If her knees aren’t getting dirty, she’s not really gardening

Sydney Craft Rozen, Impetuous Gardener

Tessa the Vague, our 21-year-old calico cat, passed away on the day that the roses in our garden showed their first blooms. The eldest of our three cats, Tess, died peacefully at home with my husband, Lee, and me. She was a gentle, misty presence, usually overshadowed by our black and white longhair, Abigail, who died last year at age 19, and the irrepressible Benjamin BadKitten.

I added “the Vague” to her name only a few days after we adopted her as a kitten. Her blank green eyes affirmed the truth in Gertrude Stein’s observation: “There is no ‘there’ there.”

Tess wandered through life in a perpetual daze, with the cat box and food bowl as her compass points. As she grew older and more frail, Abby and the BadKitten displayed rare sensitivity by deferring to her at the breakfast bowl every morning.

For years Tessa tolerated two large, high-energy dogs — Kaylee, our golden retriever, and Rags, our Old English sheepdog — with a degree of calm that only an accepting nature can sustain.

She hit her cerebral high point as the first of our feline three stooges to figure out the complex operation of their new cat door: One flap. Walk through it to go out. Reverse direction to come back inside.

For several days after Lee installed the door, Abby and BBK approached the contraption, sniffed the plastic flap, and literally turned tail. Tessa, though, sailed right through the flap and out into the universe.

She needed a week to learn the route from our front driveway and around the house to the backyard patio. From there, our girl became a space traveler, streaking across the grass, over to the side yard, and all the way to the neighbors’ fence, where the universe obviously ended.

She seemed to schedule her interplanetary journeys while I was gardening nearby. I would pause from my weeding as she raced past, and watch her skid to the fence. Then she would turn slowly and stand motionless, with the sweet, vacant stare that was quintessentially Tessa.

When she finally noticed me coming toward her, she would blink in surprise, as if we were meeting for the first time. I would pick her up and praise her for her bold spirit, and then carry her back to the house. One trip to Mars was enough for the day.

In her 21st year, Tessa discovered that one of her people sat in a big chair in the living room every night. She and Lee settled into a routine, with Lee holding her high on his lap while she purred, and he tilting his book so he could try to read while he held her. When he saw that Tess was rapidly losing weight, he changed their custom, setting down his book and simply petting her.

In her final weeks, Tessa joined me every night for her favorite snack, a low-salt potato chip, which I crumbled into small pieces so she could chew easily. Near the end, though, she had no appetite for anything.

We kept her warm and safe, and were thankful that her death defied the message of Dylan Thomas’s poem. Instead, she went “gentle into that good night.”

We laid her to rest in a garden bed in our side yard, the last frontier of Tessa the Vague, space explorer.

Sydney Craft Rozen and Benjamin BadKitten remember Tessa, sleeping on a green towel in a cozy space in the living room. Email the writer at scraftroze@aol.com.

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