We never take enough photographs of the ones we love. When you are young and poor and dependent on film, you take even less.
This is how I acquired him. My cat, a lovely calico by the name of Brandy Whine or Ms. Whine, went into heat. (Brandy had the talent of turning away when I tried to photograph her.) Several males from the Durham, North Carolina neighborhood — where I shared an abode with four room mates — gathered around the house. The most dominant of these was an orange tabby who I called William the Orange and a black and white Manx-cross who I named Wendell after a friend in high school.
Wendell didn’t leave once Brandy had had her fill of tomcat. He stuck around, mooching off me and my room mates. One day, i broke down, and decided to claim him as my own. I bought a collar with an ID tag and put it around his neck. Wendell, who’d been looking depressed in the weeks before, suddenly raised his head and strutted around. No more could you call him an alley cat. He was owned!
You might guess that given his street roots he didn’t take guff and he didn’t. I would often find him facing off with another tom. When I broke it up, he would turn to me and mew his deepest apologies.
As a father, he was amazing. We had heard that tomcats often kill kittens, so we took pains to keep him outside while they were growing up. One day, however, he sneaked in. I came into the kitchen to find him with kittens crawling all over him, purring happily. Afterwards, he helped Brandy watch the kittens when they were outside and helped me herd them back in the house when play time was over.
We moved around a bit, but when we did, we always followed this habit. A little before sunset, I would walk around the neighborhood. Wendell would follow me, huffing and puffing until he was out of breath. He would refuse to let me carry him and always made his own way back, though I had to stop frequently to let him catch his breath.
His other romance — beside Brandy who I had fixed to ensure that she would not grace us with more kittens — was with a room mate’s tiny tortoise shell named Friday. I cherish a picture I took of him lying with her on the bed after they had done it. My shadow catcher was a Champ Kodamatic, Kodak’s brief challenge to Polaroid’s hegemony in the instant photography field.
I brought him back to California with me, but he died two days later — the shock of the relocation had been too much for the little guy.
He set a high standard for my other cats, but most of them did not disappoint me. (The exception was a spoiled Persian Lynn and I nicknamed The Mad Cat. We quickly found her a home where she could be the only cat of the house.) Sometimes I dream of those summer nights, with Wendell following me and talking as he walked.
Oh the years. And the cats.