MAO, A CAT – Marilyn Armstrong

Jeff and I got Mao as an 8-week-old kitten in the fall of 1965. We had just gotten married the month before, and of course, we had to have a cat right away. Why a Siamese? I don’t know. Karma maybe?

From the very first day, Mao was Master of All He Surveyed. Although I have had many cats through the years, Mao was the first and by far the most utterly unique.

Mao – our cat – Photo (from print) by Ben Taylor — and THANK YOU!

He was very smart for a cat. For instance, when we were out-of-town, we would have someone “house-sit” for us. No matter who that person was, and no matter how much Mao ordinarily liked them, while we were away, Mao would attack him or her (or them) virtually continuously during our absence. He would hide behind the bushes and attack legs as they tried to open the front door. He would wait around the corner and then pounce. He would launch himself from atop the bookcase, landing on a victim’s head, sometimes causing serious damage.

The moment we returned, Mao ceased his attacks and commenced purring. He figured, I believe, that he needed to drive out the interlopers so that we could return. Since we always DID return, his belief was consistently reinforced!

Mao protected us from bed goblins. If you were on Mao’s “family member” list, he would stop by your bedroom every night. You had to lift the covers so he could walk to the foot of the bed and back up. No goblins tonight? Good, I will go now, and he did.

Mao was the only cat I’ve ever known that perpetrated acts of vengeance hours or days after your perceived offense. If, for example, you shooed him off the table during dinner time, he would wait until you were sitting on the potty with your pants around your ankles and could not chase him. Then he would casually bite your shins. Tail held high, he would stroll away.

Mao patrolled the perimeter of the grounds like any good watch cat should. Every day of his life, he performed it, almost as if it were a ceremony. During his closing weeks with us, he began to patrol in the company of a younger feline, Mr. Manx. As if passing the torch to the next generation, he taught Mr. Manx to walk the perimeter, and inspect the beds, which Mr. Manx then did for the rest of his life.

In October 1978, Mao, who had been diagnosed with cancer some months before, disappeared. We never found his body, though we were sure he had gone off to die. For the last couple of weeks before his departure, we had noticed that he felt different. Where his muscles had been hard, they were now soft. He slept most of the day and moved slowly.

It is many years and lifetimes later. Jeff has passed. I live far from that place where Jeff and I and Mao and all the other fur-people lived. But I remember him. We all remember Mao, the most special cat.

Mao, I am sure you were there for Jeff when he came to the Bridge. I’m sure you will be there for me, too. You and all my other furry friends who I loved will be there together.

But you were and will always be, utterly unique and entirely unforgettable.

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Opinionated writer with hopes for a better future for all of us!

41 thoughts on “MAO, A CAT – Marilyn Armstrong”

      1. So you just had to get even with me for the Rainbow Bridge post I did. You did it. I got all teary. Mao was an awesome awesome guy. I forgot about the nightly bed routine. He did it to me every night when I was staying with you guys. He also had a great move. He’d jump up and sit on your lap. Your job was to pet him. If you stopped he would wrap his hind leg around my “family jewels” and squeeze. Just a little. and of course you would keep petting him. His other great move was luring dogs in the neighborhood into the bushes. He’d sit in the middle of the road until a dog would chase him. He’d run into a bush looking terrified. And then all hell would break loose. Like in a Looney Toons cartoon. The dog would run away, slightly worse for the wear and Mao would saunter out, look around lick his paw and wait for the next victim. Cracked me up everytime.

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        1. Pancho, “The Rainbow Bridge” always evokes sad memories. Our Somali cat, “Big Guy” is in the same conversation with Mao and your favorite. Felines. When were shooting a piece about weather related power outtages, we featured our then Roxbury condo which was all electricity. When the camera crew turned on their lights in our darkened living room, “Big Guy” immediately turned around — offering his left side profile. What a pro. He also – without cue — smiled at the camera. he then furrowed his brow to evoke concern about the power outage. One take for Big Guy. the second for creases in the tape. I still can’t believe the fan mail and calls he got. he didn’t share with me. But, I didn’t share any talent fees with Big Guy who would later get his revenge.

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    1. Squirrel, you are right about cats. We had a gray Somali named “Big Guy”. He was a crowd pleaser in every way. When we lived in a street level Beacon Hill apartment, Big Guy sat in the front window (always giving his best side profile), next to a “Gone With The Wind” music box with a Clark Gable doll atop the box. It was a major crowd attraction. Every day, people would stop to stare and, inevitably, engage (Mr.) Big Guy in conversation. The visitors always left smiling. Big Guy was a legend!
      I once included Big Guy in a TV News piece. We got lots of response. Most of it lauding Big Guy and ignoring me. Truly, a legend – that darn cat.

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    1. Our friend Ben took it many years ago when we lived in that house in Uniondale, New York. It had to be about 1970 maybe? He’s not even sure what camera he owned, but it must have been some kind of Olympus because that’s what my computer read. It is the ONLY picture of Mao I have!

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  1. What a lovely post and sentiment. Many years ago, I ended up with a Siamese cat when my daughter was 12 and worked as a volunteer in a vet’s office. The cat’s owner wanted to put down this one year old cat because he had unwrapped her Christmas presents while she was at work. What?! This woman had declawed the poor little guy. One day, he was out walking on our balconly alone (because someone – not me – left the door open), lost his balance and fell four floors. I had no idea until the woman on the first floor came knocking. I went down to her patio in a panic, picked him up, and took him to the vet, still wearing my pajamas. He only had a scraped chin. He was one amazing and lovely cat, who loved us and we him, for 21 years. Thanks for triggering memories of our sweet Ashley (he came with the name).

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  2. Mao certainly was his own person. I had a Siamese named Alice who loved to terrorize all other cats, either by treeing them or staring them away from their food dishes. She refused to eat anything except fresh liver.With my daughter and me, she was a protector. She would accompany my daughter to bed, staying until she fell asleep. Then, she would come back to the living room with me and lie on my chest while I read a book until I went to bed. She slept under the covers at the bottom of the bed every night.

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      1. I had her when I lived on a ranch six miles outside Reno,Nevada. When I moved to California, I left her with friends who owned an apricot Standard Poodle that they never clipped. She and Alice got along just fine. She never got the chance to take Hollywood by storm.

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  3. I too had a Siamese, I named him Pung Chao. He came from my wife’s niece, Renee. Renee was very upset with little Pung as he was kind of destructive, wreaking havoc through out the apartment. When I met him she was about to just let him out to fend for himself. I protested, defending him as being a normal kitten full of energy.., and, of course, I offered to give him a home. Renee wasted no time in accepting my offer. Once we got to my house, a whole new kitten emerged. He settled in seeming to know I was his real friend. There was no destructive behavior at all, just pure love and a feeling of “Guyness” that we both could only silently understand. Pung adjusted to my hours as I was often up late doing audio work. He hung out in the studio and went to bed when I finally did, most times curled up in the crook of my arm near the pit. He had a strong constitution. One night while I was working, I let him out, a normal enough routine. the next morning I found him in an extreme sweat lying in the grass in the front yard. He had passed.., and I never knew why. I could only guess it was some kind of poison. I have missed my little buddy, Pung, ever since. Why do we get so attached?

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    1. He was my first personal — not my parents’ — pet. I looked everywhere. I wanted a big, strong boy and he was perfect. He was such a funny fellow, too. I remember him trying to convince a toad that he was kind. Nose to nose in the middle of the street, Mao and that big toad. We picked up Mao and took him home. That was a VERY big toad.

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  4. My brother had a beautiful Siamese cat. Sadly, not for very long, it died rather young. The only comfort for my bros was that he didn’t have to hear her piercing crying anymore. It drove him bonkers….. Your testimonial to Mao is a thing of beauty.

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