First came this at an early age: The Life and Times of Archie and Mehitabel, Don Marquis .
After the literary Mehitabel, the first namesake to enter my life was in 1967. She was a stray, moved in ahead of a hurricane reputed to be headed for Houston. My new wife and I took her in because she was hungry, pregnant, and a violent storm might be coming.
She was near to giving birth and decided my sock drawer was the best option, refused to be dissuaded. So I built her a cat house behind the apartment. She didn’t stay around long after the kittens died, evidently because of drinking her milk.
Mehitabel #2 was a bob-tailed calico. Amazing cat, a loyal companion for 17 years. I once watched her in horror and awe as she mauled a full grown German Shepherd and similarly sized mutt, though they intended it to be the other way around, then found themselves surrounded, blocked repeatedly in their attempts to escape by a feline seemed to prefer two at a time.
I could spend pages telling Mehitabel #2 stories, but I won’t, except to say she was the mother of Hydrox #1, Hydrox #2, Xerox #s 1 and 2, and The Great Rumpus Cat #1. I always figured she was reincarnated from Mehitabel #1.
Over the years I always kept the cat population contained in a set of names lying in wait for a cat to fit in them, Mehitabel, Hydrox, Xerox and The Great Rumpus Cat being the primary ones. The method always worked well for me, but cats needed to fit particular qualifications to seize a particular name. Hydrox and Xerox were always jellicle cats. Mehitabel had to qualify by meeting other standards, generally following the Don Marquis model.
Mehitabel #3 came in around 1996, me fresh out of cats, her being a pregnant bookstore cat in Socorro, New Mexico. When Mehitabel #3 emerged from sleep and demanded I pick her up I asked the lady-owner, “She’s close. When these kittens are weaned could I have one?”
“You can have HER.”
“I don’t want half-a-dozen cats.”
“I know. As soon as the kittens are weaned you can have her.”
The enthusiasm and insistence of the lady told me I had the right cat. Mehitabel and I hit it off beautifully. But I was on the road a lot, and despite the cat door she was able to use to go in and out, I sensed Mehitabel was lonely.
Mel, a good friend, had a pregnant jellical female, Electra, living in his garage, and when the kittens were born I picked out Hydrox #4, or maybe 5. Freshly weaned, I carried him home to introduce him to Mehitabel #3. She hated him.
Mehitabel showed no signs of accepting him, so I went back to Mel and borrowed the second-best of the litter, Niaid, on an indefinite loan to keep him company. I didn’t try to fit her into the name thing because she was just a loaner.
As the pair matured I’d frequently ask Mel, “You needing this cat back?”
“No,” he’d assure me, “I’m fine.” Then Mel partnered with me on the Y2K land, though he stayed in town except for a week leading up to January 1, 2000, so the Niaid issue wasn’t a concern.
Slouching into the Millennium – August 1998
Reflections of a Y2K Survivor
But in the background, throughout her life, Mehitabel bullied both of them unmercifully. When we went to live in a single-room apartment in Grants, New Mexico, toward the end of 2000, she could lay down the law and they couldn’t get away from her. But eventually Mehitabel #3 went on permanent mouse patrol, relieving the household of a lot of tension.
That’s where the screw-up happened in the life-long cat naming procedures. A stray pregnant cat emerged from catdom at a motel Jeanne was staying in while visiting me in Grants, which she took back to Kansas with her. Named her Shiva, largely because of my lousy abilities at prognostication.
I had no idea the was going to eventually fill the Mehitabel #4 slot.
But she did and it’s screwed everything up from a cat naming perspective. I doubt I’ll live long enough to get it back on track. One of Shiva’s litter’s living with me, as well. Sheeze! Her name????
The Naming of Cats in T S Eliot’s own voice: