There are no rocking chairs at Tabby’s Place.
That’s true in at least two senses.
Literally speaking, there are, in fact, no rocking chairs at Tabby’s Place. Not that there’s anything wrong with rocking chairs per se. But with all these long-tailed cats running around, a rocking chair could threaten to turn everyone into a Hootz-a-like. (Well, as much as anyone could resemble the inimitable Hootz.)
But in a truer sense, there are no psychological rocking chairs at Tabby’s Place. If you’re thinking I’ve just gone off my rocker, stick with me for a second.
Years ago, George Jones proclaimed in a song that he was not ready for the rocking chair. (He proclaimed in a different song that “There is still a few ol’ country boys around.” But I digress.) That is to say, if you thought he was going to doze off gently into irrelevance, you had another thing coming (and maybe a few ol’ country boys to set you straight, too).
With all due respect to Mr. Jones, the Tabby’s Place seniors are less rocking chair-ready he ever was.
When I’m 88 (the rough human equivalent to Franny’s 18), I want to be able to break the sound barrier with my super-soprano voice. I’m not sure if Franny’s genre is opera or soul or acid death metal, but our girl’s got soul…and volume. Nary a younger cat could compete with our senior babe’s squawk.
When I’m 80, I want to turn heads, steal hearts and keep all the rowdy boys in line like 16-year-old Jenny. The hero of the BBC’s old Rumpole of the Bailey used to call his wife, Hilda, “she who must be obeyed,” and Jenny is clearly Hilda II. (Come to think of it, Jen would positively own a set of Hilda-worthy horns and long blonde braids.) She is Xena, Aphrodite and Cleopatra all in one, and the lobby’s oldest feline suffers no fools. All at once, Jenny is a raging beauty and the uncompromising den mother of all the rowdy runts. Picture Xena with a pinch of Mrs. Garrett from The Facts of Life dashed in. Or Mrs. Butterworth…with a shot of tequila.
Never mind that she’s ages older than the next-eldest lobby cat. Jenny is all that and 400 bags of chips, and she keeps the kooks in line. Case in point: recently, lobby bad-boy Gingko took to brawling again. He was already on ample Prozac for attempting to annihilate his neighbors, and he’d endured hundreds of time-outs in the feeble effort to teach him a lesson. Finally, the day came when the den mother could take no more. When, one morning, Gingko sported a battered ear and a decidedly repentant attitude, others pinned the blame (credit?) on Boots or Geoff. But I think we know better. Mother Superior had simply had enough, and had to set the wild-haired wild child straight once and for all.
Gingko hasn’t attacked anyone since.
It’s not just the senior ladies who rock the anti-rocking-chair lifestyle. When I’m 68, I want to be as indestructibly awesome as Nuttin. The last soldier standing from our old FIV generation, Nuttin has survived cancer (at least twice), inflammatory bowel disease, heart disease, diabetes, skin issues, FIV, and endless comments from little-minded people that he’s “funny-looking.” Through it all, Nuttin is the benevolent retired gangster who looks after the neighborhood and plays stickball with the kids. He’s secure enough in his machismo to cuddle with Hocus, and still has the vim to keep up with Twix in a game of bat-the-jingly-thing. Our old boy has been called everything from a battle ax to a Muppet, and he’s seen many cats come and go. Last year alone, 12 FIV+ kitties were adopted, and we’re already at 8 and counting for 2011. Nuttin rolls with all the changing tides. He’s lived at least six years at Tabby’s Place now, and the next-newest resident of his suite is Edward…who’s been here merely a year. While many a younger cat would rage at the changes, Nuttin takes them in stride, his fabulously funny face just taking it all in. Life is change, life is hard, and life is glorious - thus saith the battle ax Muppet we adore.
I could go on. From Mittens to Cali to Lola and Jade, the senior catizens of Tabby’s Place have a quietly clear message: we err when we worship the fleeting shine of youth. To “retire” the remarkably-old - however you might define “old” (and having turned 30 this year, I know those definitions can swing wildly) - is to deny yourself the richness of the best. Our elders, furry or otherwise, have earned their place as spiritual “mothers and fathers,” and it’s our place to let them shine. Amidst disease and change, haunting loss and staggering beauty, our elder statescats show us how grace is done. The super seniors’ wisdom - and spark, and mooshing - are ours for the embracing.
So if you were thinking of donating a rocking chair to Tabby’s Place, thanks, but no thanks. Our cats would like to keep their tails…and their fire.