“Well, my kitties, I thought that today, we might look at some cats who were famous.”
“You mean we aren’t good enough?” complains Kiki.
“Of course you are good enough. In fact, you are even more than good enough. You and Allen are my super-cats…’the cat’s pajamas,’ as the saying goes.
“The cat’s pajamas? Why would a cat want to wear pajamas?” The discussion has perked up Allen.
“It’s just a silly expression that was started by a cartoonist named Tad Dorgan around a hundred years ago. He also used the expression “the cat’s meow.” Both of them mean that someone is outstanding, the best.”
“Oh, you mean you think we are the best?”
“I sure do. All my kitties are the best.”
“So, who are these famous cats, and why are they so special?” They both want to know.
“Let’s start with the Cheshire Cats. Lewis Carroll, an English writer whose real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, wrote a book back in the 1800’s called Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and in it appeared a character called the Cheshire Cat.”
Kiki asks, “And what was special about that cat?”
“It was able to disappear if it felt like it was in danger. It could make its body disappear, with only its head showing, and, even more fantastic, it could make everything disappear except its grin.”
“So, you mean that this Alice girl could look up in a tree and see the grin looking at her, and know that the cat was there? That seems pretty cool. I wish I could disappear like that.” Allen seems enthralled with the idea.
“Well, I might get pretty anxious if I looked for you and you had disappeared.” I leave out the part that if I looked across the room and saw a big disembodied grin looking at me, I would probably be scared half to death.
Kiki and Allen give one another a look that means that they would just love to do mischievous things and then disappear for a while.
“When the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad wanted to advertise their sleeping cars, back in the 1930’s, they had a mascot called Chessie. Their ad showed a little striped kitten sleeping on a pillow, and covered up with a blanket.”
“It sounds like she was warm and cozy.”
“That was what the railroad people wanted their customers to think so that they would take overnight trips on their railroad.
“When I was a little girl, we had a kitten that looked a lot like that cat, and her name was Chessie. Later, when I was grown up, and a long time before you two came along, I had a beautiful gray and black striped Maine Coon Cat, and I named her Chessie, too.
“The Cat in the Hat” is another famous cat., who wore a red-and-white striped top hat and a red bow tie. He is a character in books by Dr. Seuss, whose real name was Theodor Geisel.”
“What’s with these writers whose name is really not what they say it is?” Kiki looks puzzled.
“Some writers like to use what they call a pen name, to keep their written things separate from the other parts of their lives.”
“You know that’s weird, right?”
“Well, another writer, T.S.Eliot, wrote that every cat has three names, its familiar name, its formal name, and its secret name that only the cat itself knows.”
“Hmmm…” Allen wiggles his whiskers. “I’ll bet you don’t know my secret name.”
“You’re right, Allen. Do you know it?”
He grins. “Maybe.”
“There are lots of cats that are well-known because they appear in nursery rhymes. One I remember is…
Pussycat, pussycat, Where have you been?
I’ve been to London, to visit the queen.
And pussycat, pussycat, what did you there?
I frightened a little mouse under her chair.
“Oh, my,” Allen says, “It looks like that cat scared the queen away. And the mouse is back, too. I wonder if the cat knows that.
“Well,” I admit, “If a mouse were under my chair, I think I might leave, too.”
“Not me!” Allen’s whiskers are twitching at the thought. “I would like to stay and play with that mouse.”
“Was that the queen who just died? Queen Elizabeth?” Kiki asked.
“I think not, since it was written long before Queen Elizabeth II was born.”
“Besides, don’t you know,” pipes up Allen, “She was a fan of dogs, of corgis. They would have probably scared the cat away.”
“There’s a famous cat living in our country now, in the White House, with President and Mrs. Biden. Its name is Willow, and it is a green-eyed gray tabby cat.” (But not the one in the picture. Thanks to photographer fox for the stand-in cat.)
“I thought I heard that there was a cat in the White House named Socks, a black and white tuxie cat like us.”
“Socks lived there with the Clintons, a long time ago. There are new people living there now, and their cat is named Willow.
“Can we go to see that cat?”
“I don’t think Willow gets shared with the public, except for pictures.”
“I heard that England has a famous cat, too, who lives with their Prime Minister.”
That’s right. His name is Larry. He is a brown and white tabby, and his title is Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office of the United Kingdom.” (Thanks for photographer Milica-Spasojevic for providing the picture of the kitty who is standing in for Larry in the photo below.)
“And does he really catch mice? That sounds like a swell job.”
“I don’t know, Allen.”
Rudyard Kipling once wrote about another special cat, The Cat that Walked by Himself. Here’s what he said…
"He will kill mice, and he will be kind to babies when he is in the house, just as long as they do not pull his tail too hard. But when he has done that, and between times, and when the moon gets up and night comes, he is the Cat that walks by himself, and all places are alike to him. Then he goes out to the Wet Wild Woods or up the Wet Wild Trees or on the Wet Wild Roofs, waving his wild tail and walking by his wild lone."
“That cat sounds like he has some pretty good places to explore. Do you think you could let us go out there and see those wet wild places, Mom?”
“Actually, I especially don’t want you to go exploring any wet wild outside places. I want to keep you safe at home.
“Aw, Mom, You never let us have any fun.”
“Mmmm…The fact is, my dear pooties, I want you to not be in danger and to not get hurt. There are too many bad guys out there, like coyotes and cougars and even bears.” I’m not sure they were convinced, but I hope they aren’t missing the good life by being indoor cats. I hope…
Let’s check out some different cats. There’s a musical called Cats, which was based on Thomas Stearns Eliot’s book Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. The cats in that story are called jellicle cats, which I think means scruffy street cats. Two of them were called Grizabella and Macavity.”
“And did they have lots of cats playing the parts?” Kiki is wide-eyed. “Gee, I didn’t know cats got to do things like that.”
“The parts were played by people, who moved and jumped around like cats,” I tell them.
“I’ll bet real cats would have done a better job.” Allen stands up tall and licks his paw. “I don’t think people would make very good cats. People don’t know how to move right.”
“There’s a poem called The Duel, about a gingham dog and a calico cat. It’s by Eugene Field. Those animals were made out of cloth.”
The gingham dog and the calico cat
side by side on the table sat.
‘Twas half past twelve, and (what do you think!)
Nor one nor t’ other had slept a wink!
The old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate
appeared to know as sure as fate
There was going to be a terrible spat
(I wasn’t there; I simply state
what was told to me by the Chinese plate!
“Dulce was a calico cat.” Allen reminds us of his now-departed true love. “She was made of fur, not of cloth.”
“Dulce was a real cat, and her fur was brown and black and white. Cats with that color of fur are called calico cats. But there is also a kind of cotton cloth called calico, with some kind of simple design. People make clothes with calico cloth, and some folks sew it into shapes and stuff it to make it look like animals.”
“That seems so silly,” Kiki comments. “Why would they want to do that, when they could have some perfectly good animals that are made out of fur, and that purr for real. What happened to those animals that were made of cotton cloth?”
“There are a few more verses, but they are kind of sad. Actually, I think those critters came to a bad end. (There’s a link to the whole poem at the end of this diary.) Perhaps, we should just move on to some other cats.”
“Calico cats made of fur, calico cats made of cloth, I don’t know why people have to have so many meanings for their words, Allen complains. “I get confused.”
“Sometimes when you say, ‘Meow,’ I’m not sure what you mean, Allen.”
“Hmmph…that’s different. I always know what I mean.
“There are some famous big cats, too, like the one in William Blake’s poem, The Tyger.”
Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
There are more verses to this poem, too. See the end of this diary for the link to both the poem and a musical rendition of it by Elaine Hagenberg, sung by the John’s Boys’ Choir.
“Why did he spell tiger like that?”
“He wrote this a long time ago, in 1794, and the English language was a bit different back then.”
“There you go again, with strange things humans do. Cats have always had the same language.”
I don’t have the heart to tell them that even a cat’s meow doesn’t always sound exactly the same to folks in other parts of the world. If you’re interested, check out the link at the end of this diary.
“A famous Bengal tiger was Shere Khan, in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.”
“You used to play the video of that story, remember?” Allen says. I am surprised he remembered.
[The video of that movie is available to purchase or rent. Unfortunately for us, it is not yet in the public domain, so I can’t include clips from it here in this diary.]
Kiki looks dreamy. “I’d like to grow up to be a tiger, with those beautiful stripes.”
“Do you think we can do that, Mom? Kiki and I could practice roaring a little bit so we would be prepared. I saw a movie once called The Lion King. It was on your TV. I remember you told me that lions are cats, too. I think I might like to be a lion, with that big mane around his neck.”
“I hope you will just stay being little kitties. I love you the way you are. Besides, if you start roaring, I might get scared. You wouldn’t want to scare me, would you?”
They glance at each other. Then Allen says, “Welllll, maybe not. But a tiny part of me thinks it would be fun.”
“Yeah,” says Kiki. “I guess I’ll stay a little kitty so I can still live here with you. I do kind of like it here. And besides, there’s tuna and treats and stuff.”
Allen jumps down on the floor. “Oh, yes, treats. I think it is time for treats.”
Yep, it probably is. I reach for the bag of snacks and love the feel of two furry bodies rubbing against my leg. I can feel the throbbing of their purrs. Ah, yes…
And so, my two now-famous (sort of) cats and I will stop our musings for today. The links I promised are listed after the picture below. Have a great week, folks.
The Duel, by Eugene Field:
The Tyger by William Blake:
Song by Elaine Hagenberg: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nsmnSumzdv0
How to Say “Meow” around the world:
Hope to see you next week.