Cats and Rose Trees

Charcoal at about the time we adopted her.

Charcoal at about the time we adopted her.

Cats seem to be the inevitable partners of those who love perfume,but I’m not sure how often they are the partners of gardeners.  I have had memorable dog friends and currently have a cat associate who I came to know in a singular way involving a rose.

When I first met Charcoal she was living on the street in New Jersey.  The particular street she lived on was the same one we lived on  but our paths had not crossed often because we had an aged dog, and she was wary of him.  Mr Tang detested cats with all the energy a veteran Shih Tzu can muster, and used to curse her out roundly when she came into view, but he was in the twilight of his years.  Inevitably we lost him and when we did my daughter announced that she wanted a cat. This was in the wake of a very cold winter and the local street cats had emerged from it fewer in number and Charcoal was a pitiful specimen, a wraith of a cat with a starveling’s rough coat, but was plucky, with a surprisingly friendly manner.  In fact she played with the neighborhood children whose favorite pastime that spring was “Bank Robber” in which they would pull off a “heist” (having borrowed an old plastic briefcase of mine full of junk mail for the loot) and followed by all the kids the successful robber would run around the block. Charcoal galloped after them too, so persistently that in the end, after the children started feeding her left over baloney from their lunch sandwiches, I decided she had better have her shots.

She was pathetically docile at the Vet’s. She never even growled while her blood was drawn, teeth, ears,and eyes inspected. They weighed her and found her barely eight pounds of bedraggled feline.  She was perhaps two, had been spayed, but was obviously abandoned. The practical course of action was to get her up to speed with her vaccinations and feed her.

A knockout rose of the sort we grew

A knockout rose of the sort we grew

Charcoal did enjoy the food, but I can’t say that it swayed her choice of household.  She begged up and down the street as cats will, and was called by different names at different houses.  The Russians called her “Matyushka”, a family on the end of the street “Titi,”and she probably had other names as well, but we called her Charcoal because that was her name in the largely Jewish and Italian middle of the avenue where we lived.

What clinched her choice of family in the end was my garden.  A small patch of lawn had been dug up, freed from the concrete that had covered the rectangular strip next to the parking spot, and in the space I grew lavender, rosemary, and a rose bought on sale as a discard from a local nursery for $ 5.95.

It was I think a “knockout” rose and grew very big.  Charcoal loved it.  The pink rose stayed in flower from late May through September with a strong old damask rose scent billowing about it, and Charcoal dug herself a shallow bed underneath. On warm days she curled up there and watched the world go by while flicking the end of her tail.  She was there a few feet from our front door most days and only left her post to hunt.

After a while she took a fancy to my Hub and began leaving him presents of game on the back door mat, usually timed to coincide with when he came home from work: mice, dead birds, a vole which had only fainted, and once the ears and paws of a rabbit Charcoal had found too delicious to resist.  By autumn she had brought her sole toy, a small cotton cat doll, and placed it carefully in our backyard.  After her final shots she also began to sleep indoors in a corner that had once been the favorite spot of the Shih Tzu’s.  She wasn’t picky.

Not Charcoal but very much her habit with roses

Not Charcoal but very much her habit with roses

But I maintain that it wasn’t us so much, or the food- because she got that up and down the street- it was the rose tree she really loved.  That was her home base all the time we lived there.  When we finally moved we packed her up too.  She still adores roses in the house and will gravitate to anything that smells of them.  The Jersey rose tree I could not take with me, but I grow more now and the cat appears to appreciate all of them.

Cats and roses seem to be an observed duo.  Other people have seen their cats nap in the rose beds and I think it is probably a bit of cliche this fondness of cats for roses; but then they do share thorns and claws and a tricky independence that some people do not care for, but I find that I do.  After all whether a rose or a cat stays with you seems to be entirely their own decision.

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11 thoughts on “Cats and Rose Trees

  1. Aw, what a lovely tale of Charcoal and how she came to you! The late Charlie Bonkers liked to lie in rose beds, but in her case that might have been a sun thing, I don’t know. I shuddered at the catalogue of doorstep ‘presents’ . Truffle has only recently graduated from worms to the occasional live mouse. And one dead one, who failed to find the exit.

    • Doorstep offerings of game can be a jarring phenomenon.

      Three cats live next door to us now and they left “welcome to the neighborhood” presents of birds and mice. We always swallow our rising gorge and say, “What a generous and clever cat” since they really are in their way- but it can be a bit much to find mice on the welcome mat!!

  2. I lied reading about Charcoal. What a beast! My cat loves the smell of oil. When she was a tiny kitten she climbed up under one of our oil trucks. Then he must have slipped, and fell into a bucket that was under the truck. She got full of fuel and she was probably not long for this world when one of the drivers fished her out. The only cat like piece of food we had in the office was yogurt-we gave it to her on a saucer, and she was so tired she kept passing out face first in the yogurt. We thought she might expire on us but she did not-she thrived. To this day she loves yogurt, and if she smells fuel on me she happily rubs up against that sort. Maybe Charcoal thinks the smell of roses is the smell of salvation 🙂 Thanks for a very entertaining read.

    • I wonder if she does associate roses with food and care?

      But your story about the fuel loving cat is unique in my experience. How did she ever manage not to drown in that bucket? Cats really are extraordinary, the more I live with ours the more I begin to understand the nine lives stories!

  3. She clung to the side of the bucket. Simple as that. She was tiny: about as big as a small banana. And she did not love me: She bit me, as soon as I tried to touch her! Yes, if it was her last act on earth, it was going to be a mailicous act. I like that about her, that she’s not afraid to bite the hand that feeds. She’s affectionate on her own terms : a very cat sort of cat.

    I believe she used up at least two of her lives, during her time under the truck.

    Years later she jumped into a cabinet with a broken glass pane. I tried to get her out but she leaped for freedom, and gave her hind leg a bad cut. I felt terrible, and took her to the vet. Ah, said the lovely woman at the counter, she’s been breaking and entering??

    Sorry-I love cats, and roses, and perfume, and this post had all three, so I have talked too much, lol.

    Thanks for listening,

  4. Oh I love the “breaking and entering” yes indeedy, that sounds like a very cat sort of cat.
    Ours by contrast seems to think she is really a dog and begs on her hind legs for food, and fetches. This after our last dog with all his fastidious coat cleaning thought he was a cat.

  5. I loved this story, which isn’t surprising – I love cats, I love roses, and I love stories. As I was reading, I was afraid that in the end Charcoal would stay in NJ, so I was relieved that she moved with you.

    The last time Rusty was exposed to roses (a couple of weeks ago in my birthday bouquet), he tried to bite a petal, and then started rubbing his head on the bouquet (though, I think it was a reaction to some other flower or plant). After that he and the bouquet had to be separated – for the health sake of both.

    • At least roses are edible- so if Rusty did have a nibble it wouldn’t hurt him.

      My daughter bans all sorts of house plants because they “might be poisonous” though fortunately Charcoal is a wise cat and doesn’t eat what is unfamiliar to her-well- OK she does drink coffee! But she’s not supposed to.

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