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February 25, 2021

Window on the World Column | Small But Beautiful Things

By Lucy Jensen, Soledad Columnist

It was a long time ago. I had just moved into my office and it was infested with mice. Though I loved the classic lines of my building — less the lack of heating and cooling — the hardwood floors and the character and flavor of a historic downtown base, I was less of a fan of the sprinting rodents I would catch out of the corner of my eye as I was trying to work. Oh, and don’t even think about having any snacks in your desk drawers. Oh no, the most terminator-proofed plastic was just a wee challenge to my athletic rodents.

Soon I realized that there was quite the colony of feral cats behind the building. The proximity of local restaurants probably perpetuated the growth of the cattery back there; but that’s where the wiles of nature come into play. Cats and mice together equal, ultimately, less mice — it’s just the law of the universe. A spry calico kept coming to feed behind my office.

I can never see a creature hungry, so I always feed strays, but I knew better than to leave her at the will of the natural world. She produced one litter off my watch. I homed the babies and then got Mama, as I called her, spayed. She was still pretty hissy and spitty in those days but was a regular I could call over for tea and, within a split second, I would see her padding across the parking lot.

In time, Mama would allow a short cuddle. I would pick her up gently, hold her close and, for no good reason, raise my eyes to the heavens and thank unknown powers that this whimsical calico trusted me enough to let me love on her a little. A few seconds of love was enough for her; but I felt humbled in her presence every time she allowed the connection. Even now, several years down the road, I still love to watch her sashay across the parking lot toward her dinner and me.

Calicos are a special breed. Well, truthfully, they are not so much a breed, as a mottled color mixture of a kitty that has somehow created, in my experience, a playful, smart and naughty, mostly female cat. Calico cats are predominantly female because their coloring is related to the “X” chromosome, apparently, and two “X” chromosomes are needed for a cat to have that distinctive tri-color coat. If a cat has an “XX” pair, she will be female. Don’t quote me on this; but this is what I understand, and, in all my years of rescuing calico cats, I have never encountered a male calico.

A standard calico usually has a white coat with orange and black spots or splashes. The “dilute” calico has the white coat, but also blemishes of smoky gray and sometimes a strawberry-blonde hue. The “calibby” is the mix of calico and tabby, where the calico orange and black is often mixed with tabby stripes and this mix can bring a whole other level of naughty to the home! And these calicos often seem to cross my path.

My daughter had a beloved calico called Molly. She lived with her in her first apartment. Molly was an indoor cat and would occupy herself quite happily while my daughter was away at school or work, by carrying things up and down the stairs she thought were not positioned quite correctly. She had an enormous personality and would lay in wait for my daughter when she came home from work and, apparently, attack her with complete glee. When she calmed down, she was also super loving. My girl was her girl and that was all she needed. That also seems to be an enduring theme of the calico cat. They are completely, fiercely, devoted; but only to one person.

I rescued a Mama calico from a storm drain in Hollister. I didn’t actually go into the drain myself — god forbid — but my friend did. She got all the kittens out and homed them, but no one wanted the mama. “Will you take her, please?” she begged. Well, a calico, of course! Gotta love the challenge they bestow upon a human. I brought her home and she was a pretty wispy character; skittish and a bit feral. She decided that my mother-in-law, who was living with us at the time, was her human.

Even though I had rescued her and given her a fabulous new life, I was pond scum to her, worthy of only an emphatic hiss or two. The senior in our household was her human and that was that. When the senior moved up north to Oregon, it was only fitting that the hissy calico would move with her. I can only imagine the fisticuffs that would have ensued had she been forced to stay with me, her rescuer, but never her human.

That’s why I always giggle, when people tell me they have “rescued” a calico cat, because they are so fiercely opinionated and such incredible survivors, that they would never consider themselves to be rescue material. They would just deign to allow a human to spend time in their space, like an Egyptian princess, all poised and elegant in their calico glory.

“Mama!” I call for her in my sweet calico voice. “Mama, dinner time!” And soon she will casually stroll toward me, no hurry; her wet food can wait. Sometimes she allows me my special snuggle; other times, she turns her back on me and just wants her food and no bother. I love her for that. I am safe in the knowledge that she loves me and trusts that I will always come through for her.

My father tells me a friend of his has recently adopted an older cat. He sends me a picture. “Oh, that’s a calico!” I comment, like a pro. “Oh ?” he responds. (We were always dog, never cat, people.) I tell him a little about my adventures in life with the calico and he chortles. “Oh, Peter Marshall will have a wonderful time with him!” (His friend is always Peter Marshall, never just Peter!) “Her,” I correct him. “Her! They are almost always female.”

And then he tells me that I need to write a story to share my limited knowledge about calicos with the world and to remind people that, if they are lucky enough to be able to adopt or rescue one from a storm drain; not to let it hurt their feelings, if ultimately, they are not their humans. Calicos are quite something to behold. If you like a challenge in life, a calico is for you.

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