Mull this over: a grilled cheese sandwich is one of life’s comfort and nourishing foods, especially when accompanied by a mouth-watering Honey Crisp apple. The same grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of steaming tomato soup also satisfies the soul. And our souls demand much satisfaction in these turbulent times.
On Saturday afternoons, my mother often made us grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch, accompanied by a bowl of soup, usually tomato or tomato and rice. Inevitably a sliced apple or pear appeared on our TV trays. Saturday lunch was the day of the week when we could eat off the TV trays while watching one 30-minute television program. Sometimes we watched “The Flintstones or “The Jetsons” [talk about time travel]; other times we watched “Lassie” as we slowly ate our preferred luncheon repast.
I derived great comfort from this Saturday luncheon ritual. The world made sense from my child’s perspective. It was safe; it was familiar; it was love; and the food tasted good, too. To this day, I sometimes turn to a grilled cheese sandwich in time of question, confusion, pain, and solace. My preferred cheese in this sandwich is American. Plain, I know, but savory none-the-less, on Sara Lee Whole Wheat bread, or on slices of Italian or French bread. Sometimes I add leaves of fresh spinach to brighten the pale orange landscape on the toasted bread. Even my cat Valentino, foodie that he is, likes bits of grilled cheese; he is fine with melted American cheese. Neither of us needs Gruyere or Cheddar or Fontina; we’re copasetic with the classic American cheese with a bowl of tomato soup and a Honey Crisp apple on the side.
Thirteen summers ago, in July, a month after my darling Mama’s sudden death, my sister-in-law and I were walking across the lot of the Zionsville Outdoor Market. Under the umbrella of a shady tree, a mother and her two young daughters stood over a blue laundry basket that held two kittens. One was black and white female who seemed a bit shy. The other one, a vocal male, had the markings of a Maine Coon cat. Both kittens were longhaired, with glossy coats; they had obviously been well cared for. Picking up the noisy fellow, he nestled into my arms and began purring. I inquired about the price. The mother asked only that I take good care of him and love him. I tucked the little fur ball into my woven basket, and that is how Fellini Tomasso Amadeo burst into our lives.
I have had a cat ever since I was three years old. The enigma that is a cat has always intrigued me. For thirteen years, my market kitten behaved more as a kitten than a cat. He was my feline muse. Fellini possessed the soul of a poet and the sensibility of an artist. He proved a testimony to love and affection. His almond-shaped green eyes were as expressive as those of any I have ever seen. He lifted our spirits that summer of immense loss; Fellini made my father smile at his kitten antics at a time when my Papa’s world had fallen apart. My young daughter doted on the kitten and tried to have her older cat, Sparkle, make friends with him, for both were indoor cats. Fellini roused us momentarily each day from the halo of grief that enveloped us that summer.
On Wednesday evening this week, Fellini raced up and down the stairs and through the house with Coco Chanel, our four-year-old cat. They played together, stalked each other, and pounced on each other, all very much as usual. Later that night, I gave Fellini his coveted bit of Greek yogurt, and then I went to bed. Fellini was in and out of my bedroom throughout the night, as he was wont to do. At 5:30 a.m. he jumped up on the bed, and settled down beside me as I rubbed his chin and tummy. About thirty minutes later, he jumped down from the bed, as usual. At some point, he wandered back into my bedroom. During his nocturnal rituals, he brought me his big, fuzzy, pink and black toy mouse. I finally rose at 7:15 a.m. Coco Chanel and my daughter’s visiting cat, Shelton Rae, came running out to the kitchen for their morning serving of Fancy Feast Primavera. When Fellini failed to appear, I called his name. He responded in repeated low moans. I located him behind the living room sofa in a place I had never before seen him. I crouched down and patted his head, yet he continued his throaty cry. He looked at me with his luminous green eyes, and I realized he could not get up, and then understood he could not walk. He dragged his limp hind feet behind him as I called for my daughter. She took over tending him while I hastily brought him water and Fancy Feast. He took only a couple of sips of water. Since Fellini’s own veterinarian does not work on Thursdays, another noted veterinary clinic had us bring him in as an emergency.
The veterinarian announced that Fellini had suffered a blood clot in a back artery. His temperature had now dropped to 94 degrees [normal for a cat is between 99 and 102]. She began to outline several scenarios for dealing with the clot, but first she injected him with a pain medication that helped him relax. Maine Coon cats, unfortunately, have a genetic predisposition for this particular kind of blood clot. In short, x,y, and z could be done, but the prognosis was less than promising: Another clot would likely form. Not wishing him to ungergo medical procedures when the long-term prognosis was grim, reluctantly I authorized euthanasia. She told me if he were her cat, she would do the same thing because of the gravity of his condition. Fellini raised his paw high for me, a ritual we had. I took his paw and stroked it, then gently laid it down. His paw was cold to the touch, I remarked to the vet. She said his hind feet were like ice. I kissed him on the head. Her assistant took him away for a few minutes.
Fellini returned to us with a purple elastic bandage around his right front arm with an IV attached. The veterinarian told us to take our time with him and to press the red button on the wall when we were ready. We had been crying over our beloved Fellini throughout the time with the veterinarian. I knew he would never walk again. I could not bear seeing the pet I loved more than any other waste away or endure prolonged treatments that would come to nothing in the end. I pulled myself together, kissed him three times on the head as I did each day before I left for work, and forced myself to press the red button. She injected the narcotic into the IV opening. Crying over him, stroking him, kissing him, Fellini died within moments, peacefully staring at me.