A Tribute to Chica, Including a Reflection on the Role of the Narrative as Prompted by a Contemplation of Pet Psychology

Although I seldom post directly about my Examiner.com articles (the link can be found under "Related Links" to the right), I'm posting about this one because of its ties to family history.

Examiner.com likes its Examiners to post slideshows, so about a month ago, I decided to create a slideshow of the Woodbury family cat, Chica. To my consternation, I discovered that I had very few pictures of the cat I grew up with (exactly 2) and sent out an SOS to my family. I ended up with 8 more pictures (1 duplicate), and 1 pastel.

My sister Ann, the original owner of the cat, also sent me notes of her experience with Chica (originally "Chichen"). As I began to piece together her notes with my memories, I found myself remembering more and more, such as where Chica ate and Chica's tendency to bring home dead rodents for the family's appraisal.

Unfortunately, I have always had a vivid recollection of Chica's last, long day.

The slideshow also became a trek down nostalgia lane. All the house-related pictures were taken at the house I grew up in: Tecumseh Way in Scotia-Glenville, New York. Chica lived from 1966-1983. I was born in 1971, so until the age of 12, I'd never known a different cat. And I was convinced (up until I put together this slideshow) that Chica lived to be 21.

He lived to be 17. However, my belief that he lived far longer is directly related to the process by which family histories develop. What I had "remembered," however inaccurately, was that Chica oversaw a great many events, including holidays, birthdays, graduations, marriages, and the births of grandchildren. While we humans experience these events, our pets--semi-outsiders--observe them, becoming flesh and blood record-keepers. Through their eyes, the events become singular rather than continuous: timeless points rather than passing minutes and hours whose linear nature makes the past entirely unrecoverable.

While I generally avoid assigning anthropomorphic roles to animals, I will defend this one. We humans create narratives from our pasts. Animals have no narratives since they live entirely in the "now" (now, I am hungry; now, I am tired; now, I am fed up with sticky fingers). Memory for animals is all about "the one time I went there and there was food" or "the one time I went there and got covered in syrup."

Family pets are staccato notes on the piano of life. And how else can memories be formed? Singularity is what makes our sense-generating narratives possible.

Thanks to Ann Woodbury Moore for her photos and notes. Thanks to Joe Woodbury for the professional quality photographs that grace this post (a third photograph by Joe can be found in the slideshow). Thanks to Joyce Woodbury for finding and delivering her pastel of Dad and Chica.

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