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Sun, Jul 23rd, 2000
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Monday, July 17, 2000

Over the last several years, many of our farm cats have come to live with us as orphans, dropped off on the side of the road by some passerby who found it easier to dump an animal in the country than go through the effort of finding a good home for them.

We have made room for them. Reluctantly, at first, upset that a human being would treat an animal which such carelessness. But over time, they have assimilated into the animal menagerie at our place, which, at one time or another, has included pigs, chickens, cats, dogs, a wild baby rabbit named Charles, and a lone goose that went by the name of Jim.

That is how Milo and Tansy came to be with us.

One rainy fall evening a couple of years ago my wife and son heard a woeful, pitiful cry, and followed the sound to two little fur-balls huddled together in the deep grass and weeds in the road ditch. They dried the two waifs in towels and made some warm milk for them to drink.

The two cats were long haired and fluffy, and their fur was mottled in big snarly clumps. They looked too small to be weaned and out of the care of their mother. Milo, a grey and white male, was petrified of us and took months to learn to trust us. On the other hand, Tansy, a marbled yellow and white female, was soon snuggling in our laps and purring loudly.

We live on a blacktop road, which makes our orphanage a convenient drop-off point, but also presents a real danger to our critters. Last summer, we lost two cats within days of each other.

Returning one night from my son's softball game, we found our one-eyed tiger cat laying in the middle of the road. A few mornings later, Tansy was laid out along the blacktop. We buried them both in our ever-growing pet cemetery.

Earlier this month, it was Milo's turn. My wife was pulling out of the driveway on her way to work when she saw his grey and white striped body on the side of the road. She sadly drove back into the yard and woke the kids.

Milo was our "can I cat", as in "Can I go with you? Can I? Can I, please?" Open the door of the house and Milo would be there, ready to follow you anywhere: walk out to the shed for a hammer and Milo would be tailing you; leave a car door open and you would find a furry passenger; and he was always getting under foot when my wife was weeding the garden.

My wife, son and daughter put the cat on a snow sled and pulled it to the cemetery, a spot beneath a dogwood tree. My wife and daughter dug the grave while my son picked a huge rock for a marker and carried it to the site.

Pet funerals at our place have always been about saying goodby to our animal friends, and Milo's service was no exception. Our dog, Harley, and two other cats stood vigil as the three mourners told stories about Milo - how he had never learned how to properly groom himself and how this spring we had to cut out big bales of matted fur, leaving him nearly naked in spots. At the funeral, my wife even commented on how nice his fur had grown back in.

It was after ten in the morning when my wife finally made it to work and told me about Milo. I had just come from a break in the commissioner's meeting across the street.

Milo dead? I couldn't believe it. I told her how I had fed him that morning and left for work soon afterward.

"I saw the dead cat on the side of the road," I said to her. "And I thought to myself at the time, thank God it's not one of ours."

After some argument, she finally convinced me that Milo was indeed gone.

I shook my head in disbelief. The poor tyke was such a bothersome little scamp, we couldn't help love him to death. Now he was gone.

We both sighed and went back to our work.

It was about an hour later when my wife was talking to our daughter on the phone that my son interrupted their conversation with loud shouting.

"Whad'ya want," my daughter snarled at him.

"Milo's alive!" he yelled. "Look, I'm not kidding, Milo's alive!"

And sure enough, there was Milo, like Lazarus returning from the grave, looking through the plate glass window on the deck at the two kids in the house.

The power of suggestion is great. Somehow, in their grieving ignorance, my family buried a stray cat and lovingly mourned it as one of their own.

These are the kind of life-events that help make a family, I reasoned sometime later, after the retelling of this tale had made its rounds and had etched a place for itself in our family yore.

I can see our kids telling this story to their kids years from now, recalling in vivid detail the day that Milo the cat returned from the dead.

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