by Jan Baughman
(Swans - January 16, 2012) "Captain Midnight! Captain Midnight!" It was an annoying French-Canadian-accented, shrill, nasally scream we heard regularly after having purchased our little house on half an acre in Menlo Park, California, that butted up to a house belonging to the Soucies -- their name fittingly meaning "trouble" in French, and soucie they were from Day 1. Not long after we moved in, they adopted Captain Midnight, a beautiful short-haired black cat, perhaps a year or two old, from a woman with 30-some cats in her home. The trouble was, at least for the Soucies, Captain Midnight did not want to live with these annoying people and their annoying little dog.
From time to time we would return Captain Midnight to their house, but she was drawn to our large yard and the friendly people and the cats --Bijou and Luigi -- that inhabited it. Animals have good instincts when it comes to these things. No matter how hard they tried to keep her home, Captain Midnight would climb the fence to escape the soucie. Ah, the fence.
Bad Fences Make Bad Neighbors
The Soucies were upset with us for cleaning of our yard, removing overgrown trees, and exposing their transgressions -- the sump water/carpet cleaning chemicals they were diverting to our yard; the common fence, tattered and leaning (towards our house) from the weight of all the garbage they had stacked against it; and their long-standing feud with a neighbor -- another unlikable fellow, Bill -- whose house they could now see because of the overgrown trees we'd removed (which pleased Bill, who found them to be a fire hazard). Perhaps a diagram would help:
The lay of the land - © 2012 Jan Baughman
Not long after we moved in, Mr. Soucie indicated that he wanted to replace the fence, asking that we share the cost. Having just purchased the house and being short on cash, we said we couldn't at the time, but would gladly do so in the future. Yet one weekend afternoon, we returned home to find that Mr. Soucie had torn down the old fence and was erecting a new one.
Confrontations ensued, and Monsieur Soucie sued us for the cost of replacing the fence he summarily tore down and replaced. In a bizarre court case, he revealed his true, irrational, and illogical colors to the judge and lost to the well-presented and documented defense presented by a very rational Gilles.
In the meantime, Mr. Soucie cut a small, about 6-inch hinged opening in one of the boards of their new fence, about two feet from the ground, and periodically Mrs. Soucie would open the little door and scream "Captain Midnight" to try and entice her back. We would laugh at the site of her face through the hole and the absurdity of the entire situation and her utter ignorance of cats, but eventually Gilles nailed it shut. Captain Midnight officially joined our ranks -- always free to come and go as she pleased -- and was renamed "Blackie." Blackie took up residence in our home and never looked back, though Mr. Soucie once "accidentally" locked her in his garage for a week, and later did the same with Luigi -- another "accident," which Gilles chronicled.
New fence, clean yard, and Blackie (1994)
It was 18 years ago that Blackie joined us, and in 2004 she and the others made the move to Boonville and real country life full of hunting and preying, never disappearing, and certainly never being kidnapped by crazy neighbors. With the deaths of Bijou (2007) and Luigi (2008) at the ages of 18, she became the elder statescat to the latest addition, Marcel, who's a youthful 3-year-old with, hopefully, many good years like Blackie's ahead.
It's a painful decision, as Gilles described, to hand a lovable companion over to her death to a complete stranger, but she had lived a full and healthy life, whose quality had irretrievably passed. This week we received a card from Michael, the veterinary nurse who compassionately and non-judgmentally helped us through the decision and took care of Blackie to the end. She wrote, "It was an honor to help Blackie on her way; she had such dignity and warmth (a motor of note!). May her heaven be full of all her favorite things"
She was indeed tender, graceful, and dignified to the end, and all of the soucie that brought her to us was well worth the 18 years of joy she provided.
Blackie and Swan (2011)
Our sincere thanks to Michael, Dr. Larue, Jane, and all of the kind people at the Mendocino Animal Hospital.
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