In May of 2000, my soon-to-be husband and I stood in front of the statue “The Rape of Persephone” in the gardens of Versailles. I called her PER-sef-a-nee, and he called her per-sa-FONE. We went back and forth about the pronunciation, and the discussion ended with me asking, “And how many people named pen-a-LOPE have you ever heard of?” Fast forward to September, when he had gone out to the barn with me, and I was putting away my horse. A tiny white kitten wandered out of the bushes and began rubbing on the horse’s legs. He scooped her up so she wouldn’t be stepped on, and she curled up in his arms, purring as loudly as I’ve ever heard a cat purr. The obvious name for her was pen-a-LOPE. When she got back to our townhouse and laid eyes on Fabio (my large grey and white tomcat), she was quite the smitten kitten.
She used to love to chase the clear plastic lids from bottled water with the squirt top, and one time my husband threw one for her, but she returned with a large tree roach, which she happily dropped in his hand. When she was happy, she was the Purr-a-Lope; when she got sooty from exploring the fireplace, she was the Grub-a-Lope, and so on. And one time, of all the odd things for a cat to eat, she swallowed a needle and thread. We had to take her to the emergency clinic for a $1,000 needle-ectomy. We still have the x-rays.
Even though she was spayed and never had kittens, she was the Mother Cat. She always had a lick for everybody, and she could usually be found curled up with the love of her life. When we had a minor fire in our house, and Fabio got trapped in the wall, she rescued him. She was a crotchety, no-nonsense cat who didn’t like to be held, but would deign to sit in your lap if she was in the mood. I think her dislike of being cuddled was rooted in the fact that when we found her, she had ear mites, fungal infections, and bacterial infections in her ears, and we had to put several kinds of medicine in them for weeks to get everything cleared up.
And there was no sleeping in if Penny decided it was time to get up. She would stand on my chest and lick my eyebrows. If that didn’t work, she’d start slapping my face and licking my mouth. She was nothing, if not determined.
I wrote a story about Penelope the Rescuer for a children’s magazine, but it wasn’t published. It follows below:
Penelope the Rescuer
No one was home when smoke started to fill the house. No one except the three cats. Angelique waited by the door for the family to come home. Fabio, her brother, found a place to hide, far from the fire. Penelope hid with him.
It wasn’t long before the family came home. Angelique meowed and MEEEOWWWed at the door when they came in. They took her outside to safety. They looked for Fabio and Penelope while they waited on fire trucks to come. The cats could not be found.
The fire trucks arrived with lights flashing and sirens blaring. Fire fighters with helmets and masks and hoses streamed into the house. One by one, they all came out again. They set up a large fan to suck the smoke out of the house. Finally they left.
Hours later, after everything had gotten quiet, Fabio and Penelope came creeping out. Grey and white Fabio only had a smudge of black on his white nose. Poor Penelope was smeared from nose to tail with soot. Instead of a sparkling white cat, she was now a dingy grey.
A few days later, workmen came to fix the damage from the fire. They tore out the burned wall and left. The next day, they came back and replaced it. By now, Penelope was almost clean again.
When the family came in the evening to feed the cats, they saw Angelique and Penelope. They couldn’t find Fabio anywhere. They could hear a distant mewing. Where could he be?
He had crawled through the hole in the wall. He was trapped underneath the house!
The daddy made a hole in the floor where the air conditioner pulls in the air. The mommy called, “Fabio! Here, kittty kitty!”
But Fabio was too scared to come out. They got some food, but he wouldn’t come. There was no way to go in and get him. How would they get him out?
Just then, Penelope jumped down into the hole.
“Oh, no. Now we have two cats stuck under the house!” said the daddy.
Fabio stopped mewing. Soon, Penelope and Fabio came to the hole in the floor. The mommy picked up Fabio and pulled him up. Penelope jumped up herself. She was all dirty again. Cobwebs hung off her ear. The mommy and the little girl hugged her ‑ she was Penelope the Rescuer! What a brave cat to go down into the dark to find her friend. That night, she got a special treat. She enjoyed the can of tuna, but she was really happy to have her best friend back safe and sound.