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(the photos below and more are in a gallery of Oscar photos)
I first met Oscar at a party given by Mary Crinnin. I was playing guitar, and he came up and sat next to me all while I was playing. That was my first introduction to him, and that’s how he was throughout his life: he loved people and he loved music.
Oscar had been passed on through four or five classes of massage school students, each of which found him a new home when they finished their studies and moved out. When Mary moved, Oscar went to stay with Melissa Foree, Mary’s ex-partner. Then Melissa went away for the summer of 1998, and asked Katherine and me if we’d take him while she was gone. We remembered him well from Mary and Melissa’s parties, and said sure.
Melissa had other cats who didn’t get along with Oscar so well, so when she returned and heard that he’d had a good time with us, she asked if we’d want to keep him. By that time we had both independently decided that if it were to come up, we’d love to - he was so affectionate, gregarious, and gentle, we felt honored. So he stayed.
Oscar was born with several extra toes: his back paws had six toes each, and his front paws had extra growths on the sides with three additional toes. They looked like thumbs to me, and worked like them too; he could grab a toy with one paw. When he walked, his extra paw-lets looked like high heels to Katherine, and their claws click-clacked on hard floors like high heels too. When he sat, he looked like he was wearing mittens.
Oscar had a reflex that I’ve heard is useful for mother cats to teach their kittens to nurse: if you scratched along his spine, he’d lick whatever you put in front of him. This was a fun parlor trick. He also had a taste for moving water - he’d lurk in the sink until someone came along to start the water for him so he could drink from it. But then he’d get offended when he got wet. So eventually we made him a fountain all his own.
Oscar liked to explore the neighborhood and especially to meet people. At both our house on Cayuga Street, and later when we moved to Linn Street, he loved to lie on the sidewalk where people would come by and pet him. We hung a red reflector on his collar for night safety, and we’d often hear from neighbors about the friendly cat with the red necklace and the loud purr.
And his purr was legendary. If you were talking on the phone while Oscar was in your lap (and he would always come find your lap when it was available), the person on the other end of the line often wondered what the rhythmic rumbling sound was. Even in his later years, when he was ill and tired and his purr was quieter, people would still comment
Oscar outlived his buddy Henry, and made it through our move in 2008, but soon thereafter was diagnosed with a thyroid problem. It slowed him down a lot, but a daily pill kept him going for several more months.
Oscar’s main pleasures at the end of his life were his morning treats (with the “crunchy candy center” as I told him - the thyroid pill), getting up on my lap during meals (by this time he needed help), climbing under the covers next to me at bedtime, and sitting outside for the “morning parade” of kids and parents on their way to Fall Creek Elementary School, during which he got lots of petting (and scared many a dog somehow with his calm stare). He seemed to sleep the rest of the time.
This morning, while we were away visiting family for Thanksgiving, our young neighbor, Zoë, who was very sweetly looking after Oscar, found him lying on our kitchen floor. I wish we could have spared Zoë that shock, and I wish we could have been with Oscar when his disease finally caught up with him.
I will always remember Oscar’s grace and amiable gravitas, his sociability and tolerance of even babies and (eventually) kittens, and most of all his contented squinting and rumbling purr while I held him and stroked his face. He was one of those animals who seem to have something deep and direct to say to us, and who do not need words to say it. I have often joked that he was my role model, but I feel, particularly now, that that statement is lighthearted but true.
Thank you, Oscar. We were honored.