Thursday, June 3, 2010


Rose Roberts was born, along with her twin Pansy Prutzman, outside of Nashville, Tennessee, on July 14, 1997 (Bastille Day).  She is an American Shorthair cat, a breed descended from and almost identical to the British Shorthair.  This type of cat arrived in America with the Pilgrims and served as mousers on the Mayflower and other Pilgrim vessels.   A purebred, the American Shorthair has been described as “the cat that looks like a cat”.
Like her twin, Rose is a calico.  Her striking markings, and particularly her black mask, make her look like Batgirl.   However, because their markings were not “perfect”, i.e., Rose and Pansy have color on their legs rather than being pure white, their breeders marked them for death.  Fortunately (we don’t know what or whose blessed agency intervened), they were transported to the North Shore Animal League on Long Island, a “no-kill” shelter, where we adopted them in the late summer of 1997.  We had recently lost our cat U, a Russian Blue, after losing Santa, a Flame-Point Siamese, a couple of years earlier.  U and Santa had very long lives and live with us still.  It took us a while to be ready to adopt new cats, but when we were, we decided that visiting a shelter, rather than a breeder, was the right thing to do.  A multitude of abandoned animals are desperate for homes at all times.
Rose and Pansy were housed together in a crate marked with the names Pebbles and Bam-Bam.   Silly, obviously, but they did share the sometimes loony animation of those kinetic cartoon characters.  After seeing them (our vet later agreed that they were an exceptionally “pretty pair”), we fairly quickly decided that they were “the ones”.  Directly we told them we were adopting them, but North Shore’s paperwork took a heartbreakingly long time to complete.  When we returned after about 45 minutes later to pick them up, you could see that they were nervous and could sense their impression that perhaps something had gone wrong.   Rose, who we know is a little older than Pansy, had clearly instructed her uncontrollably ebullient sister to behave and calm down, and they looked quite tentative when we saw them again, as if they had possibly “failed the audition”.  Jamais de la vie.  Our contract with North Shore included a clause that they could never be separated.
Returning to our apartment on East 86th Street, they immediately adopted new roles, those of the Flying Wallendas.   That manic kitten phase lasted a while and was entertaining, if exhausting (for us, not for them), but eventually Pansy’s serene, expansive and “easy” side came out, as well as Rose’s regal reserve, utter dignity, and occasional expressions of haughty, but correct, dismissiveness regarding some of the vulgarities of this world including, she clearly believes, those shown by her brother Felix, a later addition to the family.   
One year later Rose and Pansy assumed a new role as sisters to our new baby, Jane.  The three girls took to each other immediately and permanently.  That was apparent the night we returned from China.  My former assistant Rebecca Tocci, who is a painter and photographer, painted Rose’s and Pansy’s portrait when were were in China on our adoption trip, and the painting hangs in our bedroom.  It captures their  dramatic black, white and gold coloring, their distinct personalities, and the perfection of their lithe kitten bodies, which may also be discernible in the high-contrast black & white photograph at the bottom of this post, which shows them crawling up my trouser leg. 
As I’ve written previously, we lost Pansy too young last year after an illness.  It was a huge loss for us and for Rose.  As we promised North Shore, they were never separated and they traveled with us always (at least up and down the Eastern Seabord).  Still, Rose and Pansy continue to be my office mates (or am I theirs?) in Berwyn.  It’s a great arrangement.  You don’t need to be an insomniac to love cats, but when you are an insomniac, feline company is precious.


  1. Thank you for saying so. It means a lot to all of us. I'll try to cover all of the cats, dogs, birds (already completed) and fish eventually. I've already covered Eduardo the Opossum, critter nonpareil.

  2. Though I never knew Rose, I will join Aliki in shedding a tear for her.

    Terminal insomnia and terminal cat dotage having reached a concurrent zenith/nadir chez moi, this post gently nudges into hesitant life many buried nocturnal reflections for many beloved buried felines (among those reflections, insoluble doubts as to the fate of their remains when, in the probably not too distant future, some sensible citizens take over the property and dig them up).

    Of that breeder who had "marked them [R & P] for death," were this any other forum than that of a peaceloving and gentle man, I would probably say something unkind; but that is unnecessary, as the breeder, along with the rest of us, is marked for that to which he would have consigned Rose and Pansy.

    I don't hold with breeding but I hold with cats and I very much hold with Caroline and Curtis's inclination to keep as many of them (and of any/all other creatures) alive, in a state of belovedness, unto the end of all days.

    The imperfect ones, to me, always somehow seem the most perfect. (But this is perhaps because that's the only kind who've ever found their way to us...)

    Anyhow, thanks very much Curtis, and I'll be staying tuned for the next of these memorials. It's the remembering keeps the grass over the memory of the cherished ones green.

  3. First, the good news. Although this might have looked like a memorial to Rose, she’s still with us. (In fact, she’s in my office with me now sleeping on a chair in her preferred place next to my mother’s needlepoint reading “Meglio Solo Que Mal Accompagnato”. I think it’s the Blogger black background and Rose's serious expression that may have confused, and possibly my unclear use of the present and past tenses. (I generally still refer to Pansy in the present tense; it's how I feel). I must say that the Blogger challenges you set for yourself – figuring out how to “sail and glide” and render tilde-like signs -- in presenting BTP so beautifully and effectively are more sophisticated than mine, which lie more in the area of simply presenting information in roughly the right form. I need to get Janie involved in helping me do something more sophisticated. She’s good at this sort of thing.

    I agree with you entirely on the perfection/imperfection issue. Rose’s and Pansy’s markings are extraordinary and far more beautiful than the breeding standard, which is insipid by comparison in its uniformity. The whole point is that they’re all individuals and that individuality manifests itself in myriad ways. One nice thing, however, is that at some Cat Fancier Association-sponsored cat shows we’ve attended, this is recognized by inclusion of a non-purebred or “mutt” category. Cat shows are so very weird in any event and, unlike dog shows, the essence of planned disorganization.

    We know where all our animals are buried also and it’s the main reason I don’t fret more about the fact that we haven’t yet been able to sell our Tuxedo Park house due to the recession-related real estate crash. I know where they are and they’re always thought about, cared about, and tended to. We lost Pitch, our beautiful black feral, a couple of weeks ago, and he is now out back with U, Santa and Pinch. A man who helps us out in Tuxedo sometimes found him in our garage, where Pitch lived in the winter (we have a “pet door” there; we were never able to attract Pitch indoors, as we’ve done with so many others), and he had come home to pass away, as Pinch did before him. Dick kindly buried him in the backyard and placed a cross over the grave, which I thought was lovely. We still make sure that all of the outdoor cats (and opossum) who joined us in Tuxedo are fed every day, whether we’re there or not.

    You and Angelica and Caroline and I are trying our best and all the reward that comes in terms of knowing their beauty, their affection and the (gradually) shared consciousness is about the best thing I know. A couple of weeks ago, Jane wrote a paper for school about the responsibilities humans have and should feel they have for animals, and it was the best, most direct thing she’s ever written. Unlike other school assignments, where she and her friends sometimes struggle to find the right voice and figure out what will “work” with the teacher, this just came out strong, simple, utterly clear and in her individual, unmistakable voice. I was immensely grateful to think that we as her parents might have helped her to feel this way and to be able to describe her feelings to others.

    On another, less relevant, subject, Rolling Stone’s decline from a vital, highly enjoyable and timely publication to the wreck of the last too-many-years-to-count, is sad. A college friend of ours from Atlanta was among the first 10 RS subscribers. When he finally dropped his subscription, executives in the circulation department did contact him several times trying to find out why. Knowing Jon, I’m sure he didn’t reply. The funny thing is that eventually he began to review records for them. I'd like to think that Billy Collins sent you a thank you note. Curtis

  4. Curtis.

    Oh, my. Thank goodness cats are too intelligent to read English, or Rose'd be justifiably furious with my blooper. Thing is, I KNEW it was Pansy gone and Rose still with you... but you know the "senior mind" (or, happily, you don't), I was in such haste to subscribe to Aliki's sadness over Pansy that I extended it to Rose... all of which circumscribes my own lugubrious lacrimal mudpuddle.

    But, well -- you'll understand. (A. figures I have few features you'll have missed, so what a wonder you're still putting up with me.)

  5. Good morning. Rose would smile, actually. She's a lovely girl and a good friend to have. The cat who looks like a cat who looks like That. And I'm convinced it was my ambiguous phrasing.

    Caroline wanted me to pass along our view (which reminds me of something you said about Peter Orlovsky last week) that we try to do the right thing with the burials and also fret about moving on (from a particular piece of real estate), but we believe that they're substantially there for a while, then move on also and sometimes come back, sometimes to rejoin you. We feel we've had that experience and it's one of those things that reminds me that I'm quite lucky and basically happy, even in the midst of the of the various rotating inborn bad humors I sometimes feel compelled to share, and Caroline and Jane kindly put up with.

    College reunion finished. Friends from Boston (the Wittgenstein scholar tax lawyer and his architect wife, both classmates) coming for breakfast. It was pretty enjoyable and offered some nice surprises.