He came to us the summer of 2003, skinny as a bed slat. He slept on our porch and of course we began feeding him. In September, he showed up with a serious wound over his eye. I thought for about two seconds what to do. We already had Xenia and Mulan in the house. They hated each other so much we kept them on separate floors. What the hell. Off to the vet we went.
Winchester was underweight and the worst tom cat ever. He was a lover, not a fighter. He’d lose every single fight, and nearly lost his eye. I had him fixed up, and fixed. But then the vet called and said he tested positive for feline leukemia, a highly contagious, deadly disease in cats. Put him down or keep him, and keep him completely separated from the other cats. That was the choice.
He was only a year old, a gangly teenager of a cat and I couldn’t end his life so soon. He moved into my office with me. He was allowed out after Xenia and Mulan were put in separate rooms. I’m not sure how I stayed sane. Xenia knew he was in my office and dug and scratched at the door (ruined our carpet). Winchester knew when she was locked in a room and would deliberately taunt her. They fought through the doors.
With regular food, Winchester put on weight and grew into his large frame. And grew. And grew. We bought a carpeted platform cat tree with rope scratching areas. Winchester shredded it so viciously that someone once came into my office and started looking nervously around for the ocelot they were sure we had. After ten months in my office, which I ran out of some days because he was driving me nuts, we had him retested for feline leukemia. He tested negative.
The happiest day of my life was the day I let Winchester have free run of the house. It didn’t last long. He had Mulan to deal with. Mulan brooked no foolishness from an eager young male who only wanted to play. After months, she finally let him stay in the same room with her. Winchester adored her.
At suppertime, Mulan would sit by my husband’s chair (he rescued her and she worshipped him). Winchester stood behind Mulan at a respectful distance. If she happened to miss a crumb, he might be lucky enough to snag it. He often leaned forward gingerly and smelled her fluffy tail, or sniffed her ear. Yes, he was in love. Soon Mulan tolerated him enough to let him sleep on the ottoman while she slept in the big chair.
It was evident pretty quick that Winchester was smart. He fetched. He learned to open doors by turning the doorknobs. He learned the meanings of “Get down,” “Quit it,” “Stop,” “Off,” and “Behave,” but chose to ignore them. He was funny. The female cats were too dignified to carry on the way Winchester did. That cat could cut a shine.
For the first time ever, I wrote one of my own cats into a book. Ten books, to be exact. Winchester was a bit player in my series Time Spies. (He also appeared in Scrapbooking Just for You.) I started a blog to help promote Time Spies called Ellsworth’s Journal. I had the stuffed elephant (also in the books), but Ellsworth needed someone to interact with. In stepped Winchester with a sign, “Will Work for Food.” He was hired.
Unlike the other cats, Winchester didn’t mind being dressed up and photographed. Well, mostly he didn’t. He was incredibly patient while I set up the shot, moved props, tried hats and shirts and sweaters on him. Treats was his main motivator. He was fool for Party Mix.
In 2009 Winchester developed an upper respiratory ailment. He was put on allergy medication. Because of his chronically stuffed-up nose, he didn’t feel like dressing up. So I retired Ellsworth’s Journal and started this blog. Our household began to change.
Mulan went first. Xenia followed her a few years later (bitter to the very end—she never stopped trying to kill Winchester). Persnickety, who showed up on our porch in 2004 and also despised Winchester (they fought through the window screens), left us last spring. Finally Winchester became Top Cat.
No longer did he have to gaze longingly at Persnickety’s heaping bowls of food when I took them out to her. No longer did he have to hear, “Not yours,” surely the saddest words in the world to a cat that lived to eat and had to watch his weight.
We never needed a clock. Winchester was in our face at six in the morning for breakfast. He started lobbying for lunch at 10:30, but I made him wait until 11:30. Supper was at 5:00. The minute Daddy came home, Winchester was begging for treats. At 7:00, he wanted more kibble. At 8:30, he got a few more crumbs before bed.
If anyone put a toenail in the kitchen, Winchester magically appeared. He even knew what I fixing. If I was using the cutting board for vegetables, he wouldn’t bother getting up from his nap, though he was probably thinking, “Chicken soup.” Before I even took the chicken out of refrigerator, there he was.
He was no hunter, unlike the three females. A mouse could run across the room and Winchester would have just looked at it. Sometimes I opened the door to see if he’d go outside. Sometimes I wanted him to go outside and give me some peace. What? he seemed to say. And leave all this?
Of all our cats, Winchester was the funniest, brightest, most exasperating, handsomest (he was quite proud of those long white whiskers), best sport, and my best friend. He was only with us twelve years, though it seems longer because he had such a big personality. I still remember the summer day he showed up on our porch and climbed into my lap. He chose me.
Acute pancreatitis struck him two days after Thanksgiving. Five days later, he was gone. There has never been an emptier, quieter house.
Nighty-night, sweet baby boy. There will never be another cat like you.