The Ohio State Veterinary Medical Center recently lost a dear friend. Kristine McComis, a valued employee for 17 years, passed away at age 42. Kristine was the epitome of health and happiness — so different from the aggressive form of cancer she faced with grace and an unwavering positive attitude.
Kristine earned both a BA (Wittenberg University) and MA (OSU) in English. She faithfully and proudly penned the veterinary hospital newsletter, and we all looked forward to her animal anecdotes. I’d like to share one with you as my memorial to her. It appears as Kristine wrote it, except for removing names. May this story bring a smile to your face – just as Kristine’s smile brought joy to many people – family, friends, co-workers and clients.
We are all familiar with the adage, “It is better to give than receive.” I would agree with this, although I also know that people dread gift-giving, especially in this day and age where no one really needs anything. They hate having to think too much about what to buy for a person and try to look on one particular theme, whether it is a hobby, sporting activity, or a favorite scent. Consequently, they buy that genre of gift every single time one is warranted. For me, that genre is cats. Ever since I adopted my cat Sonnet eight years ago, people think I need and/or love everything cat related. “I KNOW you’re a cat person,” they proudly say, as they watch me open the twentieth cat pin I’ve received since acquiring my pet. I never mean to be rude or ungrateful for any gift, but has anyone EVER seen me wear a cat pin? I wore one once to church and had a little old lady say to me, “Oh, isn’t that pin DARLING!” I immediately shoved it to the back of the jewelry box. I do not want to be “darling.” Shirley Temple was darling. I wear black.
So how do I end up with endless cat merchandise from tacky country store gift shops (my worst nightmare)? I receive cat notepads with little pink country hearts around the border. I receive cat birthday cards, cat stationery, cat magnets and cat calendars. Cat coffee cups, cat coffee table books, cat picture frames, and cat candleholders. Yes, I love cats, but I cringe at being defined by them. It’s as if I’ve been railroaded into being the crazy cat lady down the street that kids will taunt and run away from in my elder years. I already have the cat umbrella ready to shake at them in rage, in lieu of a cane…..
My friend took a trip to Cape Cod and brought me back a souvenir. “You are so hard to buy for,” she told me. “So I brought something for your cat.” She eagerly held out a rhinestone charm in the shape of a crown. “This is for her cat collar,” she said, “Sonnet’s such a spoiled princess, I thought it fit.” Well, my friend has seen my cat numerous times and she has never worn a cat collar since I brought her home. My boss would comment that they do not make cat collars large enough to fit around her pudgy neck, but even if they did, I wouldn’t want to demean Sonnet with a fake rhinestone charm. Of course I politely and graciously thanked her with a hug. I turned away and sorrowfully looked at my gift while she gave my other friend a cool art deco piece for her kitchen.
I went to my family reunion in Boston this year and we had a Christmas in July, as no one can travel in the winter. We held a Yankee swap, where we draw numbers, choose a gift from the pile, and can steal another’s if they have picked something more appealing. I opened my gift under the watchful eye of the family – a stained glass vase with some sort of figures on the side. Upon closer look I saw they were cats. “Oh, I’m so glad a CAT person got my gift, ” I heard someone exclaim, and I smiled weakly. No one stole my gift.
In May, a package arrived from a college friend who is now a Green Beret in the Army’s Special Forces. Having completed a three-month deployment to Senegal and then two months in Tunisia, he barely was back in the States when Uncle Sam sent him packing to Guinea for six months. Long ago he had hinted at buying me something in a Senegal marketplace that reminded him of me, but I had forgotten about the mysterious African gift. I ripped open the package from Ft. Bragg in eager anticipation. I pulled out a carved wooden figure the color of deep mahogany: a cat. Stifling a groan, I read the note, hastily penned as he readied for another deployment: “This is a Jaguar (I stood corrected)…I thought it represents your spirit animal pretty well…not getting all metaphysical on you…I just think that if you were an animal that it would be a Jaguar.”
“Wish I could help celebrate your birthday,” he continued. “But the world needs me!” I smiled at his tongue-in-cheek bravado. Or maybe not so tongue-in cheek. If you want to question a man who rises at 0400 to run 6-10 miles before joining the rest of his team at 0600 for P/T and teaches hand-to-hand combat techniques, be my guest. But, my animal spirit? I don’t know much about jaguars, other than an expensive British car is named for the creature. Although not a prissy Persian, it was still in the cat family. I skeptically studied the sculpture, which is about ten inches long from head to tail. Although crude in detail, the artist captured the jaguar in low stride, its head determined and mouth open in mid-snarl. The front paw is slightly spread, as if just firmly planted on the jungle path. Hands meticulously sanded its lean body and stained it to an ebony sheen, and the elegant tail arches with a lithe flair. Shaped a world away, this cat has never seen a tacky country gift store. It’s not cute. It’s not fuzzy. It’s definitely not darling. I love it.
Kristine McComis, The OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital Newsletter, Volume 8, Number 10, October, 2002.