This is another entry in my series “Attachments” about the things with which we develop attachments because they have something, however distantly connected, with the loss of one of our animal companions.
It was as if it had been there all along, but for all the times I’d walked there in the previous years I hadn’t seen it. And maybe it had actually been there, this odd plastic object, drifted with layers of maple and tulip poplar leaves as big as plates, twined over with ivy, blanketed with snow, but the loss of it had never left my memory, and still left a painful spot on my heart.
Though its “harvest gold” color blended with the crushed and faded leaves of early spring, the shape caught my eye, roughly rectangular in that puzzle of earth-toned bits and pieces, a curved band of white on one edge. I believe my subconscious memory knew what it was at once and caused me to focus, step forward and fully recognize it with an odd mix of relief and bittersweet sadness.
I leaned down and gently picked it up, my heart full as tears brimmed in my eyes. I turned it to look inside, and gently gave the little metal handle a spin. Yes, it really was just the top portion of my old nut grinder, with neither the little glass jar that had been attached nor the plastic lid. Funny how such a thing could be so missed, and so full of memories, but our nature is to form attachments to all sorts of things that touch moments, good or bad, which we aren’t ready to let go of just yet, and I have a stash of things on that order.
Though Mimi had led me once again through the magic portal to the neighbor’s yard, it was Cookie I saw when I looked down, her speckled tortie fur on that rounded little body, the bands of black and orange on her tail, the straight line between black and orange fur that started on her upper lip and went right up over the top of her head to her shoulder blades.
I was so happy to have the nut grinder back. It wasn’t all the oatmeal and cookies I’d made over the years, nor apple crisps in warm winter kitchens supervised by my evolving households of cats, always including Cookie. It was the mornings Cookie and I had shared in her last months, when we knew her time was brief and made certain to go outside for even just a few minutes each day regardless of the weather because it helped her feel better, made the day feel more normal. I always filled the bird feeders and bird water bowl, watered plants in summer and swept snow in winter. Cookie enjoyed her little bit of outdoors to explore the deck as I did my work, ambling down the steps to wander in the little woodland garden she loved best, and always where I could see her.
That autumn I had purchased for next to nothing a large bag of mixed nuts to feed the birds, but the Brazil nuts and almonds, though broken, were too big for small birds to carry off, and larger birds and the squirrels had the pieces cleared away in just minutes on some mornings. I had started using an old cutting board and an old knife to chop the nuts into smaller pieces and left it conveniently on a table, until one day both knife and board were gone. I found them off the side of the deck, undoubtedly the work of one of our busy squirrels. I put them back where they had been, and a few days later they were gone again. I carried them inside and decided to just use my nut grinder each morning, making a mental note to buy one for this purpose if I saw one at a thrift shop, whence my harvest gold treasure had been found.
So each morning I would take the nut grinder out of the cabinet, open the door and let Cookie step down onto the deck before I did, then get started with my morning things. Tossing a handful of nuts into the grinder, turning the little handle back and forth against the soft walnuts and pecans and harder hazelnuts and almonds, I watched Cookie, intent on her morning sojourn, wading through the last of the autumn leaves, her speckled fur speckled more with morning sunshine, following her travels through frosty grass to the picnic table, or returning up the steps covered with a haze of flurries on the tips of her fur and looking very pleased with herself, happily raising her tail as our eyes met and she walked toward me.
As the months passed from October through to January, Cookie had some bad days where I carried her outdoors and set her on the deck, and then we just sat and looked at the morning. We were trying to keep a recent onset of renal failure and hyperthyroidism under control as long as possible. Cookie was 20 and even though I treasured and adored all my other cats Cookie was my best friend in the world. A little boy brought her to me because he could not keep her in December 1992, and though she began as a foster, months, years passed that she wasn’t adopted and she joined the family. She was devoted to me from the beginning regardless of her status. Each day now, I prepared myself for what would come, as I’m sure Cookie did as well.
One morning in January I left the nut grinder on the table outside. No particular reason that I remember, just forgot to bring it back in. The next morning I couldn’t find it in the cabinet, and when we went outside it wasn’t there. I looked where I’d found the knife and cutting board, and not finding it I searched in widening circles around the deck, under the deck, in the yard, with Cookie following me. I was unreasonably angry at the squirrels for this, but for the few moments of normalcy Cookie and I could share each day it simply felt unfair; I didn’t want anything to get in our way in the time we had left to spend together. I could probably run around to a half dozen thrift shops and find another but time and cash were slim with Cookie’s care and everyday work and I knew that was unlikely. I carried the knife and cutting board back outside each day, and frequently enough went stomping around the yard looking for the nut grinder as I’d often found other things the thieving squirrels had carried off to their nests in the trees. I couldn’t get angry at how unfair it was that Cookie was failing and would soon leave me, but I could get really mad at the squirrels and feel justified.
More and more often Cookie needed an extra hand to steady her, and just a few weeks later I sat at the top of the steps where we had sat together, where I had seen her standing and sitting waiting for me to follow her out to the yard, or returning from one of her excursions, holding her in my arms on our last morning together.
I avoided the deck and back yard for a month or so, and then Kelly began visiting with me until she passed as well in August. The following spring I avoided the whole issue until one day I carried Mimi outside with me, and the long line of morning back yard visits has continued.
But I never quit looking for that nut grinder, and I never let go of the pain associated with it. I remembered it most days when I went outside, and whenever I felt that pang of sadness I went digging through my plantings and all the shrubs and growth along the squirrels’ trail through the trees, always believing some day I’d find it under a pile of leaves or something, and I didn’t really care how unreasonable it seemed. I did eventually purchase another for use in the kitchen, but it just wasn’t as good as the old one, and of course it had no connection to Cookie.
Until this past April, 2016. In the years since Cookie died trees fell in the neighbors’ yards and branches as well, flattening their sections of the old wire fence, and in an ice storm the old mulberry began to slowly recline until in the wet soil of the spring thaw it finally leaned onto one of its branches as if it was an elbow, and flattened the fence between my yard and the neighbor’s for good in 2014.
Mimi quickly discovered the magic portal between the tall old maple with the branching roots like giant’s toes and the slightly angled bole of the tulip poplar that led from our shady yard to the neighbor’s sunny one, and walked through whenever she had a chance. So it was in April this year that I followed Mimi between the trees on another adventure and once there noticed the odd shape resting on a bed of dry leaves in the spring sunshine as if it had been there all along, the familiar color, a little faded from years of being part of one of the squirrels’ nests high up in the maple tree, but still full of memories.
And I’ll always wonder, with all the other wisdom and knowledge Cookie passed on to Mimi, if she let Mimi know it was time for me to find the nut grinder, and let go of that sadness.
My series “Attachments” discusses the things I’ve developed attachments to because they have something, however distantly connected, with the loss of one of my cats. They may seem silly and hard to explain and we often try to deny or hide them, but they are indeed attached to something we hold dear. They have a role in our life, but in time we should be able to recognize their role, and let go of what they represent. I write about my own experience and how they were resolved for me to encourage others to consider their attachments and what role they play.
Read more Essays on The Creative Cat.
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