(As a side note, the photo was taken a couple of months ago when my aunt ran a half marathon (13.1 miles) at 67 years old. Isn't that cool!?)
Here's Janet's story ...
At first I thought she liked catching mice in their barn. But many of our neighbors had barns. Mom would call, saying the same words I’d heard many times before.
“Tickles is here again.”
Maybe it wasn’t such a big deal. Stopping by Mom and Dad’s to help them was a daily ritual for me. I only grew concerned when I realized Tickles was expecting. I hoped she wouldn’t have her kittens at Mom’s. What if she gave birth somewhere along the way?
As it turned out, Tickles delivered her babies at home in a warm, cozy box. She was a good momma. But six weeks later she was ready to go back. This time, five little fur balls followed close behind.
“Tickles brought her kitties over again,” Mom said when I called to check in. Now instead of bringing Tickles home, I hauled five kittens back as well.
Eventually, her kitties grew tired of making the trip. Like rebellious teenagers they ignored their momma’s wishes. That didn’t stop Tickles. Her babies didn’t need her, so off to Mom’s she went. In time, all that walking started making her thin. Mom felt sorry for her.
“I think I should feed her,” she said one day. “She keeps meowing at the back door.” Mom’s handouts only encouraged her to visit more often. When the temperatures dropped, Mom brought Tickles inside the house. That’s when I lost my cat.
“Next time I come over I’ll bring some cat food,” I told Mom one morning as I cleared her breakfast dishes.
Mom waved her wrinkled hand. “Oh that’s okay,” she said. “She’s not your cat anymore.”
To be honest, I really didn’t mind. With Dad’s physical limitations and Mom’s forgetfulness, Tickles was a simple way to brighten their day. I didn’t know what the future held for my parents, but I knew one thing. They both loved that cat.
One afternoon I dropped by and the house was quiet. I tiptoed to the living room. When I reached the doorway I stopped for a moment, reflecting on the peaceful scene in front of me. As the sunlight streamed through the large picture window, Dad snored softly in his favorite recliner. Mom rested on the couch, her knees tucked slightly as Tickles nestled close beside her.
Well that explains it, I thought. I always knew God provided comfort in many different ways. Why not with a cat? Clearly my parents needed this kitty more than I did.
Mom sat on her bed, watching me sort through her clothes. Tickles wandered into the room and rubbed against her leg. Mom looked up.
“Well if I go away, what about the cat?”
Knowing this question would come, I took a deep breath. “It’s too bad you can’t take her with you, but the nursing home doesn’t allow pets. Tickles can visit, but she can’t go with you.” I kept my tone cheerful, as if talking to a toddler. “It’s okay,” I said. “I can take her. I’ll take care of Tickles.”
Mom looked down at the floor, collecting her thoughts. “Okay,” she said. “But don’t let her outside. She’ll think she needs to come home.”
I couldn’t believe the sudden shift in their relationship. Before the surgery, Tickles wanted nothing to do with Ed. After the surgery, she jumped off my lap to go sit with him. While Ed recuperated, Tickles stayed by his side.
A couple of years after my parents went into the nursing home, Mom’s dementia progressed to the point that she could no longer speak. She rarely smiled. Most family members were strangers to her. She was in her own little world, and with every visit it became more difficult to reach her.
One day while at the nursing home I noticed a picture of Tickles on Mom’s bedside table. It had been a while since I’d brought her in. I held the picture out to Mom.
“Do you remember her, Mom? Do you remember Tickles?” Mom's eyes narrowed as she stared at the photo. Suddenly, she smiled. Not just a little twitch on the corners of her mouth, but a wide, beautiful smile. She took the photo in her own shaky hands and stared at it for a moment.
Something was stuck to the front of the picture. Mom picked at it, distracted. I took the photo, cleaned it off and handed it back. She smiled again, as if seeing it for the first time.
“Mom, do you want me to bring Tickles over to see you?” I detected a slight, but undeniable nod. Now I was smiling. With a little help from Tickles, I had reached my mom.
I believe God uses animals to touch people. And Tickles certainly has touched those around her. Somehow she always knew who needed love and attention. Not only did she offer comfort and companionship, but she also had a knack for making difficult days a little bit brighter.
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