Wednesday, March 31, 2010

He's Gone

The mood at the Long Branch was somber and quiet on this Tuesday night. Sam stood behind the tall oak bar absently wiping a shot glass that he had held in his arthritic fingers for the past ten minutes. The upright piano stood quiet in the corner where we would usually find a couple of cowboys leaning against the wall with their arms draping over the shoulder of one of the dance-hall girls. The card tables were quiet as the men quietly exchanged looks, their eyes occasionally drifting to the table in the corner that was occupied by the Marshall…a big man wearing this usual rawhide vest.

The four of them sat quietly, heads down. Miss Kitty’s face looked dark and bruised where she continued to wipe her lace hanky across her eyes to stem the ceaseless tears…dragging the make-up that adorned her eyes with them. Doc’s eyes were red, the dark circles silent reminders of hours of sleep that his old body needed…his hand occasionally rubbing across the stubble of his unshaved face. Chester’s hand kept reaching for the schooner of beer that sat on the table in front of him, only to keep pulling back at the last moment…realizing that this was not the time to enjoy a cold one. The shoulders on Marshall Dillon were slumped as he sat there with his closest friends mourning the loss of his gruff, wiry deputy.

“I’m going to miss him”, was all he could manage to say as he looked around the table.

We got the word this morning. I knew it coming, but it didn’t really dampen the sense of loss that I feel. My little brother’s cat is gone. Even as I write these words, it seems a little silly that there would be an empty spot in my heart of an old cat that lived a long life, loved by the family that God placed around him. After all, he was only a cat. At least that’s what someone who had never met Festus might say.

But Festus was a “special” cat. He had more of a dog’s personality than that of a feline. He was a lover who would look for a pair of feet to cuddle up on as soon as I sat down on the couch. You could count on him to wander into the kitchen at Geoff and Lynn’s as soon as he heard your voice to announce that, “yes, I’m still here and it would be ok if you want to pick me up and hold me…even rub my belly and my ears if you want.” His beautiful face looking into mine as his chest rumbled with a constant chorus of purrs.

I could always count on Festus to come and sit beside my chair at the dinner table, patiently looking up at me…waiting for some kind of offering of “human food”. As I would move my fingers to his mouth, he would wait for me to drop it on the floor, but when I persisted in holding the piece of chicken or pork in my fingertips, he would gently eat from my hand. After swallowing, his eyes would return to mine, waiting for the next delicacy to be offered.

The passing of Festus reminds me how sensitive I am to loss. It brings a dull pain to my heart, nearly wanting me to never risk any kind of relationship that might end. It reminds me of my fear of rejection and abandonment…and a heavy weight immediately settles over me. I don’t know or completely understand the source of that fear, but I recognize it as being real. But I also understand something even more important…relationship and love are worth it! I loved Festus and I’ll miss him, but I would have missed so much more if I had never known him.

The Marshall stands and looks at his friends sitting around the table and throughout the Long Branch Saloon. He reaches for the glass of beer sitting in front of him and waits for the others to join with him.

“This is for you, Festus”, he says as lifts the glass toward the ceiling and then swallows the cold, bitter brew. “You blessed our lives by sharing it with us. Thank you.”

Festus photo by Mark

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1 comment:

Deb Shucka said...

I love that you framed this within his namesake's world. And I love the connection you made with the pain of losing anything we love. He connected us - at least the three of us plus Lynn - in much the same way your quiet persistence has helped us find connection in the last couple of years.

An important thing to remember, I think: he was just an ordinary cat doing his ordinary cat things without any thought to the impact - and he taught and gave us so much. Just. By. Being. Himself.