By Chris Cooper
Kea was a filthy, grease-covered little miscreant when she was found by In Your Ear Music Emporium owner Lauren Calvert some 16 years ago hiding in some random machinery (in the snow, no less). Sixteen years ... that’s enough time to make an impression on some kids that aren’t exactly kids any more. Some of whom wound up on the receiving end of Kea’s — ahem — somewhat notorious lack of patience in regards to unruly children, and still carry the “scars,” if you will. Legend has it that there were actually two cats living at IYE in the early days, one significantly larger than Kea. Apparently, she made it clear — through all manner of fur flinging and claw-flailing butt kickings — that she wasn’t sharing such an ample space with another feline. The other cat, fortunately, found a new home before she got really angry.
At one point, Kea was kidnapped. Yes folks, abducted in an act of revenge by an irate shoplifter that managed to get himself caught. But of course, she was found and brought home.
Before IYE had actual benches out front, there were hay bales that provided a convenient perch for Kea. Sometimes the act of watching Sylva’s passersby got a little boring, so she would head up to Spring Street to see what was happening, inciting a bit of panic in the music store staff.
Whether she was an effective mouser I couldn’t say, but she had an unusual fetish for cardboard (well, paper products in general) and more often than not the morning opening process included sweeping up the remnants of what used to be a box, newspaper, magazine, and so forth.
And so it was: over a decade and a half of morning friskies, gravity-defying leaps onto CD racks and counters, scratches behind the ears from literally thousands of customers, and the earning of a place in the heart of every single IYE employee and many Sylva locals. Tourists would make a point to stop in each year to check on “that little store kitty.” That’s enough time to make anybody with a soft spot for animals decide that immortality is a viable option.
In the five years I spent with Kea, the aging process didn’t seem to kick in until the last year or so. At 11, she acted and looked all of 3. Once she knew you, you were guaranteed a tail flick/grunt greeting almost every day. I had the honor of being one of the few that she let flip over on her back and carry around like, well, a baby I guess. Except that I’m terrified of babies ... but that’s a whole different thing.
Around the end of 2008, things began to go wrong. Kea was diagnosed with a tumor that affected her kidneys. She began to have seizures that started with “mild” and grew to “not so mild.” Her cognitive functions seemed affected by these seizures; she would stare at a spot in the distance for unusual amounts of time, appeared confused and lost in the place that had always been her home. But never was she cranky — the purr motor was functioning perfectly. If the stars were aligned properly and she had the energy, she would go into one of the silliest kitty soccer games ever with a little balled up piece of paper. But her pace was slowing. There was no denying it. Everything that could be done to keep an animal Kea’s age as healthy and happy as possible had been done, but by the beginning of the new year there simply was nothing more we could do.
“Is that a real cat?”
“Is that cat deaf?”
“Did you know she’s got one green eye and one blue eye?”
These were the questions we fielded every day. “Yes, it’s a real cat.” Occasionally, the answer was “No, she’s a robot. I’ve got the remote control right here.” No, Kea was not deaf. She did exhibit a talent for ignoring people that didn’t interest her, however. But cats with differently colored eyes apparently have a propensity for deafness. Who knew?
It’s the next question that’s the hardest to imagine crafting an answer for over the next few weeks,
“Where’s the kitty?”
Little Kea, we’ll miss you terribly. Here’s to hoping there are copious amounts of freeze dried shrimp, plenty of cardboard to keep your claws sharp, an endless supply of gentle scratches on top of the head, and a sunny spot to nap in that never fades ... wherever it is that you are now.
In Your Ear Music Emporium