I started this post over Thanksgiving weekend, really wanting to have it published for Thanksgiving day, and honestly, meaning to have written it months ago. But it is one of those pieces of writing that I have spent too much time thinking about and therefore get a bit hung up on. But here it goes anyway.
I must not let the occasion of Thanksgiving pass without a pause to count at least a few of my blessings here for posterity. There are the obvious: wonderful husband, four healthy and amazing children, supportive and loving family (and living in the same state as them for the first time in ten years!), a big, beautiful house of our very own, and a free country to live in. This year I am also especially grateful for the odd combination of circumstances that allowed D to be home for almost all of Matthew's first five months - when he was born it looked like Don was going to be far far away for the first half of 2016 and by the grace of God things kept changing and he ended up being home more consecutive nights than ever before in our CG career. I'm still feeling thankful for that.
What I really want to write about in the spirit of thanksgiving is a story from this summer, one that I kept wanting to share here but never found the time to write. It is a kitty story. Ready?
I would like to suggest that the most complicated part of moving across country both directions was deciding how to move our two cats. On our way west two years ago we made the decision to leave our third cat (a recent addition) behind with my parents. That cat has thanked his lucky stars ever since and my parents just love him. Our other two cats, Ollie and Humphrey, traveled west with us as carry-ons, "in-cabin pets" - a maneuver made possible only because my brother was able to fly with the kids and I and helped manage two freaked-out cats. That was quite a story in its own right. This summer's move, two years later, we also decided that flying with the cats in-cabin would be the least stressful on them and most practical option for cost and time. Don was flying with us this time, since we came out together to close on the house.
Both cats barely tolerated the upheaval of our household goods getting boxed up by a bunch of strangers. They knew what was coming as the house emptied. On the day we left, I shoved two very reluctant travelers into their airline-approved carriers, said a prayer, and crammed them into our very full rental car.
At the airport (a regional airport, only a few miles from the house), we unloaded our 8 checked bags, car seats, feline travelers, and children, and thought we were managing fairly well by the time we got to security. Then the frumpy TSA agent announced that we would need to remove the cats from their carriers to send the bags through the x-ray. I laughed, and argued, but ultimately we complied, and my dear husband carried a squirming Ollie successfully through the checkpoint and redeposited him in his bag safely on the other side.
Then it was Humphrey's turn.
Humphrey has always been the more skittish cat, and a bustling airport was pretty much his personal idea of kitty hell. As we tried desperately to get a panicking cat back into his tiny carrier his back claws found Don's forearm and he flew out of the hands that were trying so hard to hold him. He flew up the window, he flew down the escalator (I doubt his paws even touched one step). He flew out the open door to the tarmac.
A blurry few moments follow: Dear husband dashes off in stocking feet to attempt retrieval. Yours truly shakily reassembles laptops, lunches, shoes and children and waits an ungodly amount of time for an agent to bring the damn elevator key so we can get the stroller to the departure level. Kids are frightened and worried. Husband returns empty-handed.
At this point I have more curse words than I thought I knew flying through my head but I'm calm on the outside, and oddly relieved that I won't have to worry about a freaked-out cat having a major coronary episode mid-flight. What else can we do? All security agents are guiltily searching and calling everywhere outside the airport. The plane is leaving; we have no choice but to get on. We leave our empty carrier and contact info with another TSA agent, a kind lady who assures us that she, too, is a cat lover and will find Humphrey and keep him safe and "send" him out to us. Even the pilot tries to make calls on our behalf, once we get to San Francisco.
The remainder of our travel was as uneventful as a delayed connection and red-eye flight with four children and one cat can be. A limo picked us and all our stuff up at 3 a.m. in New York and we made it safely to my parents' house by dawn. We tell the story but it all seems a little unreal. Again, what can we really do?
The next two weeks were filled with the details of jet lag and home buying and a sick baby. In between all that I reached out to a few people back in Oregon, feeling strongly that the runaway cat story wasn't over yet. It all seemed like a long-shot but surprisingly word of our airport runaway spread in the local community (we joked that we were just a few facebook shares away from ending up on the evening news). My good friend ("S") stopped by our old house everyday to see if Humphrey made it back there. Neighbors sent pictures, thinking they had found him (turned out to be a look-alike stray). After two weeks I woke up to a message with a picture of OUR cat and I could hardly believe it. Our friendly TSA agent ("K") had been contacted by a man living near the airport who fed the local strays and had recognized Humphrey from the picture that had been posted around. K spent her Saturday setting a live-trap for Humphrey and succeeded in catching him and getting him safely to her own house. We were amazed and thankful, to say the least!
But the thankfulness doesn't end there. I am eternally grateful to my friend S who eagerly agreed to foster poor Humphrey for the next five-plus weeks. Don had to return to the west coast shortly after our house closing to properly finish his tour. He was staying with the ship, in California no less, until he and his dad made the cross-country drive with our second car.
Humphrey was cared for lovingly by S and her family. After D was finished with his job with the ship in CA he drove back north 9 hours to pick up one crazy cat, and he and his dad made best speed across the big wide country, arriving in CT six days later, and seven weeks after Humphrey's airport escape, at the very end of July.
Humphrey was healthy but skinny and definitely had some kitty PTSD. He was hostile toward Ollie and even more skittish than usual. But we were pleased and relieved to see that melt away in the first few weeks he was home and he was quickly back to his usual self.
He is still a cat that prefers one-on-one time and tends to avoid the bustle of the day around here, but in the evening he is always affectionate and likes to hang out in the bathroom with me while I shower so he can tell me a few things. I thought of writing this story in connection with Thanksgiving because this silly orange is my daily reminder to be thankful - thankful that friends and strangers cared so much about one little cat and our family and went out of their way to reunite him with us. It is often the smallest things that really are the biggest things.
I'm sure there are details I'm leaving out, but I don't want to let any more time go by without telling this whole story and using it as a chance to say Thank You again to everyone who helped and prayed for our kitty. And I hope this tale can be a reminder that very real miracles absolutely do happen!
Thanks for listening, back soon (I hope) with updates on a newly-minted three-year-old and other tales of early December.