Late tonight, Sunflower and I will drive to Anchorage, where we will meet Nabysko. The three of us will then fly to New York and from there we will drive to Washington, D.C. to witness what we can of a remarkable moment in American history. For me, this will begin six weeks of travel that will also take me to Salt Lake City and St. George, Utah, the Navajo and Apache Reservations in Arizona and then back into the Far North, namely Barrow and probably some other Arctic Slope villages.
I will do my best to meet and photograph cats met along the way, and to post pictures and stories as soon as possible. There could be some gaps, though. There could be some big gaps. I have been to D.C. several times, but I have only met and photographed one cat there - Sparky. I can't even remember what year, but it was before the spring of 2002, as that was when I went digital and quit shooting black and white film.
So, to kick off my trip, I present the story of how Sparky wound up living with a holocaust survivor:
In 1936, Ruth Rappaport was a six year old Jewish girl living in Leipseig, Germany. Her family had a cat and Ruth was knitting a sweater which she had very nearly finished. The phone rang and Ruth ran to answer it. Upon her return, she discovered that the cat had completely unraveled the sweater upon which she had labored so mightily and with such love. “You can bet I didn’t care much for cats after that,” Ruth recalled. It only grew worse. Not long afterwards, fearing for her safety as the Nazi madness swept over Germany, Ruth’s parents sent her to live with relatives in Switzerland, but stayed behind themselves. Ruth never saw them again.
Her Swiss relatives had two Persian cats. “Everytime one of those cats saw me about to sit down, one of them would rush to the chair, jump up and bite me on the butt. You can imagine how that made me feel about cats.”
Eventually, Ruth moved on to the United States, where for a time she worked as a live-in housekeeper in Berkeley, California in a home owned by a Siameze cat. “The only place that cat wanted to do its business was inside my alligator shoes,” Ruth grumbles, more than half a century later. Ruth wanted her own room to be a pleasant place, and so she put some beautiful drapes up on the windows. The cat sneaked into her room and tore the drapes to shreds. Ruth put up another set. Again, the cat played its mischief upon them, leaving them in tatters. Again Ruth tried, with the same result.
No matter how many times Ruth attempted to sweeten her room with drapes, the cat shredded them. “After that, I never wanted to see a cat again. I was determined never to have anything more to do with a cat.”
For most of her life, Ruth kept that pledge. She became a professional photographer for the Associated Press and covered the 1949 war which led to the founding of the modern state of Israel. Later, she became the editor of a Jewish newspaper in Seattle. All the while, she steadfastly kept cats out of her life.
Eventually, Ruth wound up in Washington, D.C., where a friend owned two Maine Coon cats. One died, leaving the other desperately lonely. So her friend took in another cat, Sparky, which she hoped would cheer up the mourning feline and become its good companion. Immediately, Sparky fell deathly ill and had to undergo a long period of convalesance in an animal hospital. When Sparky recovered and moved in with the Maine Coon, the two cats hated each other. They spent their time together hissing, snarling, swatting and slashing. So the friend asked Ruth if she would watch out for Sparky for just a short time, until she could find a new home for him.
Despite her great misgivings, Ruth honored her friend’s request. She hoped the new home would be quickly found. “That was five and a half years ago,” Ruth told me, as Sparky meandered about her tiny back yard, disobeying each request she made of him. “I think Sparky is a very, very special cat,” she smiled, just as the cat began to dig a hole in a forbidden place. “I would never let him go.”