Monday, November 23, 2009

Ethel the Brave

To: Abbottsville Fourth Ward
From: Donna Banta
Subject: Ethel the Brave

In the summer of 1992 a coworker tried to give me a kitten. When I declined she threatened to take it to the pound. I stood firm. After all, we already had a cat, and a dog, and two children. As the day wore on, my resolve weakened. I called my husband, Mark, and pitched the idea. He responded in the negative, just as he had when I suggested the acquisition of our first cat. I trudged to my car at quitting time, pouted through preparing the meal and moped during its consumption. Finally, I threw down my napkin and said, "Let's go get that kitten." The kids cheered, my husband rolled his eyes and we loaded in the car and drove through the Texas heat to collect a new member of the family.

We named her Ethel because our other cat was called Lucy. Perhaps parted from her mother prematurely, Ethel failed to grow large, and she retained that kitten-like characteristic of going limp when we picked her up. We'd sling her on our shoulders, drape her about our necks, or, most often, cradle her in our arms like a baby. When she opened her mouth to meow, no sound escaped, and we couldn't hear her purr. Although whenever we petted her we felt that comforting rumble. It was always there, only silent.

Happily none of these shortcomings interfered with her self esteem. She claimed her throne upon arrival, insisting that the high strung Lucy and our eager to please cocker mix, Libby, bow to her accordingly. Like Ethel Mertz in the Albuquerque episode, our Ethel remained center stage, merrily crooning Shortnin' Bread with Lucy and Libby as her back up acts.

Not that she didn't earn her stardom. Her bravery knew no limit. She protected our property against every manner of four legged intruder. Size was never an issue. When the neighbor's great dane wandered onto our porch she lunged through our front door like a flying ninja, and sent him whimpering in retreat. Likewise to an errant doberman who strayed into her territory. Occasionally she would rush inside wide-eyed and breathless, obviously on the heels of some harrowing encounter. I like to think that these events occurred in some other sphere, one that included time travel and spacecraft and light sabers. After all, this was a creature who could make a wad of foil windsurf across the carpet, and create an ergonomic hammock out of a pile of laundry.

Our son was her favorite in the family, and Ethel raised him well. She was his loyal friend, most reliable playmate, and a comfort to him in ways no human could provide. She even acted as disciplinarian. For example, rather than awaking to his mother banging on the door and bellowing, Marky was instead roused by Ethel, who patiently licked one of his eyes until it opened.

In 1998 my friend Debbie pet sat while we were away on holiday. When we returned Ethel had magically ballooned in size. Picking her up was like heaving a sack of grain. Marky was first to try, staggering backwards with a "whoa," then hoisting her into the cradle position. In our surprise we almost didn't notice. Then when our chatter died, we heard it. An audible purr. And later, a meow.

It was a good thing Debbie helped Ethel find her voice. Soon after our sweet cocker, Libby, passed away, and we adopted a West Highland White Terrier named Katy. Unlike Libby and Lucy, Katy had no desire to sing back-up. The scene shifted. Ethel was now opposite Katy in the episode where Vivian Vance and Lucille Ball accidentally show up on TV in the same dress, then belt out the tune Friendship while ripping the decorations from each other's bodice. (Nonny-Nonny-Nonny, HepHepHep) After a series of face-offs, Ethel and Katy settled into a queasy detente, and at times even shared the sofa--ever mindful of the invisible line drawn down the middle.

Marky left for college, then his sister Emily followed, and we moved from Texas to California. Upon arriving at our new home, Ethel at once secured the premises. When the neighbor's pit-bull mix menaced, she retaliated by hissing and yowling. When that didn't work, she flung her entire girth against the fence, much like Woody Allen when he tried to break down a door in Manhattan Murder Mystery. ("Must be one of those new doors.") Amazingly, the stunt worked. The mean dog never bullied when Ethel patrolled the perimeter.

Having tamed her new environs, Ethel divided her time between caring for Lucy in her declining years, keeping Katy fit via a series of physical challenges, and attending to her household duties, such as sorting socks, emptying the trash, and helping me knit. Her days were full.

Earlier this month, Mark and I awoke to find Ethel at the foot of our stairs crying, too weak to move. We wrapped her in a blanket and rushed her to the animal hospital. She purred in my lap for the entire drive. After a brief look at her vital signs, the veterinarian suggested it was time to say goodbye. It seemed that our Ethel's amazing heart was failing. We cradled her in our arms one last time, then waited as she slipped peacefully to sleep.

Dear members of the Abbottsville Fourth Ward, please do not trouble yourself with Ethel's temple work. She requires no baptism, no washing and anointing, no endowment or sealing by proxy. I'm quite sure she isn't hanging around the spirit world hoping to become a Mormon. (I know her too well.) But then, if you insist on doing all that crap, be my guest. Lord knows, I can't stop you. I'm just saying it's unnecessary. While I've no idea what awaits humans after death, I am convinced that all pets go to heaven.

Ethel Banta


  1. Ethel was good kitty. I will miss her raspy little tongue giving my hand a bath.

  2. Me too! I will miss picking her up to cuddle, and then having her paw thrust unceremoniously into the side of my nose.

  3. Thanks Leah, I miss her and was thinking about her today.