Burma and His Halloween Pal, 1984
Almost time for Halloween again! Since we’ll soon be off visiting friends and family, I thought I’d share another cat from our past before October flies away on a broom. This is Burma, 30 years ago. At the time, we lived in a one-storey fourplex apartment building. She came prowling straight across the church parking lot in back of us one day, looking for all the world like a miniature panther, and decided to hang with us. We liked cats, but since I was allergic, she was going to stay outside. Also, we thought we knew what we were doing.
Notice I referred to Burma as “she”? Yes, when we first saw poor Burma strolling toward our little abode, we thought he was a girl. Where is that wide, thick neck and muscular torso? we asked. Our neighbors were no help on that score. The cat went over to eye Sugar, the indoor cat next door and promptly sprayed on the patio door. Sugar’s owner, a big band station disc jockey, therefore swore (not literally, he was a religious man) “she” was a boy. The lovely disabled woman on the other side of us didn’t take a stand, but said the cat looked like a Burmese she had once. So finally, we figured he was a neutered male, though I didn’t think they sprayed. (Duh, what did I know?)
We couldn’t settle on a name–Midnight, Ashes, Sooty (a British dog puppet TV star from the 60s), Licorice, Blackie, Coal? All seemed too indicative of a certain personality type, and this cat wasn’t cool, suave, sophisticated, funny, cute, or playful. In fact, he had all the personality of a schoolroom blackboard, except you couldn’t write on him.
“Burma” made no sense at all, either, but since our neighbor said he might be part Burmese, and we had to call him something, “Burma” it was, and “Burma” it stayed, the name eventually evoking a sense of his particular outlook on life, which the English language has no simple word for.
Burma kept his own counsel and his minimal remarks were off the cuff. A “meow” was considered a State of the Feline speech. He viewed the world with an acceptance that wasn’t quite jaded, but slanted that way. He was fine with staying outside, so he took up residence on the patio, sleeping on or under a chair or the plant stand made of concrete blocks and eating cat food or table scraps, which he appeared to enjoy, though that’s a strong adjective for Burma where food or anything else was concerned.
We were thrilled when he decided to pose with the jack-o-lantern one year and snapped the above picture fast. That’s when it occurred to us how much he looked like a witch’s familiar, sitting there. Look at those slanty yellow eyes and that total lack of emotion. By the Middle Ages, black cats were already considered evil in Europe. People thought they were humans who had been turned into black cats to do a witch’s bidding, a non-scientific analysis that lives on in literature today. In real life, I’ve heard that black kittens and cats are the least likely kind to be adopted from animal shelters, which is just plain sad.
Anyway, witch’s familiar or not (I say not), Burma moved with us to a house a few years later, and though he was not happy about it at first, he settled in. Several years later, we moved around the corner, and he came with us there, too. He had grown thinner and frailer over the years, but didn’t seem to be in pain. If he didn’t feel well, he slept longer and moved less, and eventually, he slept nearly all the time and rarely moved from the back patio. One day, he crawled under the rose bushes in front, and when the water came on, I lifted him out, amazed at how light he had become. That was the last we saw of Burma. He apparently tucked himself under an obscure bush in a neighbor’s yard and passed on. We missed him a lot, since he’d been with us for at least twenty years.
For most of those twenty years, we’d had a parade of stray outdoor cats that we humanely trapped, took to the vet, and released in our yard. And always, there was Burma, giving everything and everyone that “Burma” look. It seemed he could to take or leave other cats, just as he had no particular preference in matters of sustenance or shelter. For a cat who had no attachments to speak of, he stayed with us longer than any other. We would love it if he’d show up here one day again, maybe in a younger guise. And not cute, or playful, or suave, or sophisticated, but just good old “Burma.” He was a cat in a million.