Penelope, the gray queen cat who served her master brought her aging owner much joy during the last few months of his life. Read how she stood by him for ten hours after he fell.
While searching among the cages at a local animal shelter, my Dad spotted a tiny gray kitten who extended her little paw as if to say, “Please take me home with you.” At that moment, she claimed my Dad’s heart. With my help, he took her home and he named her Penelope after his favorite character in Greek mythology.
Easy-Care Pet for Dad
Weeks before, I finally talked my Dad into adopting a kitten from the local animal shelter. Having just turned 85, he seemed lonely after his second wife died of cancer and I thought he would benefit from the companionship of an easy-care pet.
Since my Dad leaned a bit on the stubborn side, he resisted the idea of adopting a pet until I got my own kitty. Fondly playing with my cat, my Dad softened on the idea of getting a pet.
Little Penelope adapted to my Dad’s home by knocking objects off my Dad’s counters, tables and shelves. After pawing a new-found treasure onto the carpeted floor, she would bat it around for hours. Although my Dad gently scolded Penelope for her antics, he quickly forgave her. That kitty truly had my Dad wrapped around her little paw.
When Penelope sauntered into the living room, My Dad’s face lit up with joy as he called her name repeatedly. Being a kitty, she played hard to get, which only added to her allure. On monumental occasions, she graced him with the honor of petting her.
In no time, my Dad dubbed Penelope “Queen of the Manor.” Her every whim and wish became his command — nothing but the best kitty food, treats, litter and toys for Queen Penelope. In return, she “allowed” my Dad to reside in his home.
When Queen Penelope deemed the cleanliness of her litter box to be short of her royal standards, she alerted my Dad by pooping on the rug in his basement. Always the dutiful servant, my Dad cleaned up her mess while cheerfully singing this verse to the melody of the “Farmer in the Dell.”
“A poopin’ on the rug,
A poopin’ on the rug,
High on the stinkeo
A poopin’ on the rug.”
The Gray Queen
Queen Penelope’s arrival coincided with Dad’s renewed interest in chess. A retired engineer, my Dad quickly grew bored with merely playing the game. Instead, he set up a chessboard with black and gray pieces to study the board layout and calculate the statistical probabilities of various moves.
One Sunday when I visited my Dad at his home, Queen Penelope was batting a small object on the floor. I took a closer look. It was a chess piece – the gray queen. Out of the 32 chess pieces on the board, Penelope had somehow chosen the one piece that resembled her most. Even more amazing was my Dad’s report that she consistently chose only that chess piece to bat around the floor.
“You don’t think Queen Penelope would bother with a lowly rook or pawn.” he joked.
Although his mood brightened with Penelope as his daily companion, my Dad’s physical stamina deteriorated, which made living alone more difficult. He refused my invitations to live with me, and he stubbornly refused to wear a medic-alert button in case he fell. He grumbled as I connected cordless phones in each room of his home and insisted that he purchase a cell phone to place in his shirt pocket.
Dad’s Stubborn Deterioration
Although not ideal, I satisfied my concerns by frequently calling and visiting my Dad and securing his next-door neighbor’s assistance with periodic check-ins.
Penelope continued to be the apple of my Dad’s eye. However, I recognized that caring for a kitty placed a strain on my Dad. So, I started cleaning the kitty litter box and filling her food and water dishes.
This went on for a while, and I had hoped the situation would be sustainable. Then one Saturday evening, I called my Dad at our usual time. Sounding tired, he reported that he ran errands and completed several household chores. I promised to visit him the next day with the warning that I planned to bring paperwork for purchasing a medic-alert button. Of course, he scoffed at the idea as he watched little Penelope batting the queen chess piece on the floor.
The next morning, I called Dad, but there was no answer. I called his neighbor, but there was no answer there either. Then I called the hospital where his current doctor claimed affiliation. The staff member refused any information citing privacy laws. I slammed down the phone in frustration.
I called another hospital and learned he was admitted to the emergency room an hour before.
When I arrived at the emergency room, my Dad looked very bruised and exhausted. Shortly after our phone call the previous night, he’d started to fix dinner when he fell. Unable to get up, he tried to use his cell phone, but it wouldn’t work. He crawled across the kitchen floor to the cordless phone, but it was dead. Over the next ten hours, he slowly inched his way to the other cordless phone in the living room and was finally able to call 911.
Tears streamed down my face as I heard him recount how Penelope remained at his side through his painful ordeal. Once a queen, Penelope now proved to be a loyal servant to my Dad in his hours of desperate need. After a long day in the hospital, I went to my Dad’s home to check in on little Penelope. She was too scared to approach me.
In the kitchen I saw the severely burned pans on the stove and the phones scattered on the floor. Dad’s cell phone couldn’t dial 911 because it had been programmed with a different area code than his home location. I also noticed that the kitchen cordless phone was not properly plugged in to the receptacle. I imagined my Dad’s tragic struggle with Penelope by his side.
The next day, the hospital doctor reported, “Your father has cancer. The prognosis is terminal.”
As those horrible words reeled in my mind, I took Penelope home with me. She hid under my bed all night.
Tribute to The Gray Queen
Ten days later, my Dad died. During our last conversation, he thanked me for convincing him to adopt Penelope. Although a queen, she served him in his moments of joy and his moments of pain.
Honoring my Dad’s last request, I paid a royal tribute to Queen Penelope at his memorial service and placed the gray queen chess piece in his pocket, so she could accompany him in spirit.
Happily, my own kitty welcomed Penelope into our home. Every time I look at “The Queen Who Served”, I remember my father and the joy she brought him.
Photograph by Jessica Loftus