Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Roscoe; lover of bacon, fearless protector.

I've wanted to share some of the stories about cats in my life that have inspired 'Breaking Cat News', and with this strip on GoComics today, this felt like a good time to start!

Roscoe was my parents' Siamese cat. Outgoing, intelligent, and friendly, he'd been raised by my Mom and Dad since he was a kitten. My Dad fed him cat-food-on-a-finger style when it was discovered he was not properly weaned. He was their baby before I was their baby, the star of the family with a big personality. Once a hungry little kitten, he grew and grew until he was just about the biggest Siamese you've ever seen.

He lived with my parents and a younger grey lady kitty named Mouse who hated everyone, save Roscoe and my Mom. If you've read BCN for a while, you know Mouse as Baba Mouse.

All was right in Roscoe's world for five years, and then my parents brought home a baby. (This is where I come into the story). I was in the hospital for just over a week when I was born. My Dad brought home one of my itty bitty shirts for Roscoe to smell. As the story goes, he took a deep sniff and turned his back on my father, flattening his ears. Friendly, outgoing Roscoe was giving the cold shoulder for the first time.

(I don't know if Mouse smelled my shirt. There was no chance Mouse would like me, she could barely stand my father or anyone else. She fought every cat who wasn't her beloved Roscoe and regularly chased dogs out of our yard. I'll share some Mouse stories another day. The first Christmas special is loosely based on the reluctant heroics of Mouse).

Baby Roscoe, being finger fed by my Dad in 1976

Roscoe peeking out of a paper bag.

He grew into a big, strong crossed eyed son of a gun.

Roscoe's cold shoulder continued once I came home. As my Mom tells it, he was beside himself. In 'Breaking Cat News,' Elvis' reaction to the Baby is based on a mix of his own actual reaction when our son was born and Roscoe's behavior when I came home. In real life, Elvis and Roscoe could not be more different. Roscoe loved people and was the center of attention at house parties (think Lupin). House guests would ask him to tell a story, and he'd give a few long meows and send the room into laughter. Elvis dislikes most people aside from our family and guards our home against dangerous outsiders like my dear sister or our closest friends. Nevertheless, both Elvis and Roscoe had a hard time sharing the spotlight with a new squirming bundle of joy.

Time softened the betrayal, and Roscoe returned to spending time with my Mom, while stoically tolerating me. Mom kept the door to the nursery closed when I napped and slept, to keep me safe from the cats and no doubt keep the cats safe from a curious grabby baby.

Growing up, my house was on the edge of a swamp in the New England woods. We lived in a neighborhood, but our house was in the last cul-de-sac with a backyard that rolled away from the neat rows of houses and into the tall pines beyond. Many spots in New England are like this; mixes of suburbia and nature, (with an old historical cemetery sprinkled here and there). Between our house and those pines was a little swampy stretch filled with bugs and frogs and turtles. It sung with peep toads and sparkled with lightning bugs in the summer. Our screens were forever buzzing with greetings from June bugs and Japanese beetles. While Puck dreams through the window in the comic, Roscoe and Mouse truly were mighty hunters. The last of our cats that would be allowed outside. And occasionally, their work found its way indoors.   

As a baby, I was a good sleeper. Mom says I woke up only a handful of times before I was three (lucky Mom!) I loved my sleep. However, one night just before I turned one, I kept screaming hysterically from my room. My Mom would go in, turn on the lights, pick me up, and I'd stop. She'd rock me, and lay me back in the crib. Moments after turning off the lights, closing my door, and walking away, I'd start shrieking again.

What was even stranger she said, was that Roscoe was right at her heels, pawing and meowing to get into the nursery. She had to struggle to keep him out, holding him back and quickly closing the door. 

Roscoe was quick and determined though, and finally he broke past her and leapt into my crib. Before Mom could stop him, he pounced--

On the big, dark swamp spider in the crib that only moved each time the lights had gone out. 

Spider dispatched, I stopped crying. And Roscoe protectively curled up beside me. Things were different between us from then on. Mom let him stay, and he slept in my crib and later on my bed many nights until he passed away at the ripe old age of 17 when I was in sixth grade.

Roscoe guarding his baby. (Note the Garfield toy behind him!
This was my second Christmas--I was born in November).

Roscoe and I, when I was about 5-6.

Roscoe and I, when I was in Kindergarten.

That's only one of many Roscoe stories. He was a terrific cat. We had a rocky start, but by the time I could remember my own stories, he was my best bud and greatest guardian. Gentle, affectionate, and smart, he was a chatty companion with a deep, croaking meow. He was patient enough to let me put doll sweaters on him and clever enough to sleep in my doll beds. (One eventually became his. He spent many elderly afternoons snoozing away in a little wooden prairie cradle).

The bacon strip in BCN is based 100% on how Roscoe used to behave when Mom cooked bacon. And the investigative report on water in people glasses is based on him, too. He preferred it so much that Mom started keeping a people glass filled with ice water just for him on a table behind the couch.

Roscoe and his People glass.

Roscoe and our cat Daisy in the background, when she was just a kitten.
A grocery bag for perspective; he was GIGANTIC.

I miss Roscoe all the time, even now. Mom and I used to call, "Right, Roscoe?" and wherever he was in the house, he'd meow his agreement. There are still times I'll say something to myself, and murmur, "Right, Roscoe?" He used to meow if you sneezed, his own little God-bless-you! Mom would have him answer yes or no questions, and it was hysterical how conversational he could be. He was one hell of a good boy.

No surprise, Roscoe has made an appearance in 'Breaking Cat News!' In the 2016 Christmas special he was depicted as 'Cat,' the name the kitties evoke all the time in the comic. I couldn't think of a better way to honor him. And I couldn't resist giving him a sash that reads "Good Boy."

This is actually very close to a drawing I did of Roscoe
shortly after he passed away when I was 12.

Many cats have contributed to the stories in 'Breaking Cat News.' While the real life stories are often very different from how they pop up in the comic (the story I mentioned about Mouse, that inspired the Christmas special? It took place in summer, for example... I'll share it soon, I promise! Maybe closer to Christmas!) the cats I've known often inspire the headlines over at the BCN news desk.

Every cat I've ever met has had its own personality. They're as different as we are. Dogs too! And pet rats! Birds, iguanas, all pets, I'm sure. We're all a one of a kind. Cats aren't out to steal anyone's breath. Cheese? Sometimes. Bacon? Usually. Not breath, though. Cats are members of our family. And like any member of any family, sometimes they can feel pushed to the side or sad when a baby is born. You know who had the hardest time when my daughter was born? My son. And I wasn't about to drop him off at the orphanage just because "there's a new baby in the house and he's having a tough time adjusting!" Families go through changes, that's the nature of living at all. And time, patience, and being stuck in the same small space can go along way to foster love and acceptance. Now my son is crazy about my daughter, they're best friends. They pause in their play to tell each other they love each other (and they pause in their peace to elbow drop each other on the couch, because hey, it can't be the Waltons all the time). Families go through changes and hard times, but they stick together.

I told this story about Roscoe each time a well meaning advice-pusher tried to tell me I'd have to give up the cats because I was pregnant. I promise, a spider is much more likely to bite a baby than a cat is likely to steal its breath. To this day, I usually get a hive the size of a half dollar if a spider bites me. Now imagine that on a baby! UH, GROSS. THANK YOU, ROSCOE. A cat is a good thing to have in a house, if you've got a little person to protect. There are no documented cases of a cat stealing a baby's breath, but heck, ants bite kids every day. Puck doesn't let ants in our home, full stop. He's NOT. HAVING. IT. The ants go marching two by NONE around these parts! He has dispatched many spiders too. I feel very safe having Puck around. And when Luke or Gwen is worried about "monsters," we say, "Do you think Elvis would let ANYONE into this house?" And they shake their heads; sweet dreams, goodbye worries! They know. And we do too. A cat is a great protector to have in your home. You should always supervise a baby and any animal, but don't sit up fearing that a cat is going to go all vampire on your baby.

I hope you liked this story about Roscoe! I'll try to break out my old photo albums and share some more stories in the future. 


  1. The first cat our family ever had was a Siamese named Fuji (I know, imaginative, right? Dad loved Japan).

    Fuji was a kitten when we got him and I loved him. I learned how to properly play with and hold a cat, and he never ever hurt me. But, like Elvis and Roscoe, he was a One Woman Cat: my Mom being the Woman in his life. He tolerated the rest of us. And he couldn't stand visitors. He would growl like a dog at Mom's bridge club. She would have to put him in the garage when we had company over, and he would just howl the whole time.

    1. The growl of a Siamese is a fearsome thing. It sounds as if you've cornered a wild beast. I was startled out of a sound sleep one night by Mai Ling, who had been sleeping by my feet, letting out an enormous growl. Turned out the guy from upstairs came home drunk and didn't realize he was trying to put his key in the door of the apt on the 2nd floor and not the 3rd. Not sure who was more scared - the drunk outside the door or me. Mai Ling was guarding her turf.

    2. We had one of those too... Duch was My Cat but she liked my parents and brother well enough. She was banished to the basement when my folks had parties though, and they spent the evening apologizing for and laughing at all the complaining she did.

      Except once. My mom was on the local arts council and hosted a party for a classical guitarist who was in town to perform the next evening. The party was in full swing before mom realized she hadn't put the cat away. Cat had made herself at home in a chair right next to the guest of the guest of honor. Mom tried to take the cat away but he said no she's fine, she's purring. Mom gave in and not 5 minutes later the damn cat bit him but *good* right on the tip of one of his chording fingers. My mom about died right there!

  2. Thanks for sharing. I always enjoy your stories, whether they be in written or in comic form!

  3. I love the story! Thank you for sharing some of your memories.

  4. Thank you for that story. I just discovered your comic strip this year through Go Comics and it quickly has become my ultimate favourite :) I have 3 cats, one I hand raised from birth), and they each have their own personality! Mama, Pickle and Toad, they are our kids and we love them as much as we love our 16 year old son. Keep up the great job!!!

  5. That was beautiful! Thanks for sharing. We have cats that "bless you" too!

  6. You you are a great story teller. I knew that from BCN. You also gave deeper meaning to Oh My Cat and so
    Much more Thank you. Ray

  7. I love this story. I've heard a lot of similar stories, where Cat became Baby Protector.

  8. Thanks for sharing this wonderful story about sweet Roscoe.

  9. This is wonderful. I love your painting, but your writing is always such a treat too. You're such a talented storyteller in both respects.


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