Saturday, July 1, 2017


I was twenty-three and in my second year of teaching at a tiny consolidated school district forty-five minutes south of P-town. That fall my junior high softball team had some truly amazing talent, and we would wind up making it to the elite eight. Anyone who knows anything about softball will tell you it's all about the pitching, especially in junior high.

Gus, looking over a computer monitor and eying my dinner.
So once or twice a week I would head out into the cornfields, on gravel roads, to a farm house where my pitcher's pitching coach lived. I would catch her as the coach would dole out advice... "push with your legs"... "finish your pitch"... "use your hips"...

The Box Inspector.
The pitcher, her parents, her coach, and I became close. I didn't mind putting in the extra time because there wasn't anything to do where I lived, which was a town of 450 people. And, I think they grew to like the new upstart coach who was generous with his time.

Chilling before knocking over the Christmas tree.
Occasionally, the pitching coach's daughter would be home from college, which oddly enough was the same school I had just graduated from just two year's before. She was a pitcher, too, and eventually she got to know me well enough to ask me a question.
Helping Me Blog

"Will you take him? He's the runt of the litter and I don't think he'll be able to make it through the winter. All I ask is you keep his name: Gus."

Cat Nap.
A few times, out on the farm, we would have a nice fire and cook hot dogs over the open flame after our pitching lessons. Somehow, this little three pound cat, dressed in a tuxedo, would find his way into my lap. Inevitably, he would start purring and batting at the strings to my hooded sweatshirt. I guess we kind of bonded and the family took notice.

I was a single guy in a small town and this cat needed a home.

The sink was a the perfect size for a napping spot!
 I said yes.

I remember taking him back to my little 600 square foot rental home and cutting up some newspaper and throwing it a cardboard box. I placed Gus in the box and he hopped right out. How the heck are you supposed to train a barn cat to go in a litter box?  Turns out I needed some cat litter, because he was no dummy. I quickly drove into the larger nearby town and I was soon the proud owner of an actual litter box and some really dusty liter. I placed Gus in the box and he let loose.

The cat trap is working!
My one fear was quashed. This was going to work.

And it did. Beautifully.
Loving the sun in the window sill.

Gus would talk to me when I was on the phone... I guess he figured I was talking to him, so he would talk back. Over the years I did start talking to him, and he never failed to hold his end of the conversation.

Laying on the heated bathroom floor.
After work I would pull into the garage and manually lower the door, which made a little bit of a racket. Gus learned the sound would mean that it was belly-rubbing time. I'd walk through the back door and he'd be laying, belly at the ready, waiting for his person to dote on him.

Checking out my new wheels in the garage.
Make no question about it, I'm a dog person, but Gus was the next best thing. Heck, he may have even changed that.

Gus, inspecting the new built-ins.
He learned my lap was the warmest place in the house and he new that when I opened the freezer it meant he would soon be able to lick the ice cream bowl. He took to his new role as a house cat seamlessly. (Let's just forget about that time he snuck out and climbed half-way up an evergreen tree. He was waiting for me when I got home, on the back stoop, covered in sap. What a mess!)

Sunning himself on the new built-ins
When I met Laura, he survived the move back to Peoria and being thrown into a family with new two cat step-sisters. There were still belly rubs and ice cream, but now he had to share his person with someone else.
On top of the heating blanket and Laura
 Gus adopted Laura and they had a great relationship for thirteen years. He would lay on her lap, but if mine was available it wouldn't be long before it was occupied.
The step-sisters, Bear & Mooshie with Gus (bottom)
 He survived his two step-sisters and for little over a year he was the only cat around. Two springs ago we adopted Hugo and Holiday. Laura need a lap warmed, too. Gus was getting up there in years, and it took some time to adjust, but he begrudgingly began to tolerate the two little fur balls and their boundless energy.  Eventually, the three of them settled in quite nicely, to the point where Laura, myself, and the three cats would all share the bed.
Holiday, Gus & Hugo
 Gus wasn't a Cub fan. He didn't care about baseball, but he was a fan of me watching the Cubs. If I was sitting down watching the Cubs, then there was a warm lap available. The two of us, were just like that on the couch, when the Cubs won the World Series.  I could have been out with friends or family... but no, that's not me. I wanted to watch the game with my wife and my cat. It just doesn't get more perfect than that.
Watching the Cubs in the Man Room

Today, we had to put Gus to sleep. He absolutely loathed the vet, so we had a mobile vet come to the house. I've been dealing with all these emotions of losing him the entire week. "Is it time?" There was quite a bit of back and forth in my head. "Maybe if we could just try this then he'd be okay for a little while longer?"  It became obvious it was time... and that I needed to let go. Wednesday I made the most difficult phone call I've ever had to make, and I've been spoiling Gus left and right ever since.

Trying to mail himself.
Belly rubs. Treats. Ice cream. Lap time. And generally just trying to make things easier for him.
Helping me grade math papers.

I'm happy to say he went out on top: sixteen and half years old, with his favorite two people in the world, in his house, and quite peacefully. Pain free, except for a little arthritis in his hind quarters.
Waiting for me to finish with the ice cream just a few days ago

I think it's so hard to say good-bye, because he was so easy to love.

Thanks for reading and your support.

Links to some of my favorite Gus posts:
Cat Math
Cabin Fever Stricken Cat
Cat on Leash - Fail
Bath Time Kitty (the time he got out and fell in the neighbor's pool)
A Message to My Blogosphere Friends from My Cat 
Ugh. It's Too Hot.
Wicked Cat of the East
You Know It's Basketball Season When...
Box of Holiday Joy
June Swoon
Sunbathing in November
Mailday - Ryno's in my Mailbox
A New Box! Just For Me!


  1. Man! My heart goes out to you tonight. Such a beautiful tribute!

  2. Sorry to hear about that Tom. Wish you and your wife the best.

  3. So sad to hear about Gus. :( Seemed like a awesome cat.

  4. Sorry for your loss, my friend. Always tough to lose a pet, my childhood cat passed away a few years back. I'll give my cats an extra belly rub for Gus tonight.

  5. So sorry to hear. Family sometimes has fur.

  6. So sorry for your loss. This post is an awesome tribute to Gus.

  7. What a great tribute to Gus. Condolences for you and your family.

  8. I'm sorry to learn that you have lost a loved one. I can see that you gave him an amazing life. Hugs.

  9. Sorry for your loss. I'm dreading the day that our sweet 150lb baby is no longer with us. I can certainly understand.

  10. He was the first awesome cat I ever knew, and a big reason why I took the leap to get a cat of my own, back when I was 23. You figured out that litter box so well with him, that when he wasn't sleeping in a nacho cheese box, he taught Stinky Jinkies how to cover poos like his sophisticated tuxedoed cousin. Gus sure will be missed!

  11. In my thoughts - so sorry to read that, but an awesome tribute all the same.

  12. Great tribute. It's coming up on one year ago that I had to let go of my boxer/pit mix who was with me for nine years, so I know something of what you went through. Glad it was peaceful.

  13. My condolences on the passing of Gus. I'm betting that even though cats can appear aloof that deep down Gus was a Cubs fan.

  14. Been there man. Sucks. Sorry for your loss. Looks like he had a pretty damn good life.

  15. Sorry for your loss. Looks like Gus lived a great cat life.

  16. Tom, I was in tears before I was half-way through your post. I knew from the title how it would end. Such a sweet life Gus had and what wonderful memories you have. I had Baby Kitty for over 20 years and can still shed a tear when remembering him. My heart goes out to you!