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Jordie - The Last of the Second Ones

Michael Hillman

I was hoping to put off writing this article for many years, but that ‘blink of an eye’ in which we all in the end measure our time on this earth, came sooner than expected for Jordie. And much too soon for my wife and I.

As I get older, I find the standard units by which we measure the passage of time to be too impersonal; instead, I measure time by the generations of animals that have shared our lives. The first generation included two cats, two dogs, and one horse. As they grew old and passed on, they were replaced by those of the second generation. As each was replaced by a successor upon death, the two generations were intermingled.

Jordie represented that intermingling more than any other pet we had, as he was both the first and last of the second ones. As his generation passed on, it was succeeded by the present, and third generation. Jordie was the link that will forever bind the first three generations together. He greeted five new cats, and witnessed the loss of the same number. He suffered through the introduction of four puppies, and experienced the loss of four canine friends. With Jordie’s passing, the link that bound the third generation of animals with our first generation has been broken.

It seemed that as long as I had one member of the second generation, I could close my eyes and see the entire generation in their younger days playing with a member of the first generation. Because I could envision this, the first ones were still very much alive in my mind, and the memories of them could warm me on even the coldest of days.

I can still recall the first time I saw Jordie. Only a few days had passed since Dax, a stray Manx my wife had found wandering on the road six months back, had been hit by a car in front of our house. Seeking to heal the wound left by the loss of Dax, I contacted local animal shelters to see if any had a Manx for adoption.

An animal shelter in Montgomery County had two. The next day, with cat carrier in hand, I headed down to choose one. As I left, my wife handed me a ‘twillizer’ - a cat toy with feathers on it, and told me to pick the one that responded most to it. The shelter introduced me to Jordie and his brother, both 4 months old, and I proceeded to test them. Jordie leaped at the chance to play, while his brother seemed uninterested. So Jordie got the nod.

He talked to me all the way home. For some reason the memory of that ride always stuck with me. It’s a fond memory. As I stroked his paws, which he had stretched out through the grate in the front of the cat carrier, I remember reassuring him that he would enjoy being one of my wife’s cats.

In hindsight, if I had to point to any one instance were I began my transition to becoming a ‘cat person,’ I would have to say it was that drive home with Jordie. Up until that time, cats were something I tolerated because my wife liked them. I was a dog person. But Jordie’s hour long ‘talk’ on the drive home changed me, and changed me for the better.

My wife instantly fell in love with Jordie, and he her. As promised, life was pretty good for him.

Jordie quickly selected our old Siamese mix male Tony as his cat ‘mentor,’ much to the chagrin of Tony. Jordie was mesmerized by Tony’s tail, an appendage that, as a Manx, Jordie did not possess. He was forever trying to play with it. Of course this only annoyed Tony more ,which he displayed in the flipping of his tail, thus making the game more fun for a tail-intrigued Manx kitten! But Tony was too old to put up much of a fight and quietly accepted his newfound lackey.

A few months later, Jordie’s life got even better with the introduction of two more Manx kittens, which a local farmer gave to us in a grain sack. Too young to be set free, Miles and Squeak were confined to a cardboard box for the first few weeks. Jordie would spend hours patiently watching the antics of the two, and when the pair was finally allowed the run of the house, pandemonium became the rule of the day.

To get an idea of what our house was like, imagine a cat chasing a wind up toy. Now make that two toys that never run down, and unlike mechanical toys, can redirect themselves in a split second. The only time peace seemed to return was when the three slept together to regroup their energy; however, once awake, the games were back on.

After losing Dax on the road, my wife was loath to allow Jordie to go outside, but he insisted and she eventually acquiesced, telling him to “Mind Tony, and do as he does.”

Tony, an inside/outside cat, was well into his senior years and all he wanted to do was sleep in the sun in the side yard, far away from the road. At first, Jordie stayed within eyesight of Tony, apparently unwilling to leave the protective shield that the old tomcat provided him against intruder cats. As Jordie got older and more self-confident, he extended the reach of his territory. But no matter how far he strayed, he would always come running at the sound of my wife calling his name. Of course he ignored my calls, but my wife’s - never!

While he was allowed out during the day, come nightfall he was always safe inside. It soon became his routine. Occasionally he would go to the door late at night and meow to go out, which always brought the response “You’ve got to be kidding!” from us. Fortunately for him I don’t speak ‘cat,’ for I’m sure he always gave me an earful as he sulked away.

In reflecting upon the life of a cat, memories of kittenhood and old age seem to stand out most, and for Jordie, there is no exception. Life for him was pretty good. As his mentor Tony grew more aged and feeble, Jordie took on the role of a caring nephew. The two companions would often be found sharing afternoon naps and, when done grooming himself, Jordie would help Tony groom. When Tony died, Jordie clearly grieved.

While Jordie had his two indoor companions to keep him company while inside, he had lost his outside companion-in-arms and the one who had taught him the ‘ropes’ of how to snag that heart of my wife.

After Tony’s death, Jordie seemed to blend blissfully into the background. Summer days were spent hunting in the fields and nights were spent sleeping on our bed. While still in his youth, he would brave the elements of a winter day until the cold forced him into the relative comfort of the tack room in the barn, which he begrudgingly shared with Tasha, the barn cat. As Jordie grew older, his tolerance for the elements seemed to wane, and with it, just like Tony before him, more time was spent in front of the wood burning stove than hazarding the outdoors.

While Jordie didn’t seek our attention often, when he did, he refused to accept rejection. He, more then any cat I’ve ever known, understood that if he stood in front of the computer monitor, attention would be given!

I can’t even begin to guess the number of times I walked into my wife’s study to find him curled up on her lap, purring away as she worked. It was not an uncommon sight to walk into the kitchen and see him draped on her shoulder as she made dinner. He would always look at me with his big yellow eyes as if to say “What? Isn’t this how cats are supposed to be carried around?” My wife loved every minute of it, and he knew it.

I often caught Jordie giving ‘kitty kisses’ as my wife called them, slow and subtle blinking of the eyes, which she always returned. I had no doubt that had she been required to chose between him and me, I did not stand a chance. But as he was a cool cat, I didn’t mind being my wife’s number two guy.

As with every one of her cats, my wife had her own special name for him - ‘Bunny Man.’ With no tail, big ears, and big hind legs, he was built like a rabbit, and like a rabbit, he could turn on the speed when he wanted to. I recall one day watching him tear across the field after some poor creature that caught his attention. He was a just a blur as he accelerated to Mach 5 and darted past me.

While Jorde was a fearless hunter outdoors, he was always personable and pleasant indoors – to humans, that is. He showed no mercy to puppies. Knowing all too well that within weeks they would be bigger than him, he never lost any time in imbedding in their DNA that he was ‘king cat,’ and never to be messed with.

Jordie was a cat of routine. After eating, he would find a quiet spot and put himself to bed, and if a quiet spot was not readily available, he would make one by climbing under the sheets of the guest bed and tunneling to the middle of the bed. The sight of a perfectly made bed with a large lump in the middle always brought a smile to my face, as did just about everything else Jordie did.

And so went his middle years. I often find myself thinking that when I die, I want to come back as one of my wife’s cats. Few cats ever had it as good as Jordie did, and few ever will.

Like any Manx, Jordie had issues associated with the genetic defect that had caused him to be born without a tail. While these issues occasionally caused a pause in his happy-go-lucky life, he always surmounted them and carried on.

For Jordie, the stage was set for a long and uneventful old age, the very thing all cats dream of. That dream retirement was shattered one fateful day when my wife walked into the house holding a kitten. I swear I could hear Jordie mutter under his breath: “There goes the neighborhood!”

Talk about receiving the short end of the deal. As Jordie had once taken to tormenting Tony, the new kitten Malcolm set his sights on tormenting Jordie. Wherever Jordie went, his new shadow followed. Now matter how much Jordie hissed, Malcolm failed to be impressed. Eventually, like Tony, Jordie accepted his fate as mentor and took Malcolm under his paw.

Like Jordie before him, Malcolm was allowed to become an inside/outside cat. At first, Malcolm kept close to Jordie and did as he did. However, as he gained self-confidence, Malcolm started to stick off on his own, much to the approval of Jordie.

With the property now securely under the control of his chosen successor, Jordie retired to long naps in the sun in the side yard. Even nearby birds no longer excited his interest. He had done his share of ‘birding;’ now it was Malcolm’s time. Malcolm would ‘check in’ with Jordie from time to time, and then return to his hunting. Jordie would acknowledge his presence and resume his naps.

In the evening, the two could never be found far apart. As Jordie grew older, they spent more and more time napping together, much like Jordie had done with Tony.

Jordie’s last day offered no glimpse into the events that would soon take place. A pause in winter weather brought unseasonably warm temperatures, and he and Malcolm headed for a day of hunting and sleeping. Jordie followed my wife around as she filled the bird feeders, all the while checking out all of his old haunts.

“Malcolm was hunting in the garden when he saw Jordie walking with me,” my wife told me that evening. “It was so cute - Malcolm ran up to Jordie as if to say hello. The two bumped heads and licked each other’s faces.”

That evening, as we prepared to eat dinner, I tapped my wife on the shoulder and pointed her to the couch, where Malcolm and Jordie were sleeping head-to-head as if newborn litter-mates. They were clearly friends.

I thought about taking a picture, but knowing that Jordie would run at the sound of the camera flash opening, I chose not to ruin the moment for them. “After all,” I thought, “I’ll have lots of opportunities to take photos of them.”

I was wrong.

That night, while everyone slept, Jordie suffered a stroke. He later died in my wife’s arms.

I’m not sure which was worse: suffering through the long and painful sicknesses of Miles and Squeak, or the sudden death of Jordie. As painful as Miles and Squeak’s deaths were, at least we had time to prepare for them and say our goodbyes. We never really had time to say a proper goodbye to Jordie. As I sit and write this, I’ll not deny wishing I had that opportunity.

As Jordie once grieved the passing of Tony, Malcolm clearly grieved the passing of Jordie, which made the day even sadder for us. While humans have the capacity to understand death and accept it as the fate that awaits us all, animals can only understand loss. While we know that Jordie will never return, Malcolm will never comprehend that fact.

Instead, Jordie will pass into Malcolm’s distant memory until one day, when he is old and gray, my wife will bring home a new kitten who will find tormenting Malcolm far too fun. Like Jordie, Malcolm will come to accept the new kitten and take him under his paw and tell him a story. I would like to think that story might begin with, “Back when I was your age, Jordie taught me everything that he learned when he was young from a cat named Tony, who learned from...”

Jordie & Malcolm

"Farewell, Master, Yet not farewell
Where I go, ye too shall dwell
I am gone, before your face,
A moment's time, a little space.
When ye come where I have stepped
Ye will wonder why ye wept."

Pastor Wade Martin: Do Pets Go to Heaven

Read other stories by Michael Hillman