Then while I was starting second year biology at the University of Saskatchewan, we moved to an acreage about 20 km southwest of the city. It had always been my father's dream to own land and live in the country. Experimental plasma physicist by day, gentleman farmer by night (and weekends and holidays). He began to collect tractors and outbuildings to house these tractors.
One late autumn day a black-and-white kitten appeared in the tall grass around one of these outbuildings. It was good mousing terrain I suppose. It was a boy and it was probably about 10 weeks old. My parents had no idea what to do. I was preoccupied with school and with being a young adult with a car and a social life (such as it was...), so I didn't pay too much attention at first. The kitten was extremely friendly. It would run up to you and immediately begin rubbing on your pant leg, purring at an improbable volume for such a small creature. And in the way of cats who hone in on the least cat friendly person in any given crowd, he took a special liking to my father.
Winter can hit quickly in Saskatchewan and it can hit hard. After gentle badgering from the rest of us my father allowed the kitten to come into the detached garage and began to feed him there. He did this himself, saying he was in there all the time anyway. Sure, it was a nuisance, but not much of one. But the kitten was only to be allowed into the garage, nowhere else. Certainly not the house.
Somewhere around this time the kitten acquired a name. We called him "Mook" because my mother said that that was the chirping sound he made when he head-butted your hand, "mook, mook".
I imagine that many of you have already worked out for yourselves where this story is going. You are absolutely right. As winter set in the garage became quite cold as well. My father said, "Ok, the cat can come into the house, but only the basement. Nowhere else." Our basement stairs had a door at the top, so in theory it was relatively simple to keep him down there. Mook would however cry pitifully from behind the door. So soon my father said, "Well, during the day Mook can come up on the main floor, but at night he goes down. And he does not go into the bedrooms or my study."
A few weeks later I came home early from a Saturday running errands in town. My mother and brother were still out. When I came in the front door I heard an odd sound coming from upstairs. It was a shuffling and scraping noise and the sound of my father chuckling, although he was home alone. I went upstairs and saw that the door to my father's study was open. I peeked inside and saw him on his hands and knees, playing with Mook, both of them delighted.
I started veterinary school two years after Mook came into our lives and he was my constant study companion. He knew exactly where to lay on my desk where I wouldn't shoo him off. He made some of the abstractions that were being taught seem more real and he was a source of comfort when I was stressed.
In 1990 I graduated and moved to Winnipeg. Although I called him "my cat", Mook was really more my parents cat, so there was no question that he would stay. He continued to have adventures on the acreage including being quite seriously injured when he was either hit by a car or fell out of a tree, we're not sure which. My mother was visiting family in Germany when this happened, so my father nursed him back to health, giving pills, changing bandages and phoning me frequently for updates and advice. My father had never phoned me any other time for any other reason. Something shifted between us when he did this. Two adults talking together, needing each other. He passed away in 1994 from a brain tumour.
Then in 2002 my daughter Isabel was born. Mook was quite old by that point - I suppose 18 when I do the math. During one of the first visits with the baby to Saskatoon Mook padded into our room and clambered up onto the bed, where I was holding Isabel, trying to settle her to sleep. Mook curled up beside her, purring. I remember so very clearly how grateful I was to him and how strongly I felt the connection from Isabel to my father through this cat. A living link. I couldn't stop myself from crying.