But Marmaduke was ours in every sense of the word.
In her early years, Duke would sleep wrapped around my head like a nightcap. Later, after Fran’s older cat died, Duke slept with Fran when Fran was home for college vacations. We loved Duke and she loved us.
At our old house there were cedar trees close to the upstairs back porch. In Duke’s younger days, the squirrels and the birds would tease Duke mercilessly from the top of the trees and when Duke dashed to the top of the tree after them, they would hop to the next tree and continue. Duke would then race down the tree and up the next only to have the scene repeated. Occasionally a malicious squirrel would hop from the tree to the porch roof, and Marmaduke would follow—only to have the squirrel hop back to the tree leaving Marmaduke stranded on the roof. It was a long time before Duke finally learned not to jump to the roof.
Once Duke brought home a young bird and laid it at my feed proudly—she was told in no uncertain terms that this was unacceptable and as far as we know she never killed another bird. As the years went on it was very clear that the birds and the squirrels were her friends and playmates; Duke would never have made it without a food dish.
I was watching a squirrel in the back yard one day and saw Duke come around a corner, unexpectedly trapping the squirrel. Duke feigned ignorance of the squirrel (she was a terrible actress) until the squirrel was in the clear and then took off running after it. I had seen both the squirrel and Duke run faster before and after, but they enjoyed their run.
Marmaduke learned to quiver her tail like a squirrel, and never learned to meow until she was eleven and spent a deathly ill week in the vet's office—Even then, it wasn't much of a meow—up until then and even after, she had a series of pigeon and other bird noises she made along with her various purrs.
Our old house was on a very busy street and we were forever chasing our cats out of the street. One day a stranger came to the door saying he had hit a cat who had run to our backyard. We finally found Duke in the basement window of a neighbor’s garage, bruised, but not otherwise hurt. From that day on none of our other cats nor Duke ever went in that street again. I suppose animal scientists will tell us that is beyond the brains of our feline friends, but something took place between them.
As the years went on, Duke spent more and more time perched on our porches or on the front steps of our new home watching the world go by. She would sit on the ground under the bird feeder acting like she was hidden behind the inch thick pipe holding the feeders up while the birds cheerily ate their seed five feet up in the air— or she would recline on a chair watching the birds or the squirrels on the other side of the porch screen.
As she got older, her long fur became more and more of a problem. Duke was a DAHL (Domestic American Long Hair), short for mongrel. She was the color of a golden Guernsey for those of you who know cows, and she was every bit as gentle. When grandchildren came along, she put up with a lot of child play. As she slowed down this past year, when the grandchildren came Duke went to her basement hiding places only to come out to eat or after the children were safely in bed.
We went to Germany for 2 and a half weeks with my parents to visit "Brickwedde" which we had recently discovered. One of our daughters and an adopted son from Africa house sat for Marmaduke while we were gone—they said Duke was depressed for the first two weeks we were gone, but had become herself after that. Duke's depressions always started when suitcases came out and clothes started to be packed. All too frequently, she didn't go with us.
Until the last few years when she didn’t travel well, Duke would ride in my truck perched on my shoulder looking out the window at the scenery. I don’t think there was ever danger of an accident, but there were times when cars would pass and kids waved and parents tooted their horns at the cat on my shoulders.
Marmaduke was a male until she was six months old and then as many times happens with long haired cats, the vet discovered she had changed her sex. Under her long hair was a deceptively small body. When she had a hip operation to correct a congenital defect and her fur was shaved off on one quarter, it was apparent how small she really was.
Duke spent a lot of time in my lap, or on my shoulders, or on the back of my chair when I was reading or talking or simply vegetating. I would comb her fur out and flea pick with tweezers on occasion.
When we came back from Germany, I realized she was slowing down and began to go through in my mind how long she had to live and what we might have to do—I told Marmaduke out loud that I loved her—something I had never done before, but which I think she knew anyway—Up until then, it hadn't seemed like something you said to a cat—maybe it was a column in Ann Landers or Dear Abby about people not saying I love you until it was too late that made me say it out loud.
The end was mercifully quick, but no less painful—we were at our lake house on Keuka Lake babysitting our grandchildren. Fran, who graduated from college in May was home with Duke. Fran called to say that Duke didn't seem to be feeling well and called a second time to say Duke was worse, and she was going to borrow a car to take Duke to the vets. Fran called a third time to say she had the car but couldn't find Duke in the house. Fran called 40 minutes later to say she had found Duke under the basement stairs and that Marmaduke was dead.
After tearful phone calls and a quick trip to the city to console and be consoled by Fran and to say good-bye to Marmaduke, combing her fur one last time and taking her to the vets at 10:30 pm on a Saturday night for cremation, it was back to the lake at 12:30 am on Sunday morning to be consoled by a wife left with the grandchildren. I was up at the crack of dawn writing this tribute—therapy.
There have been remarkably few deaths in my life—I sit here at the desk in the window looking across the lawn to the lake and Bluff Point realizing that inevitably there will be more deaths and wondering how much more they might hurt.
Goodbye Duke—I don't know where cats go when they die, but you will always be in my memory—you have been a magnificent, gentle, kind, affectionate part of my life.
They say life really begins when the kids leave home and the dog dies— well, Fran our youngest daughter and Karen our middle daughter have both graduated from College.
June has said for the last couple of years that when Duke died there would be no new pets—and she is right—it wouldn't be fair with the increasing traveling we are doing, with children and family spread across the country and the world—she is right— "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven." There is no wake —There is no Kaddish for a cat.