Portfolio published an essay of mine about a pet cat named Winslow Homer DiRicco back on Aug. 17, 2011.
It was my loving attempt to describe the joy and endearing qualities that made him such a cherished member of the DiRicco household.
This time around I'd like to add another chapter to his story since my bony buddy is in cat heaven now. That's the affectionate nickname I gave to Winslow as I watched his weight drop from 18 to 10 pounds over the last six months he was with us.
His heavy breathing, loss of appetite and unresponsiveness to what was going on around him convinced me and my wife it was time to end his suffering.
One thing he held onto to the very end, however, was the lap time he shared with Joan. At least once a day he would jump onto her lap, give her that "mommy look" we always laughed about, and reach up with a paw as though to make sure she was aware of his presence.
When it finally came time to put him to sleep, I chickened out. I said my goodbyes at home and watched from the doorway as Joan and Ann, another cat-loving friend, drove off to the vet. I suppose every other owner experiences the same emotions when he or she loses a cherished pet. He was a part of the family for 11 years. What more can I say?
Strange things have happened, however, since his departure. As you read on, I'm sure you'll come up with your own conclusions.
Winslow had always waited for us when my wife and I returned home. I was in the habit of calling out his name when I opened the front door. Winslow would be there on the other side to welcome us and brush against our legs.
So, when I absentmindedly called out his name once when opening the door after he was gone, what did I see? I swear it was a glimpse of his bony body and wagging tail before he disappeared into the kitchen.
A figment of my imagination? Of course. How else does one explain it?
Or what about finding one of those yellow plastic rings that remains on top of a milk container after you open it. I'd throw the ring on the floor for him to swat around until it would skitter away to some inaccessible place. This time I found the ring in the basement near my computer chair. How could I have overlooked it, lying there in such an obvious spot, after I had tidied up many times since his departure?
Far-fetched? Perhaps. But not for me. I'm convinced he unearthed it from some hidden place and left it as a calling card of a recent visit.
While at my computer one evening, I caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye of something coming down the basement steps. When I turned to look, I fully expected to see Winslow. It was a common ritual for him to flop down on a nearby rug and keep me company.
Whatever came down the steps sure looked like him. A trick of the mind? Obviously. Or was it some paranormal phenomenon? That's pushing the envelope, right?
There's one final experience worth mentioning: a recurring dream. Deep into my sleep, I feel the light weight of paws stepping over the bed coverlet and across my legs, then moving up alongside me and nestling down near my face.
Half awake, I reach out to pet him, something I did automatically when Winslow was still with us. Just a dream? What else? But then, when I'm fully awake, why do I distinctly hear the sound of paws landing softly on the bedroom floor as he jumps off the bed and disappears?
There've been other signs and instances. Joan has said she also feels his presence at times, but not quite to my degree. My belief is that Winslow's reappearances, whether imagined or the real thing, are his way of offering us a belated "thank you" by revisiting some of the happy memories he enjoyed as a member of the DiRicco family, and letting us know that he misses us, too.
P.S. You're welcome to come back any time, my bony buddy. I'll leave the basement door ajar in case you need to use the litter box.
Vincent DiRicco of Munhall, a retired editor, can be reached at email@example.com. The PG Portfolio welcomes "Animal Tales" submissions and other reader essays. Send your writing to firstname.lastname@example.org; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255.