Uncle Panda was mum’s first Maine Coon. He was a very special chap who believed all his dreams would come true. A bit naïve, wasn’t he? But that said, many humans are just like him. My mum is one – she thinks my book will be a success, poor thing! But let’s move on.
Strangely enough, Panda was right, as very often what he wished for would actually happen! By just believing he could do it, he achieved it. For example, he became friends with a fierce, dangerous dog, made a public demonstration to prove he could drive mum’s car, won a battle with two giant eagle-owls who came one night to take him away and rode a Harley Davidson – only around the garden, but it was quite something! And like a king, he had a whole court of squirrels who worshipped him.
However, his greatest achievement was to get adopted by mum when she had no intention of getting another cat.
This is how it all happened.
Message Sent and Received!
The first time Panda and mum met was at a cat show. It was one rainy, gloomy Sunday in February.
Mum had just come back from a business trip in Rome. She was depressed. Her beloved cat Chloé had gone over the rainbow bridge just two days before.
Mum had learned of her death while visiting Anagni, an historical town close to Rome. She told us later how difficult it was to be hit by this news in such a beautiful place. According to mum, Anagni is one of the most picturesque, charming towns in central Italy. It’s perched on a rocky hillside and offers splendid views over the valley. At the time she was visiting, it was the Carnival Day, and she said the procession which was taking place on the narrow streets of the city, was most colourful and hilarious. To receive such sad news in such a magical place was like receiving a dagger straight through the heart when you least expect it. Chloé wasn’t very old and was in good health. She had been snacking and playing, but a moment later, she was dead.
No wonder mum was depressed when she got home. There was no cat to greet her, the sky was grey and low, and it was raining.
Fortunately, dad had a brilliant idea. “Let’s go visit a cat exhibition!” he suggested.
As the whole family was enthusiastic, mum agreed. “But we won’t get a cat!” she warned. Of course, it was far too early to bring a new kitty into the house, and everyone knew it.
Everyone? Not quite!
There was a little guy in a remote corner of the exhibition who was looking forward to mum’s visit.
“Is she coming yet? I’m fully packed!” he asked his sister as he dropped the last stuffed mouse on the pile in the corner. They were both inside a big cage that was next to another cage with their parents, two beautiful Maine Coons.
Their breeder, Micheline, had brought all of them to the cat show in the hope she could sell the little ones. She wasn’t happy though. It was already late afternoon, the show was closing in a few hours, and virtually no one had shown interest in the two little kittens! The place that she had been allocated, in a dark corner at the end of the big hall, was no good.
“Petits, you’re a hard sell,” she said to the kittens.
The little guy replied, “Don’t worry, Micheline, I’ll be off in a minute!”
The two Maine Coon kittens, a boy and a girl, were Panda and Penelope.
Although no visitors crowded around their cages, Panda was sure: tonight, after having been shown so many times without success, he would not be returning to Micheline’s house. Tonight, his mum would be coming to collect him to take him to his forever home.
However, what was she waiting for?
Suddenly he noticed her: she was coming! Panda recognised her from afar.
“Mum, mum! Meow, here I am! Come and pick me, hurry!”
He quickly gave his paws a last tongue brush, rubbed his eyes and sat up straight very close to the bars so that he’d have a better chance of being noticed. There wasn’t a mirror anywhere close for him to check his appearance, so he tried to see his reflection in his sister’s eyes – was he looking good? But Penelope was already napping.
Never mind, Panda was sure: one minute more and he’d be out and on his way to his new home. No need for the formalities or any other stuff – particularly since he was getting a bit hungry.
Mum and her family arrived, stopped in front of Panda and Penelope’s cage, exchanged a few kind words with the breeder and – oh, what a disaster!
“Meow, what about me?” shouted Panda. Unfortunately, as he was still very small, the sound of his tiny voice was lost in the surrounding chatter. What had just happened was completely unbelievable. Even his stuffed mouse had been deceived.
“Ha,” said his sister, mockingly “Your mum, huh? She hardly noticed you!”
“No worries, she’ll come back! I’m sending her a message,” he said. Sending a message? The idea came to him suddenly, he didn’t know why. Like a spark, it crackled through his despair and lit up everything around him. But how to do it when you’re just a kitty without a mobile phone? He closed his eyes, concentrated deeply and wrote in his mind: “Mum, you forgot me! If you come back immediately, I won’t be cross, promise!”
Then he tapped the ground with his right paw, and there it was – message sent!
Now he was sure, mum would be back within minutes.
It wasn’t minutes; rather, it was possibly a bit more than an hour before the impossible happened. The exhibition was closing, the lights were going out one after the other when suddenly a woman was seen running down the alley, gesturing with her hands towards Micheline.
“Madam, madam! I want one of your little ones! I’ll take one of your kittens!” she called from a distance.
Micheline, happy and excited, pulled Penelope out of the cage, to Panda’s great distress.
“Take the female,” she advised. “They’re easier to look after.”
Of course, this was not true, but Micheline was anxious to get rid of the girl first. With the Maine Coons breed, the boys grow to a much larger size, and that’s why people prefer them. Mum knew very well which cat she wanted but out of politeness took Penelope in her arms.
Panda’s sister wouldn’t even look at mum. Why should I go with her? She’s not my mum, she’s Panda’s! I’m going home to my siblings! she thought. So she bent her head down and closed her eyes.
“Let me try with the other one,” suggested mum. Now it was Panda’s turn to get out the cage.
Mum took him gently, raised him to the level of her face, and smiled at him. Yes, this was the kitty she wanted, she thought, not knowing yet that Panda wasn’t a kitty; he was a little boy. Panda smiled back (oh yes, cats do smile!), gave her three butterfly kisses – one on her nose and one on each of her cheeks – and said, “Meow!” This was to put his signature at the bottom of the lifetime love contract.
But what exactly had happened? Why had mum suddenly decided to come back when she had already returned home and was having her afternoon tea? No one knows – certainly not me. One very wise cat told me once that it may have been teleph. . ., “telepathy ” (I think) or at least something similar.
Unlike me, Panda loved travelling. Whether it were by car or train, as long as it was moving, he was happy. However, his train journeys always started with a little annoyance. Mum would arrive with Panda at the railway station and ask for the tickets at the counter. “For myself and my cat,” she would say.
Without replying, the cashier would issue two tickets. Cashiers in France never say “Bonjour” or “Yes, madame” or any of the other little words that customers may appreciate. They’re way above that. I mean, they’re not going to stoop to the level of being courteous to customers, are they? Besides, nobody calls them customers – they’re just annoying travellers, and the French railway world would be so beautiful without them!
Mum would then check the tickets and inevitably notice the allocation on Panda’s ticket. It would say “little dog”!
“But, monsieur,” she would object, “it’s not a dog, it’s a cat!”
“It’s the same thing,” the cashier would shout in an unpleasant voice. Yes, when they really need to reply, cashiers at railway stations shout. We don’t know if they shout to intimidate customers and prevent them from asking any further questions or to prove their high rank in the railway. Whichever, I think it’s time that cats take over railway station counters – at least they know what good manners are!
Unhappy, mum would go to look for her train, mumbling something about people who need glasses. She never dared show Panda his ticket. He would have been most put out! If only the words had been “big dog”!
Once on the train, Mum would take Panda out of his carrier and put him next to her on the seat or on the reading board opposite her. From there, he would watch all the passengers passing by, and if they looked at him, he would call out to them: “Meow! How are you today?”
Most of them would stop for a few seconds to compliment him on his beauty, but if someone passed without saying anything, Panda would become very offended. “What’s wrong with this one? Why doesn’t he say I’m beautiful?”
During the journey, mum usually went to the bar car for a coffee break; she would take Panda in her arms and walk through the carriages until she arrived in the bar car to order a coffee with cream served on the side. She would then lay Panda on a window board and lean against it herself so that they could both admire the scenery and enjoy the break. While mum would sip her coffee, Panda would wash down the cream.
Although he was totally free during the whole journey, it never occurred to Panda to leave mum for a second and go for a walk on the train by himself.
Driving a Car
Have you ever seen a cat driving a car? Not that our Panda was actually able to do it, but he publicly demonstrated his ability to do it in case it was ever needed. Mum told us this story.
Back then, Panda was mum’s sole cat, and whenever the family went away, Panda would go with them, be it on a train, in a plane or by car.
Cars were his passion, as were motorbikes. Normal for a little boy, isn’t it? Just as in the train, Panda also travelled freely in the car. He would sit on the back seat or the rear self, looking at the landscape and marvelling at the passing motorbikes. As soon as a big motorbike passed the car, Panda would jump from the seat, stomp, meow and scratch the window. “Mum, mum,” he would shout, “did you see that one? It was so beautiful! Say, mum, can I have one of those for my birthday?”
“Of course, you can, darling,” mum would say, just to ensure some quiet time during the drive.
Usually, mum would do the driving and dad the criticizing. The responsibilities in a household must be shared fairly. Panda would watch carefully. Driving, he thought, was not so difficult. Besides, mum made all kinds of mistakes – you only had to listen to dad! He could carry on a bit. “You drive too fast!” “Don’t overtake, there’s no room!” “Careful! What are you doing now?” “Speed up, overtake the truck. What are you waiting for?” And so on. Panda quickly concluded that mum was a bad driver. But he, Panda, would certainly be able to do much better.
So one day, when the car had stopped at a gas station, and mum and dad went for a coffee break, he decided to try his hand at the wheel.
He moved across from the back to the driver’s seat. Looking very serious, sitting upright on his butt, he put his paws on the steering wheel and looked straight ahead. You need to keep an eye on the road, you know. He started to move his paws in the way he had seen mum move her hands, and occasionally, he pressed the horn with two paws, using all his strength. On mum’s car, the horn is located in the centre of the steering wheel. Once he’d managed to hoot, mum and dad came running out of the coffee shop. They saw a crowd surrounding their car so had to make their way through it to discover what was going on.
And there he was: their beloved kitty behind the wheel with a serious look on his face, pretending to drive and looking as if he would be starting the car any minute.
“Look, there’s a cat driving the car!” the people around the car shouted and pulled out their mobile phones out to take pictures.
Regrettably, Panda was obliged to leave the steering wheel to mum for the rest of the journey. But at least he had proved that he could drive. Now, if dad wasn’t happy with mum, he would know who to turn to!
The Cat Killer Dog
The neighbour at our seaside home had a big dog. Mum said it was a Labrador. The neighbour was always bragging to mum: “My dog is a cat killer. No cat dares enter our garden. If the dog sees it, he chases it immediately. And, if he wanted to, he would kill it!”
Mum didn’t believe him. This dog was massive, fat, and unlikely to ever catch a cat.
However, she remained on alert and carefully protected the fence between the two homes. “Don’t go to the other side, Panda,” she’d say. “Don’t even put a paw under the fence – the dog on the other side is not a nice dog.”
Panda didn’t believe it. Not a nice dog? Quite impossible! All the dogs in the world are nice. You just have to know how to talk to them; mum was talking nonsense! Besides, he had a plan. . .
One day (mum remembers this well), it was a sunny morning close to noon, when mum suddenly saw Panda heading towards the neighbour’s house. He was walking slowly along on the railing as it was very narrow. Mum considered shouting, but Panda was already on the boundary between the two properties, and if frightened, he might fall – possibly onto the neighbour’s side. Mum’s heart stopped beating for a few seconds. The huge dog was just on the other side, looking at Panda, patiently awaiting his visit.
Very calmly, Panda crossed, jumped down next to the dog and gave him a light nose touch.
I imagine he said something like, “Hello, neighbour! Nice to finally meet you! How are you today?”
The dog opened his colossal mouth and stuck out his tongue. Mum’s blood ran cold. Was he going to swallow her cat? Although Panda was a big Maine Coon, it was still possible.
But no! He engulfed Panda’s entire head in a long, slow kiss with his enormous tongue. Brrr, I guessed it was very hot and sticky! Then they both sat down to have a little chat.
Unfortunately, Panda had to leave – mum was tempting him with roast chicken on the other side of the fence. That day, the biggest piece of the chicken was for the dog – to thank him for the warm welcome. Panda himself helped push it under the fence.
As for the dog’s owner, he was a bit embarrassed and stopped boasting about his dog being a cat killer. Especially since the dog and the cat had become the best friends in the world.
Squirrels, Eagle-Owls and the Big Escape
There are many other stories about my uncle Panda. For example, how he spied on the squirrels arriving at the end of every afternoon and ran to the kitchen, trembling with excitement, to alert mum that it was a feeding time. Or how he chased away two giant eagle-owls who came to visit one night in the belief that he would make a good snack. Or again, how one day he decided to go around the world and left home. After a day and a night out, he came back with his claws worn a bit and his paws dirty. No one knows where he went or what he did. He only said, “The world tour wasn’t worth it,” and sat down to gobble two dinners in a row.
Panda’s greatest passion was motorbikes. The bigger they were, the more ecstatic he was about them. Every time he heard the roar of a big motorcycle engine, he’d get incredibly excited. He’d jump up and down, meow and call mum or his siblings.
One day, a contractor who was doing some work on our house arrived with his Harley Davidson. Panda was thrilled. It’s true that the bike was beautiful. Brand new, shiny and sparkling, it was standing in the garden on the drive alley, and even I would have liked to ride it – if it weren’t for the sound it made. But Panda kept circling the beautiful machine.
Intrigued, the contractor asked mum: “What’s wrong with that cat? Does he like motorbikes?”
“Yes,” replied mum. “He’d like to go for a ride.”
“A ride?” repeated the amused entrepreneur. “Why not? Let’s go!” With that, he picked Panda up and installed him in the saddlebag of the luggage rack.
“Come on, big guy, but take care. Hold on tight!” he advised before starting the bike. You’d think Panda would have jumped down to save himself. I would! But instead, he looked very happy. His tail was waving, his face was shining with happiness, his paws trampled the saddlebag, and he was purring loudly. Imagine, the biggest dream of his life was becoming true! The contractor took three very slow laps around the garden with the cat in his carrier.
“You see,” mum said to Panda after thanking the obliging man, “you got your bike ride – and right on your birthday! What a present!”
Indeed, it was November 11, the same day on which he had been born.
It was not long before he went to another neighbour’s garden to see if there were any other dogs to charm or squirrels in need of nuts. But he always came back, or someone would bring him home.
For, you know, my uncle was famous in our neighbourhood. With his big trusting eyes he walked through life believing the world was full of friendly creatures who all adored him and wanted to do him good. And somehow, he was right; everyone loved him, and he loved everybody, be they people or animals. I often saw him talking kindly to birds and even to the mice inside the hedge.
He was a happy kitty and had a wonderful, long life.