I was about 9 years old when one night at the dinner table my father told us that the show was coming to town and suggested we enter Muffin in the household cat division. Muffin was a long-haired, gray-striped female whom we all adored. At least my mother, sister Diane and I adored her - my father seemed to like her just fine. But we were unanimous in thinking that Muffin would certainly win in her category and had a chance at being named best in show.
The event included decorating the cage, which my sister and I did with great enthusiasm. Looking back I realize that I probably had greater enthusiasm, since Diane was 14. But she went along with it, and my mother bought cute red cloth with a pattern for a jazzy background to Muffin's gray fluffiness. We spent the two days of the cat show at the Civic Auditorium looking at the other cats and telling interested parties about Muffin. The judging was especially exciting, watching as the panelists handed her along so each could feel her limbs, lift her up, pet her and peer into her big green eyes. She received a slew of ribbons although I can't imagine now what they could have been for. I recall one nice woman judge adding a ribbon to the stack and saying, "And this is for having such a cute face."
Muffin was quite docile. When we brought her home from the show we set her up on the dining room hutch surrounded by her medals and she sat regally while we took a photograph. I came across it recently and was surprised to see that she just looked like an ordinary cat. Well, maybe an extremely pampered one.
In my adult life I've had a total of seven cats, usually two at a time, but Muffin is the one I remember most because I played with her throughout my childhood. On winter evenings I would try to lure her to dash by Diane's room, first announcing: "You will now witness a speeding cat!" Then I would run by dangling something on a string for Muffin to follow in hot pursuit. Except sometimes she would lie down instead. In the summer she kept me company as I played in the back yard.
Muffin was still around as Diane and I grew into adulthood. One time there was a mouse in our kitchen and my parents asked Diane's fiancé George to help catch it. The mouse hid behind the refrigerator and ignored the broom George wielded in the tight spot. Finally he brought Muffin into the kitchen, closed the doors and pushed Muffin behind the refrigerator. His expectations were that she would catch the mouse and emerge with it and he would get rid of it. However, Muffin decided it was nap time; perhaps all the commotion exhausted her. She lay down behind the refrigerator and gazed up at George - the mouse found sanctuary on her back. I remember George muttering in disgust, "What kind of cat is this?" He still occasionally shakes his head over the incident.
A few years later, my future husband Jim began to come around. I introduced him to Muffin and he was polite but obviously not smitten. He still remembers it and says that was the first time he came across the phenomenon of people treating a pet like a family member. Of course now it's quite the norm.
Muffin was an indoor-outdoor cat, entering the house by jumping on top of the water meter and pulling open an old-fashioned hanging screen to come in my parents' bedroom window onto their nightstand. As she grew older she slowed down more and more and one day did not come home. We assume she went somewhere quiet to die, which is really a rather dignified and peaceful way to go.
Next year the Back to School Cat Show will be held at the Solano County Fairgrounds in Vallejo. If you go, check out the household cats as well as the purebreds. And be sure to compliment them if the owners standing nearby are little girls.
-Dolores Fox Ciardelli can be e-mailed at editor@DanvilleWeekly.com.