Thursday, February 24, 2011

How Raven Got His Name

In which a twin is well named, and other tributes are offered as well.

Feral Raven , refusing to look at the camera
"So," he asked me, eyes alight with a gentle twinkle. "How many black cats DO you have now?"

"I don't HAVE any black cats," I explained with patience. "No one HAS a cat." I gave a good natured smile. It was a matter of semantics.

"Well, how many live here?" he asked, grinning. I grinned back.

"Hmmm." I pondered for a minute, whether to continue the semantical debate or give in and answer his question. I opted for compromise.

"I feed four," I said at last. "They're all in the colony." This was in the days before Hades had become a house cat. 

"Hmmm," he responded in his turn. "Four black cats. Gotta wonder about that." We laughed together there in the yard, warm and happy in the summer sunlight, the spousal unit and our friend and I.

I shooed them inside, the two men, with the authority of a woman who needs to get dinner on the table before it burns. We retreated to the air conditioned interior of my cozy house in the City, and, as I remember, we had a wonderful dinner. Afterwards, I abandoned the two men to their conversation, retreating to my upstairs study to mull on the mystery of black cats.

I have never understood why black cats are such a tormented brood, perhaps because of my early infatuation with Bagheera in Disney's "The Jungle Book." He was an elegant, sophisticated, powerful being,
and I loved him with all the commitment of my childhood heart. It never occurred to me to associate evil with the sleek, shimmering beauty of a black cat.

Indeed, my great grandmother Molly, the acknowledged matriarch of our tribe, was known to have kept a great black queen named Spooky. Molly was in her grave decades before I was born, but, even so, many tales have come down through the generations about her. Tales have come down about Spooky, too. I know  Spooky was gentle and wise, a famous mouser and a wonderful mother. I know her bed of choice was a huge cast iron kettle she claimed for her own, and which Molly turned over to her without comment.

The idea of a black cat as a harbinger of evil is something I never encountered until I was in my middle school years, an unusual thing, surely, in the ranks of my superstition ridden Irish tribe. In fact, just the opposite tradition held sway among us. I grew up with the belief that the arrival of a strange black cat on your doorstep was a sign of great good luck. Go figure.

We were not disturbed, then, the spousal unit and I, by the arrival of  three black cats in one litter. It was  during the last spring to bring kittens to the ThirteenCats feral cat colony. Quite the opposite. We were thrilled. Certainly we were very protective of them. Human cruelty can be focused and severe toward black cats. As I said, I fail to understand this, but it is a fact, and indeed, statistics show black cats have lower adoption rates from shelters than their brethren with different coats.

Miss Kitty and Miss Little-Bit soon and easily acquired their names. Little Bit did not grow as fast as her two black siblings, and to this day remains tiny. You would mistake her for a half grown kitten if you didn't know better. Miss Kitty and the other male (Miss Kitty is a boy, despite his name) were almost indistinguishable for a long time; others of their caregivers referred to them as "the twins." As they matured, Miss Kitty grew long and lean, taller than her siblings.  The other twin, as yet unnamed, bulked out, became burly, fluffy. It became possible to tell the twins apart.

There came a day when we realized that each cat in the colony had a name by which we called it, except for the unnamed twin. This would not do. We set about figuring what name we might properly bestow on him.

The greatest treasures the river of life has swept to me are my five children, three biological, flesh of my flesh, two daughters and a son, and two bonus daughters contributed by the spousal unit. Ranging in age, as I write, from twelve to thirty-two, their bright souls continually delight and inspire me. Especially their compassionate hearts.

Eldest Daughter lives in a woodsy wonderland in rural northwest Arkansas, and, over the years, has offered her share of sanctuary to wounded and wandering creatures who have found their way to her door. Once, knowing the prejudices and dangers faced by black cats, she took in two black kittens, a male and a female. She called the male Bagheera; the female she named Raven.

I met these two sable beauties several times, on various visits to Eldest Daughter and her family. They were friendly and frolicksome souls. After wending our way along twisting dirt roads, through some of the most beautiful and lush countryside this continent has to offer, we would pull into the driveway, to be met by two leaping black cats, running to greet us, tails high. Bagheera was a handsome muscular male, Raven a dark and delicate beauty in her black fur coat and red collar.

Eldest Daughter is fond of long walks in the woods. She tells me that, in the days when Raven was with us, the little black cat was a constant companion on those green rambles. Strange behavior for a cat, perhaps. Perhaps not. I smile, sitting here, thinking of them. Dark haired human and dark furred cat, on their long and thoughtful walkings through the woodlands.

We grieved, all of us, when news came one year of Raven's parting. We grieved for gentle Raven, and we grieved for Eldest Daughter. When time came to bestow a name on the black cat who lived beneath our deck, the second twin, Miss Kitty's brother, it was quickly clear what name he should receive. I phoned Eldest Daughter, sought her blessing. In tears she gave it, thanking us for the tribute. We named him after the little black cat in the red collar, so needlessly and heartlessly taken away from the family who loved her. We called him Raven.

And that's how Raven got his name.

Eldest Daughter, also known as M. Teresa Blaylock, is a poet of great talent; her two published books of poetry are small jewels of wordcraft. The poem following is her telling of her Raven's tale, and is from her book, "Mirrors of Madness and Sight." It is used with permission.

For Raven, by M. Teresa Blaylock

Her golden eyes sparkled and danced in the light --
Her silky, long fur was the color of night --
Her spirit was free as a raven's in flight --
   She sleeps beneath trees on the hill.
She blended with shadows and played in the sun --
She followed my steps and would silently run --
She fell by the hand of a fool with a gun --
   Her form now lies quiet and still.
The wind through the pines and the cedars will sing,
And lilies will bloom, for it's well into Spring --
The Morrighan stretches an ebony wing
   And utters a cry, long and shrill.

stlcatlady is a poet, blogger, and freelance writer of short stories, news articles, and other such oddments, many of which center around her favorite subjects: felines , philosophy, and folklore. You may contact her by sending email to stlcatlady1 at gmail dot com. Thanks for reading!


  1. Aww - what a nice tribute to the first Raven - and such a purrfect name too. I see great writing runs in the family - like mother like daugher.

  2. I am sometimes amazed (though I shouldn't be) at your beautiful tellings of events. There is nothing I would add to offer a fine tribute to the many cats who have wandered in and out of our lives, on their many ways through the wide worlds. Thank you for these memories. :)