By Valerie Fletcher Adolph
The manner of giving is worth more than the gift.
~Pierre Corneille, Le Menteur
All my life I had wanted a pet. So when I got married and set up my own first household, a kitten was at the top of my agenda. Luckily, I learned that another teacher at school had a litter of Siamese kittens born a few weeks earlier. Perfect! When my husband carried me over the threshold, the kitten trotted ahead of us.
After a serious, long discussion — our budget was settled more quickly and easily — the kitten was given the name Tico. Tico the tyke. She was also given everything else a kitten might possibly want. Not just food, but special treats. Not just a comfy bed, but our bed. If we were working on something she had to have the best vantage point. If my husband was painting the door, she was on his shoulder. If I was marking essays, she supervised the allocation of marks. If she wanted to play with the blue pen, I wrote with the red one.
She matured into a cat — but stayed as small as many kittens and just as playful. She knew she was the heart of the household. One tiny, plaintive meow could bring all kinds of good things. We doted on her, probably to excess. Whatever she wanted, it was our pleasure to give her.
Then came our first Christmas. We bought a turkey and I crossed my fingers that I could cook it. We prepared it the night before, all ready to pop into the oven. Tico surveyed every move, nose twitching, ready to assist. It looked as if our first Christmas dinner might be perfect. But overnight I came down with a violent flu. Tossing and feverish, I moved onto the chesterfield under blankets that were alternately too hot and not warm enough.
"You'll have to cook the turkey," I croaked. My husband tentatively got to work in the kitchen. Slowly the aroma of cooking turkey began to permeate the apartment. For me, it only made matters worse.
I had expected that Tico would be in the kitchen investigating and supervising, close to the source of the wonderful aroma and ready to be first to help with taste testing. But she was with me, cuddled into my neck. I would toss and turn over every few minutes. She would quietly move, wait till I settled for the next few minutes and then curl back into my neck. I would turn again, and again she would wait and settle back. It went on all morning.
My husband, meanwhile, checked the cooking. He added water to the turkey innards and boiled them for flavoring for the gravy. The additional aroma added to my woes. I ran to the bathroom yet again. Tico ignored the smells and settled back with me after each bathroom break.
Somehow in the middle of all this I managed to fall asleep. Not much of a sleep — I have vague memories of Tico climbing back and forth across my pillow to keep track of my thrashing. Then I awoke with a strong smell of cooked turkey liver in my nostrils. Tico was sitting up straight, about a foot from my nose. Right beside my mouth was a large piece of cooked turkey liver — her treat from the turkey that my husband had put in her dish.
"Eat it!" her posture said. "It will do you good. You'll like it."
Okay, I was in a weakened state, but the tears flowed. How generous. How giving. The most delicious morsel saved for me when I was ill.
I had sensed that a kitten would bring an emotional richness into my life. I just didn't know she would return our giving with practical giving of her own. I managed to choke back the turkey liver — just. Accepting gifts, even unlikely gifts, is important too.