Here is the story of Barbra, as told by her guardian, Summer. Summer’s loving story of Barbra’s life from the minute she was rescued to the day of her death is a moving testimonial to the impact our rescue pets have in our lives. They are not just pets – they are our babies, our best friends, our closest family. Grab a tissue and take a few quiet moments to share in the beauty of Barbra’s life.
Eras begin and eras end. An era began on a beautiful Spring afternoon in 1987 when Kenneth and I were out riding his motorcycle down a country road. “There’s a kitten!” Kenneth said, slowing the bike down and turning around. He slowly pulled over to the side of the road. There, coming up from out of the ditch was a very small cream-colored kitten with a white belly and white feet. Most cats or kittens would be afraid of the loud noise of the motorcycle. This kitten ran right up to it and started climbing up our pants legs. That was the beginning of an era.
The end of the era came this evening with a telephone call from the vet, and the words “cancer…. already spread to the liver and the kidneys.” That day, Friday, July 24, 1998, the era ended.
As the kitten climbed up our pants legs, I picked her up into my arms and held her close to me. There was no question but we were taking her home with us. Kenneth started up the bike and I held her behind his back. A short way up the road, she started squirming and wanting to crawl up his back. I tried to hold her but she was very determined, so I let her go. She crawled up over Kenneth’s shoulder and wanted to ride up front where she could see where she was going. And there she sat, the wind blowing her ears and whiskers back. All she needed was a white scarf around her neck.
After we got home with her, I looked at her trying to decide on a name for her. She had a rather long nose, so I decided to call her Barbra, after Barbra Streisand, who, incidentally, is my very favorite singer. Later on, Kenneth and I were chuckling about this crazy kitten that liked to ride on the motorcycle…. and she became “Crazy Barbra”.
As she grew up, she was a joy to have around. We had other cats, too, so she fit right in. She grew up into a beautiful lady, neither reticent nor presumptuous, but a good friend to have around.
When I got the opportunity to be an over-the-road truckdriver, and after my first month of running team, I began to drive solo. My first trip home after going solo, I decided that I wanted to take a cat with me on the road to keep me company. I chose Crazy Barbra.
For the first 4 days, she stayed back in the sleeper, never daring to come out. I had put her potty pan at the foot of my bunk until she got accustomed to the truck. Once, I parked in a truckstop during the afternoon, and she slowly crept up to the edge of the bunk and looked out. I tried to coax her on out, and she put a hesitant paw out onto the motor box, looking all around. Just about that time another truck drove by in front of us, and ZOOM back into the bunk she flew, not to come out again for a few more days.
Slowly, little by little, she began to get brave enough to venture out into the cab of the truck. She’d sit on the motor box as we drove down the highway. Soon, she began to sit in the passenger’s seat, and gradually became more and more at ease with life on a truck.
On occasion, we’d get a motel room, and then she really blew off steam! She’d race and tear all over the room, up and over furniture, running as fast as she could, getting the exercise she was unable to get in the confines of our truck cab. Next morning, she’d be ready to get back on the road. I’d carry her out to the truck, open the door, and she’d leap right up into it. She loved trucking!
Sometimes we had to have work done on the truck…. preventive maintenance, or some repairs. Since we had a cabover style truck, the cab had to be tipped over frontward to gain access to the engine, etc. Barbra would crawl under the blanket in the sleeper and stay there, tipped over at a 45-degree angle. Both doors on the truck could be left wide open, and she’d never try to jump out. People would ask me, “Aren’t you afraid she might jump out?” And I’d reply, “You couldn’t DRAG that cat out of there…. that’s her home.”
Barbra was very jealous of other drivers. We were westbound on I-10 one time headed for California. I had been talking with another driver on the CB as we drove out through west Texas, and he invited me to stop at the Petro Truckstop in El Paso and offered to buy me a Mexican dinner. Well, I’m not one to turn down Mexican food, so I agreed. We parked our trucks side-by-side out in the parking lot and we walked inside to the restaurant. Well, surprisingly, the Petro didn’t serve Mexican food. The waitress was nice enough to tell us that the 76 Truckstop across the highway did. My companion, whose CB handle was “Bushwhacker”, suggested that we drive over to the 76 in his truck. We did that, enjoyed a very good Mexican dinner, and then drove back to the Petro, pulling into the still vacant parking spot next to my truck. As we pulled up alongside, I looked over at my truck; and there, up in the driver’s side window was Barbra staring back at me, ears laid back, with a look on her face that plainly said, ‘What in the HELL are you doing over there in that truck?!? Get your ASS back over here where you belong!!’ There was no doubt that this was EXACTLY what she was thinking!
“Look at her!” I said to Bushwhacker, “Is that not a look of hate on that cat’s face?” He agreed that it was. And she stayed there! Haunting me every second I remained in the wrong truck! She was worse than a mother! So I thanked Bushwhacker for dinner, bade him goodnight, got out of his truck and climbed back up into mine and Barbra’s, for that was how it had become to be, hers and mine. She and I were co-drivers. Even though she didn’t drive, she was still my partner.
There was another time out in Pennsylvania, when I was standing outside our truck talking with another driver. Barbra sat at the window staring down at me and very vocally telling me to get back in our truck with her where I belonged. The other driver was rather amused when I told him my “mother” was telling me to come in now.
Finally, Barbra started riding up on the dash of the truck. One day we were pulled in for a D.O.T. check in Colorado. The trooper was standing in front of our truck, writing down the license plate number, when he glanced up at the windshield. He said in a very serious tone, “I see you have an attack-trained puma.” I smiled and said, “Yes, I do.” So from then on, I called her that frequently.
Circumstances happened to cause me to decide to run team again for a few months. My co-driver, Glen, liked to make sandwiches for us as we were going down the road. He discovered that Barbra loved ham, so he had to give her small bites of ham as he made sandwiches. Soon, anytime one of us mentioned the word “ham”, Barbra would come racing from out of the bunk, sometimes from a sound sleep, wanting her bites. We eventually had to start spelling the word whenever we decided we wanted sandwiches, so she wouldn’t come out expecting ham in the event we changed our minds and made peanut butter instead. But all we had to do was take the ham out of the cooler and the aroma drifted to her nose, and here she came for her share. Over and over again, Glen and I stated that the number one rule was that we don’t spoil the cat. We would repeat this while Barbra munched her ham.
Back running solo again, I still carried food in the cooler. Everything that I ate, Barbra had to taste. The only problem was that she had to taste it first before I did. After she got all she wanted, then I could eat the rest. I have to wonder how many cats will eat cinnamon-applesauce. Barbra did. If it was good enough for me to eat, then it was good enough for her. Sometimes I’d go into a truckstop deli and buy a chicken dinner, getting an additional piece of chicken for her. The she and I would sit up in the middle of our bed with paper towels and eat chicken together. On occasion, I’d decide that I needed a good hot meal, and I’d eat in the truckstop. When I’d get back out to the truck, Barbra would actually get up in my face and smell my breath to find out what I’d eaten that she didn’t get any of. But it wouldn’t matter anyway, because if I brought her scraps of meat from my dinner, she wouldn’t eat them….she wanted to eat what I ate WHEN I ATE IT. She was too good for scraps brought out to her afterwards.
In September of 1994, I got injured while driving, so Barbra and I had to give up our trucking career(s) and stay home. But we remembered all the fun and good times we had together on the truck, traveling cross-country, just her and me. We did make a car trip the following summer up to St. Paul, Minnesota, to see my dear friend Jean. But after that, no more traveling for us. We sat around growing old together. She was a daily fixture on my lap as I watched TV. She was my best bud.
A few months ago, I noticed that she was starting to look old. After all, I told myself, she’s 77 now in cat years. She also started throwing up daily, so I took her to the vet. At that time the vet suspected a possible tapeworm mass in her intestines because she could feel a hard mass in her abdomen. We treated her for tapeworms, put her on antibiotics, and I was instructed to bring her back in a month for a follow-up. I took her for the follow-up, and the mass was still present. The vet said the next step was exploratory surgery, so we made an appointment, and I took her over again the next night for surgery the following day.
When Dr. Merry called and said “cancer”, I went numb all over and my eyes welled up with tears. I knew what was coming. After she explained my options, we agreed that the best thing for Barbra’s sake would be euthanasia. My voice would hardly speak as I whispered to Dr. Merry to go ahead, and I’d come over to pick her up and bring her back home.
The tears flowed freely as my handyman, Richard, drove me over to the vet’s. Dr. Merry had her wrapped in a towel when I got there, her beautiful face still showing uncovered, and her eyes closed as if asleep. I took her in my arms and brought her home. Over the years, whenever I left either the truck or the house, I’d always tell her, “Baba, guard….Mama be back.” When I’d come back, I’d tell her, “See….Mama be back.” She knew what I was saying. She understood English very well. When I had left her at the vet’s, I said, “Mama be back.” And when I held her still little body in my arms, looking down at that beautiful big nose, I said, “See….Mama be back.”
Richard dug a grave for her out in the front yard by the driveway. I knelt down and placed the little body wrapped in a towel into it, covering the beautiful face with the Streisand nose. I wished her a speedy journey across the Rainbow Bridge to the Summerland.
Now all I have are our memories. But oh, what wonderful memories they are! I can still see that mad look when I was in the other truck. I can still see the attack-trained puma sitting up on the dash. I can still feel the warmth on my lap where she lay. Swift journey, my Barbra, my best bud. Someday we’ll meet again. I love you very, very much!
July 24, 1998
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Photo lovingly shared by Care2 member Summer F.