I entered the small general store after pumping gas, finding myself tiptoeing as I skirted a group of older gentlemen seated around, relaxing over their morning coffee. They appeared to be long-time friends, probably meeting every morning to pass the time and share the latest. With a reverence for such rituals, I tried to be as unobtrusive as possible.
I overheard one of the men say something about four-legged companionship, my side-eye taking in the speaker and the center of attention.
He then leaned back with an expression of sheer playfulness on his face, expectant.
Finally, one of the other men said, “Let me guess, you’ve got yourself another cat.”
“And you’re pleased as punch,” observed another, as if it didn’t show.
I lingered in the aisle filled with cleaning solutions, borax, and multi-colored sponges. Being a cat lover, I was not about to mind my own business.
“Didn’t take you long. You lost old Baxter about a month ago, hasn’t it been?”
The speaker nodded. “Never been so torn up in my life. A shame. Tough as nails and better lookin’ than me. A pure Maine Coon and my best buddy.”
As the gentleman elaborated on his life with the revered pet and his own version of the official cat for the state of Maine, it prompted thoughts about my own experience with the breed.
I couldn’t help but think, too, how we seniors like to share, which is a kind way of saying we like to talk, especially if we’re indulging in one of our favorite subjects. If we have a pet who looks up and listens, vocally responds, it’s quite discourse-enabling. In cats, Maine Coons in particular will contribute trilling inflections and can be counted on to be the best company, especially if we need an ear to bend. I’ve had two or three over the years, companions second to none in the cat world, but I’m a bit prejudiced.
It’s not just their responses to us, either. Besides a playful personality, they have a way of giving a tactile joy when that irresistible, furry bundle gets scooped up and cuddled while at the same time purring loud enough to rival thunder. To me, that’s one great approval rating.
The appeal goes back hundreds of years. One story has it that Marie Antoinette kept pampered Turkish Angoras, the Coon’s long-haired ancestors. Now, Marie had made arrangements with a Captain Clough to set sail, cats, belongings, furniture, and all. Sadly, she eventually lost her head while the cats luckily kept theirs. They had quite the overseas trip with plenty of time to get used to roughing it, and upon arrival in the New World they made the easy transition to wilderness adventure.
As any owner or fancier would know, the gentle giant takes longer than other cats to mature, three years for a fully-grown Maine Coon. The males could weigh as much as 19 pounds, have polydactyl—meaning “many-toed”—paws, with the unfortunate susceptibility to certain health issues, particularly relating to the heart. Being most popular, they take their exalted place among cat converts, surprised any cat could have such intelligence and personality.
One of mine had been a stray, discovered at a Westbrook shelter one spring. He had the thickest coat and even though a bit frazzled, had successfully weathered the previous Maine winter. He soon settled in, and I discovered a kitchen companion, happy to sit by and watch me cook, slicing and dicing and wielding a ladle for him to sniff. He was the only cat who ever expressed any interest in my culinary exploits or my taste in music. He and I had the best conversations, and I could count on his enthusiasm, never once contradicting or asking me to explain myself.
When states began to name their official felines, it was a given that the Maine Coon be ours. Proud of its heritage as well as our own, it’s a breed that wraps itself up in the thickest fur just as we do in our softest flannel, embracing a lifestyle synonymous with seafarers and the great outdoors.
As I went to pay for the gas and my purchases, they were still talking about Baxter’s passing after a lengthy bout with arthritis and other maladies that came with aging. The men could all relate.
There was a bit of silence.
Then, “So, what’d you name the new fella?”
Our speaker waited a beat, cleared his throat, took a sip of coffee and said, “Miss Bea.”
“A female?” The men appeared to sit up in their chairs, looks of astonishment all around.
“Yep, and the purrtiest thing you ever laid eyes on.” The proud owner raised his foam cup in a toast, the men following suit, one by one.
I hid a smile as I left, the bell tinkling merrily above me.