"Oh Mommy, can we keep him? He can be our Valentine!"
I thought to myself, this kitten is only going to be here temporarily.
Tom stayed "temporarily" for 15 years. He thought of himself as a special member of the family, and he turned out to be just that.
The boys constantly invented new ways to tease and aggravate Tom including paper boots, cardboard boxes with little peep holes, and endless hours with long strings of yarn.
Needless to say, their teasing made quite a fighter out of Old Tom. He held his own anywhere. He daily liked to chase the neighboring dogs out of his territory.
Emmitt thought Tom must be a great fighter but neither he nor the boys admitted how much they liked him. Deep down I felt that way too. Tom was here to stay.
One by one, the boys grew up and left home. By the time our last son left our hearts were heavy but we still had Old Tom.
After doing so independent all those years he now became loving with Emmitt and me. Tom sensed our loneliness and any time we sat down he came running to our laps for an extra measure of purring, rubbing and loving.
Tom lost an ear in some kind of fight with another animal and it didn't heal. Back to the vet we went. I remembered how we had to handle Tom on the vet's cold steel table. I had always dreaded visits to the vet…the fighting, meowing, and scratching of a frightened cat drained me emotionally.
Yet, as I held Tom in my arms that day, I could hear his purring and feel his constant rubbing against my arm. When I put him down on the table and let go, he became the tiger again. As long as he felt the touch of my hand, he remained calm and serene.
He knew the touch of his master's hand. I thought I need to touch my Master's hand, too.
Several days later, we brought Tom home. Now he had one ear. Tom was so glad to get home he ran in before Emmitt caught the storm door and it broke his tail.
As freaky as Tom looked minus an ear and a crooked tail he was still the same loving animal to us and that love kept touching our hearts. They say cats are selfish and are "one person" animals, but Tom didn't know that.
Tom's 15 years and "nine lives" began to slow down. He grew weaker and feebler each day but his love and devotion for us grew stronger.
One morning Emmitt hurried to feed Tom in the laundry room. Tom was gasping for breath. Just before he died Tom tried to rub his head against Emmitt's arm. It was his last "I love you" goodbye.
The scene from my kitchen window is frozen in my heart of memories. Emmitt leaned against the shovel by Tom's grave. I could tell he was remembering the shrieks of laughter as three lively boys ran after a scrawny little white kitten and yes, I think Emmitt was praying, too.
I think he was thanking God for all creatures.
Little Tom came to our house on Valentine's Day bringing laughter. He left leaving a lot more than a Valentine.
He left life leaving love and memories.
Portales resident Joan Clayton is a retired teacher and published author. Her e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org