i cleaned the cat for thanksgiving


With 20 relatives coming for the holiday, the house suddenly seemed all wrong, especially the faux maple leaves I bought at Bed, Bath and Beyond to decorate the table because I thought it needed to scream autumn harvest. FOOD! FUN! FESTIVE!

My confidence wavering, I decided to put the blame on the first victim I found.  

The cat.

If only his tongue and fur -- like the guests coming to dinner -- were forever connected. If only he would wash himself, I decided, the rest of the holiday would take care of itself.

The mushroom hazelnut stuffing would be moist, the cream cheese mashed potatoes would be sinful, the caramelized Brussels’ sprouts with red onions would actually get eaten, and my husband’s family and mine would avoid testy topics: the election, global warming, the Petraeus scandal, health care, the fiscal cliff, big business, genetically modified food, and the appropriateness of eating Chinese eggrolls and Japanese sushi for American appetizers. Did the pilgrims eat that?   

But the 17-year-old feline Yoda, somehow both oily as salmon and dry and wrinkly as his namesake, the wizened Jedi from Star Wars, washes no more. In his backward language, the Jedi might advise: Wash not cat. Wash not turkey. Reinvent Mayflower no. Too much work Thanksgiving is.   

Where’s a Jedi master when you need him?

After cleaning the cabinets, the refrigerator, the furniture, the rugs, the floors, the wine glasses, and my mother’s old silver, I bought a new coffeepot, casserole dishes, tablecloth, ice bucket, sofa pillows, and sheets and blankets for the guests who will stay the weekend. I found new family photos to put in old frames, rearranged the plants, artwork and living room -- and unfortunately without the benefit of Jedi wisdom -- I turned my attention to the cat.

Especially after the dishwasher broke. Panicked, I fixed my steely eyes on Yoda.

Was it true he’d never had a bath? He was old, his back legs barely worked, his fur flaked off if you blew on him, and he stumbled around between sleeping 23 hours a day and drinking a vat of water for his aging kidneys. Why did it suddenly seem he was the problem?

If the cat stayed for Thanksgiving, I pronounced, the cat would be clean.

As with any hostage, this fated feline knew his days were numbered. When my husband and I began whispering in the kitchen, he laser-ed a cold, green stare, bared his still sharp teeth, ejected his still sharp claws, then turned on his sagging gray tabby legs and careened across the tile floor in search of cover.

The Jedi might say: Cat leave. Basement you run.  Bad time coming it is. Hide you must.

The plan went this way: We would lure him to the upstairs bathroom with a handful of his beloved Quaker Rice Puffs, slowly caress him, lovingly drip soap on his fragile body, then aggressively pour buckets of water on the drowned rat until he completely flipped out.

We dressed in riot gear -- a cross between the pilgrim women with barely a bodily hair showing, and Darth Vader, the Jedi foe, with no face showing at all. We put on bubble wrap, rain jackets, ski pants, face masks, gloves.  I took out the hydrogen peroxide, antibiotic ointment, Band-Aids, valium, defibrillator, and Hoover wet/ dry vac. The last time I washed a cat, long before Yoda, it was a fight that ended with all of us pressed against the walls, all of us equally soaked, all of us with hair standing on end, little droplets of blood everywhere.

Let’s just say this holiday tale ended better. I learned washing an old cat is sort of like a big family dinner. At first, there’s a lot of nervousness and excitement, but eventually everybody calms down and accepts who they can’t sit next to, what favorite foods are missing, and who they wish they could punch. Yoda accepted his fate for a good five minutes and when we freed him from the porcelain tub, he made a swift retreat to his special corner, rolled up in a ball, and tried to recover from his Thanksgiving ordeal. He even, shockingly, licked his imagined wounds.

Come to think of it, that’s what a lot of people do when the long holiday weekend is over. 

November 16, 2012  

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