I'm a firm believer in starting at the beginning. Especially when the end is so jarring and painful.
One day in early May, 2000, my wife called me at work while WRVA was still in our historic Church Hill studios. I'm in the break room when it is announced to me, "Can we have a kitty?".
I didn't like the idea one bit. One simple reason....I hated cats. They drove me nuts. I saw them serving no good purpose, other than scratching me.
But, for the sake of the kids (awww, good job Dad), I said yes.
So, I come home that night and meet this teeny, tiny little light-colored bundle of energy....who proceeded to jump on my lap and start clawing at my khaki pants. I wasn't happy. I was, though, resigned to living with a feline.
Time passed, and Katie Pickles, as she was named, grew.
Oh, the name. How did it arrive, you ask? Katie was offered by Robbie after Nana (my mama), and Rachel gave us pickles because she likes them and because of Rugrats.
So, Katie kept growing, became playful, and then....
....she finally just "had" to go outside.
She was an only cat, and it's only fair she would like to hang with her own. So, after a long time virtually always in the house, there she went.
She was mostly Himalayan, and partly Siamese. She had a mind of her own, and she either liked you alot, or disliked you alot. She would also tell you how she felt very, very quickly. :)
She became friends with Sylvester next door, with Rachel and Grim over at Aunt Sharon's across the street. She even like to hang out at James and Dawn's house next to Aunt Sharon, just 'cuz it was a cool place to hang.
Robbie---He was the caretaker. He made sure she got out to the box in the morning. He gave her lots and lots of affection.
Rachel---She was the motherly type. She watched out for her, played with her and loved her lots and lots and lots.
Mom---Katie Pickles drove her nuts. Constantly feeding, changing the litter box, cleaning up her, ah, messes (for lack of a grosser term) on the carpet, gave her baths (she hated baths)----and most of all----Katie loved to sleep in our bed, but only on Mom's comforter. Drove Mom nuts. Mom should realize she had the preferred phermones!
Dad---Yes, eventually, the dislike became tolerance, then co-inhabitant, then we liked each other, and then, well, we bonded like you wouldn't believe. I'm sick in bed and can't get out? Katie comes and sleeps with me at the foot of my bed to make sure I'm not lonely and that I'd be okay. When I pulled in the driveway, I would many times say "dumb cat" to myself while waiting for her to get out of the way so I could park. She greeted me every night.
Last Saturday, Robbie and Rachel went to Grandma Norma's for the holiday weekend. When Bonnie and I returned home Saturday night, Katie Pickles met us, and had that "where are the kids" look on her face. She came in with us briefly, then, when I went to take out the trash, she went out, too.
She would never come back in again.
Mom did her nightly call before bedtime, but Katie, as many other nights beforehand, opted for an overnight in the great outdoors. Nothing unusual. For sure, the first thing that would happen in the morning would be her running to the door to come in and eat breakfast.
Mom and I finish getting ready for church; we get to the van and back up into the road for the normal Sunday morning trip to church.
As I put the van into drive, I notice something at the end of the road and thought, "oh, we got some roadkill today". Thankfully, before I could get the "oh" out, it became dreadfully apparent that we were looking at our worst nightmare.
I said, "Oh, no."
I'll never forget Bonnie's quote as she immediately began to cry: "No, No, not my Katie Pickles!!".
I pulled over to the side of the road, got out and went to see, and when I got there, it was confirmed. Katie had been hit, and she was gone.
I turned around to Bonnie back at the van (she couldn't approach Katie) and I sadly nodded my head. She asked me to go get Uncle Brian and Aunt Sharon across the street, so I put the van in reverse and go 1/2 block to their house.
Brian and Sharon, followed by Sarah (18 year old and lover of animals) came quickly. Sharon and I looked over her, and Sharon was kind enough to take off her collar. Brian then took over and got her out of the turn-area where she was, and we started looking for a box to carry her back to the house.
We found one, and Brian took care of it. He had to run home to get the post-hole digger for a shocking, unexpected burial. So, I picked up the box, and carried my baby girl into the backyard onto the picnic table next to her future resting place.
By now, Seth, Robbie and Rachel's cousin, had arrived, too, so the whole Hornberger family had lovingly come to the rescue.
It also needs to be noted, that while Brian was beginning the process at the intersection, a neighbor from just down the street, walking her dog, stopped at the sight of the event, and immediately consoled both Bonnie and myself. I was leaning against the Stop sign, crying, and her words were very appreciated. I don't even know her name, but God sure used her at that dreadful moment in our life.
Uncle Brian finished the work, and carefully placed Katie into the ground. By now, we're on our second box of tissues. All the while, I'm thinking, "I've got to go preach and serve Communion." But that was my second thought.....
My first thought was, "Oh God...Robbie and Rachel".
Once the work in the backyard was done (she was laid to rest in the same corner area as Robbie's hamster, Neko, from several years back), Sarah and Sharon took care of Bonnie (I would not let her go to church in her condition); Brian and Seth headed home, and I headed for Prince George.
I cried almost the entire way down there, but hardest when I got to the stop sign, looked down, and saw where she died. I bawled. I couldn't believe it.
We made it through church, got home, and took Bonnie out to Olive Garden (by the way, this all happened on Bonnie's birthday....)
Then we went to PetSmart for a memorial stone and found one. We checked on the grave and watered it down for the night, then came in and cried some more.
Monday, Bonnie ran the errands to get the rest of the necessities for the memorial, and I went to work on the holiday to make sure I could leave early, because I absolutely HAD to be home Tuesday afternoon when the kids returned from Grandma's.
We also absolutely refused to break the news to the kids during their holiday weekend w/Grandma. They went to a fair, cooked out, saw fireworks, and had a great time. They would need it, and we refused to ruin it.
Around 4:30 yesterday, I hear Rachel in the yard. I had waited on the porch about 30 minutes for them, then went in a few minutes to cool off. In those few minutes, they arrived. I sat at the kitchen table where I should have seen them pull up.
The first words I heard from Rachel were, "Katie! Katie! Katie!"
The kids came in with their three weeks' worth of suitcases and backpacks, and Robbie asked as he got settled, "Where's Katie Pickles, Mom?"
It was time.
I called the kids to the great room and they sat on either side of me. I began to cry as I explained to them I had to give them some news and it was very hard for me to do so. Then I broke it.
At the exact same moment, both Robbie and Rachel welled up; Rachel headed for Mom's arms, and Robbie to mine. And we all cried. Alot.
After talking awhile and trying to grasp the reality, we went outside to the grave. The kids placed the memorial stone on top of the grave, and I gave a brief funeral.
The rest of the evening was spent watching two DVD's with the kids as they tried their best to hang in there. Then, they grabbed their pillows and blankets, and Robbie piled on the floor next to my side of the bed, and Rachel on the floor next to Mom. We prayed and they cried themselves to sleep.
And thus ended easily one of the hardest days of my life.
In some ways (and some of you might think this almost sacreligious), it was harder to break the news about Katie Pickles than it was breaking the news to the kids that my mama (Nana) had passed.
We had known since September 2002 that Mama's time was short. Robbie and I had already had a good cry over it (she worshipped Robbie and vice versa). I figured six months. She lasted 3 1/2. She spent the last 9 days at Henrico Doctors Hospital.
So, when I told them, there was no surprise. Much sadness, and a long period of grieving (each done their own way), but no jolt.
Yesterday was a bolt of lightning.
No one saw this coming. They left Saturday fully expecting to see Katie Tuesday. I got up Sunday morning to go to church and come back to watch Katie outside lying around in the hot day (why she liked to do that, I'll never know). Neither happened.
We were stunned. I can't say the possibility of this had never crossed my mind since she started living alot outside. But I sure didn't expect it.
I know she went quickly, examining her at the scene. No sense going into details, but I will say her body was in impeccable shape. She was about as beautiful as always, except she was gone.
How it happened? I suspect near dawn, either on the main road, or, more likely, as someone pulled out of our street into the main road (as she wasn't on the main road, but in the turning area). No use wasting alot of time figuring it out in the long run.
So, we grieve. We mourn. The kids took it very hard. So did Bonnie and I. In fact, we both shocked ourselves at how hard we took it.
So, in retrospect, I absolutely could not believe how much I loved that "dumb cat". And I can't believe how much I miss her.
I think it'll be many days before I pull into the driveway at night and not cry because she's not there to greet me.
Katie Pickles Witham. Also known as "Katie", "Katie P", "KP", and "Miss Pickles".
The best cat who ever lived. Period.
Can't wait to see her again. And I will. :)