Hey Elderly Aunt, what’s so special about cats?

Got a question for the Elderly Aunt? Ask her on Facebook or email your question to [email protected] with the subject line “Elderly Aunt question.” (Just please don’t ask detailed financial questions). 

Hey Elderly Aunt, a friend of mine told me he went to CatVideoFest 2019 at Court Square Theater. He said the place was packed, while fests on other subjects often draw audiences in the single digits. So what’s so special about cats?

elderly_auntRTlogoThe Elderly Aunt lives with a classic tabby called Cat. Until you posed your question, dear reader, she’d viewed Cat’s specialness as yet another of Reinhold Niebuhr’s unchangeable things that she’d do well to accept.  To her—as Van Morrison puts it in his lovely, wandery “Summertime in England”—Cat’s specialness wasn’t a matter of why, it just was. The Elderly Aunt makes no bones about being an unabashed advo-cat.

Your question, however, made it clear to her that there are—shall we say—less enlightened people who need a cat’s specialness broken down in the same way a baseball analyst  breaks down Max Scherzer’s specialness as a pitcher.

So be it. The Elderly Aunt will do her best to oblige.

One of her own Seven Pillars of Wisdom has long been this: Whenever a question arises, first seek out the party involved and ask what they think.

The Elderly Aunt could tell from the sounds of ruckussing that Cat was in the living room and hotfooted it there in her comfy slippers. She found Cat engaged in subduing a piece of brown paper that had dared to invade her floor.

“Hey Cat,” she said, “some dude wants to know why cats are special. You got any thoughts on that?”

Cat looked up at the Elderly Aunt and blinked. Then not being one to put up with any nonsense, she went back to subduing the brown paper. And yes, it did occur to the Elderly Aunt that if she were the videoing type, Cat’s Epic and Heroic Subduing of the Brown Paper Invasion would make an adorable post for herFacebook page. But luckily, dear reader, the Elderly Aunt quickly got a grip on herself, channeled her inner Archie Bunker and quickly put the kybosh on that idea!

As no input from Cat was forthcoming, the Elderly Aunt next consulted her own wisdom, her experience, and the internet.

She started with an internet search on the specialness of cats. Articles were legion. Among them was a hippy-dippy-ish article in Psychology Today that opined cats “have a rare quality that we humans would do well to cultivate: a large capacity to receive affection. A cat-bashing article in The Atlantic stated the obvious, “Herding cats isn’t easy.” Carlo Siracusa, clinical assistant professor of animal behavior at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, was quoted on PetMd as saying “Cats teach us how to love and respect an individual for who he is, even if we cannot change him.”  (As a humorous aside, the Elderly Aunt wishes to point out Siracusa’s assumption that the sex of a creature in need of changing is male!)

The only clear takeaway from the Elderly Aunt’s internet cat research was that—duh!—there are Cat Lovers, Cat Ho-Hummers and Crazy Cat People (you know who you are) and nobody has a clue why that is.

The Elderly Aunt’s own cat experience began in childhood. Her father was a kind and learned man, who occasionally muttered about “the fundamental isolation of the human spirit.” Although Pops credited this soul-chilling concept to Frederick Nietzsche, the Elderly Aunt has long since realized that Nietzsche’s thoughts on isolation are much more nuanced and inherently hopeful than Pop’s muttering suggested. Still, his muttering had a chilling effect on her as a child. The Elderly Aunt’s young spirit wanted nothing to do with fundamental isolation. It wanted dependable company.

Enter the Elderly Aunt’s childhood cat. No matter what transgression the young Elderly Aunt committed, that fur ball stuck with her. She could haul kitty up into her lap, hug the bejesus out of her, drip tears and worse all over her fur, and that cat’s companionship remained undemanding, uncritical and absolutely unconditional.

Since then, the Elderly Aunt has cohabitated (and treated well) a number of cats. And while men have stomped out in snits, children thrown lollapaloozicle tantrums and friends become inexplicably distant, her cats have remained as safely constant in her heart as the northern star. They gaze up at her with  their under-muscled faces, and blink the undying nature of our relationship: You are up there, I am down here; you are my person, I am your cat.

As to the popularity of CatFest—videos of cats doing kitty-cat things—I would suggest dear reader, that the antics of felines was not what packed Court Square with cat lovers. Sure, cats can be weird, unpredictable, and perennially childlike, but so can humans.

I suggest instead, that fundamental reason people flocked to CatFest was to celebrate the unqualified  there-ness of their own cats.

The Elderly Aunt offers her thoughtful responses to your questions about this wild ride we call life on every other Monday.  And as a general disclaimer—to quote the elves from The Lord of the Rings — “… advice is a dangerous gift, even given from the wise to the wise.”


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