Midnight was the first. He was a big, tough tom, jet-black with just a couple of white hairs on his throat, a “witches cat.”
We did not adopt him; he adopted us. I was 3 or 4. We were living in West Hempstead. My mother went into my parents’ bedroom. There was a black sweater on the bed that began moving. My mother screamed. Knowing Midnight, he probably didn’t even blink.
My parents put him outside; he came back in. He quickly became a McMorrow.
With me being about 4, and my sister Beth being 6, there was a certain amount of teasing that took place, but only a certain amount. Midnight had claws, and he knew how to use them. If he was particularly unhappy with something you did, he would chase you.
He was always an outdoor cat, even when we moved into an apartment in Forest Hills Gardens. He was a terror for the birds, particularly in his younger, West Hempstead days. A neighbor complained to my parents about his killing birds, as if there was anything they could do about it.
He lived a long life. I was a teenager when he died. He just fell down one day and went into convulsions. My friend gave me a lift in his Camaro to the vet, who told me the animal had to be put to sleep. I watched him stick the needle in. The animal’s quivering stopped. He was dead.
The body wrapped in a blanket, we got into the Camaro, and went back to the apartment. It was dead of winter. The ground in the backyard was frozen, except by the window to the boiler room. I dug a hole, lined it with pine branches, and placed Midnight inside.
At the vet clinic, they had made a plastic identity card for Midnight. They card said that he was a female. Since it was a one-time visit, I didn’t care, until I buried him.
I looked at the card. It said female, but it also said his name, all caps, raised plastic letters. “MIDNIGHT.” The card went into the ground with the cat.
Before Midnight died, I’d gotten into the habit of bringing strays home. Usually kittens others didn’t want.
Two were males, Skeezix and Camilo. Both of them died the same death. My parents had them put to sleep because they both suffered from blockages of the urethra. It happens sometimes to male cats. After neutering, crystals in the urine clog up the canal. It can be treated, but it also can become chronic, as it did in both cats.
Since then, I have always delayed castrating male cats, as long as possible. I don’t know if it is scientifically true, but I’d rather err on the side of caution.
Skeezix and Camilo were not buried. They just never came back from the hospital.
Layla was the runt of a litter. Jet black, and tiny. As with all our other cats in Forest Hills, she would go outside. We had a first-floor apartment, and the cats would get to the backyard by jumping out onto a small roof that led to stairs to the yard.
One day, Layla came back pregnant. She had one kitten. It was born blind. It was put to sleep and Layla was spayed. She ended up living first with Beth, then with my other sister, Cathy.
Pooh, an orange cat in a tabby pattern, was next. He followed me home one night, and ended up with Cathy in her 91st Street apartment in the city, until she moved to Arizona, when Pooh moved in with me in my apartment on 19th Street.
He was the exact opposite of Midnight. Exceedingly docile, he loved to be handled. I could pick him up and drape him around my neck like a collar and he would purr.
When my wife, Carole, moved in with me, she was an actress, working steadily in musicals. She would put a show tune on the stereo and begin to sing. Pooh would race around the apartment in a kind of gleeful frenzy.
He lived a long life. The end came in about 1989. I was working as a manager at Bouley. Carole went home to Michigan to visit her family. Pooh suddenly became ill. I took him to the vet. It was a sort of overall organ failure. He still was functioning, but barely. They gave me drugs to give him, which I did.
The animal was barely moving, except to occasionally drink from a water bowl I’d placed next to him.
He would stare at me with that peaceful, dopey stare cats have.
Bouley was a tough job, long hours. I gave the cat his drugs in the morning, and went to work. In the evening, I would come home. The cat hadn’t moved. A couple of days of that and I decided, after leaving the cat alone one morning, that I was going to take him to the vet that evening and have him put to sleep.
I never made that trip. Pooh was dead when I came home. I put his body in a towel, at the bottom of a canvas tote bag, along with a trowel and his toys. I took the subway to 96th Street, and walked into Central Park. It was a nice evening, and even the Uptown part of the park was busy.
I found a secluded spot, dug a hole by a bench, buried him with his toys, and took the subway home.
T.E. McMorrow is a reporter for The Star.