Down East 2013 ©
It always used to puzzle me that Ernest Hemingway was a cat person. You would have expected the most macho author of all time to own hunting dogs or bullmastiffs. Instead Papa’s house in Key West was teeming with felines. There are now sixty in residence, descended from Hemingway’s beloved, six-toed pet.
I never would have figured myself as a cat person either. Not because I am particularly macho, but because I grew up with dogs. The first cat to enter my life was a vicious little calico named Emma who came as a package deal with my wife. A few years ago, I used this column to describe the strange animal I’d come to share a house with. “I read somewhere that cats were the last of the major animals to have been domesticated,” I wrote. “This news seems to have passed Emma by. I have the scars on my hands to prove it.”
My editor’s note was occasioned by the fact that Maine is estimated to have the most cats per capita in the nation. Now it has one less. Emma passed away in December after sixteen and a half years, nearly all of which she spent in my wife’s loving care. For fourteen of those years, Emma and I were rivals for my wife’s affections, but I like to think we came to an accord of sorts — I accepted my subordinate role in the house, and she stopped clawing me. Eventually, we formed our own unlikely bond; she spent many evenings purring on my lap while I reclined in front of a Red Sox game.
I used to flatter myself into thinking that I had exerted a positive influence on Emma. Now I’ve come to see it was the other way around. It was the cat who domesticated me. Taking care of an inscrutable creature whose affections were fickle and hard-won forced me to become less self-involved. (There’s nothing like sweeping up errant droppings to do that.) And it was only by letting my guard down and writing candidly about Emma in this column that I learned how warm-hearted the people who read this magazine truly are. Knowing that I am among friends —that Down East is as much a community as a magazine — has made this work a joy, and I hope it has improved your experience, as well. Thanks to Emma, I am a better writer and a better human being. Like most Mainers, I have now become a cat person.