I don’t know her name. A day after we met, I probably couldn’t pick her out of a lineup of middle-aged, short, solid women with short brown hair pushing grocery carts. But I know she has five cats, the four indoors and the one outdoors who came and stayed.
I know the Maine Coon she had for 18 years brought a kitten home to her shortly before he wandered off to die in a culvert, and that she thinks he was both looking out for a street kid and providing her with his replacement. I know they all like the Rachael Ray brand of cat food. And I know that her cat with the undiagnosed hair loss on its back, the one who’s been on steroids, is doing better since she started feeding it Purina Naturals cat chow.
That’s what got us started. I was looking for the brand of crunchy food I feed my cat, and pondering a switch from indoor cat cat food to elderly cat cat food. She gestured toward the Purina and asked whether I’d ever tried it.
I had, but my cat’s GI tract didn’t seem to like it, I told her. She told me about her girl with the hair loss. The lack of dyes were better for cats, she said. Did I know most cats are allergic to red dye? I did not.
She asked what I thought of the Rachael Ray cat food, and I told her I didn’t know Rachel Ray had a line of cat food. Yeah, she said, trying to jog my memory: You know that commercial where the dogs are in the kitchen and the cat knocks over its bowl …
I don’t have a TV, I said.
You don’t? she asked, big-eyed. What do you do? Do you read? Internet?
I read. Well, both. But I read a lot.
Then she brought up the trending news of Harper Lee, who’d just died, and right after that second book was published, and no, she hadn’t read it yet and it wasn’t really supposed to be published, was it? And she marveled: Just one book. All this attention, and she really only ever wrote that one book.
It was a good one, I said. A classic. Enough to support her for life.
We talked about a few other things as I sidled back to my cart. I said I hoped her cat’s hair loss clears up, even if the vet can’t give her an accurate diagnosis.
There are so many ways to evaluate a day, and I think even when they are not overly framed as a question, in essence, they are all questions.
- What was I grateful for today?
- What made me happy?
- What was good, even if maybe it didn’t seem good at the time?
- What was my ratio of checked to blank on today’s to-do list?
- How did I measure up to my own or my living community’s standards?
There’s another question I’ve been asking lately, not replacing any of those but supplementing them, and maybe helping me to winnow that to-do list in the first place:
Who loved me today, and who did I love?
Poor love. Just the one word, and we ask it to mean so much. This conversation in the pet food aisle—was it love? I don’t know. But it was kind, and neighborly, and on a stressful day when we both needed something that can’t be found on the shelves, it was probably the most valuable thing I spent at the store, and the most nourishing thing I left there with.
And to our credit, neither one of us made a crazy cat ladies joke.