I always wondered how our family cats knew when we were going up to Vermont for the summer. The exact day, that is. I always made the fateful mistake of letting them out for their usual early morning bathroom break, and instead of coming back for breakfast as usual, they would disappear. They even seemed to know which ferry we were close to missing. It was magical. No wonder witches are known to have cats.
Perhaps that is how a certain black and white cat showed up at the back door of Dr. Henry Nieder and Miryam Gerson in Vineyard Haven. Maybe her former owners decided to catch their boat before it left and leave their cat to make her own plans for an extended, by now a seven-year, Vineyard vacation. It's a familiar story, as the MSPCA can tell you.
Last summer, I asked the Nieders if I could visit them sometime to talk about the cat, and they graciously asked me to lunch on one of their days off. That morning she was lounging on her lambswool perch in a sunny kitchen window, but they told me how traumatic her first visit had been - hungry and with a ruptured Achilles tendon after being chased through their yard by a dog. The vet who treated her said she had already been spayed and estimated her age to be about three. Her six-week house confinement, during the healing process, cemented her new family status.
The Nieders named her Psipsina, which means "kitty" in Greek. Although she enjoys getting regular meals served, she established her independence as soon as she was well by staying out nights all summer, and all day in winter while the Nieders are at work. She has taken it upon herself to patrol their yard, ambushing any trespassing cats. She also escorts their foster daughter, Emily, to and from the high school bus stop on weekdays and to church on Sundays. The rest of her busy schedule involves looking but not touching a neighbor's fish pond across Main Street, and supervising the 8 am Tai Chi group at the Nathan Mayhew Center across the street during summer.
I met Psipsina at the Sunday evening ballroom dancing group. She would wait in the driveway, greeting the dancers as they arrived, and sometimes allowed me to pet her when I left. This was an act of courage on my part since it was dark then, and the majority of black-and-white creatures I encounter at night on the Vineyard turn out to be skunks.
Not only did Psipsina meet and greet, she also on occasion came inside and lay down in the center of the floor, all the better to be admired by the couples as they waltzed counter-clockwise around her. We must have met with her approval, because the next year she brought the Nieders to dance with us. They were the ones who told me that, not only was she the Ballroom Cat, she was also known in the neighborhood as the Tai Chi Cat and the Vineyard Haven Library Cat. Evidently, she watched the Tai Chi class during its outdoor sessions and stayed only if it went well, but the library was a 24-hour challenge.
She must have first discovered the library while she sat outside on a pedestal waiting for the school bus. At first she only followed people as they entered the library. Then she learned to stand on her hind feet to open the automatic doors. Soon she was coming in every day. Wendy Andrews told me that the day she ran out of treats she shared her sardine lunch with Psipsina. Then everyone who came in her office wanted to know, "What's that stink?"
When the custodian comes in early in the morning, Psipsina is meowing at the side door. There's a rug she likes to lie on in the computer room. Although everyone likes her, some people might be allergic, so she wasn't allowed to stay. Betty Burton, the downstairs librarian, says that the cat preferred to hide behind the desk in Marjorie Convery's office to take advantage of the air conditioner in hot weather. After everyone leaves, she comes out to look for a drink of water.
One evening, she was accidentally locked in the library. Another version is that she was sleeping in the boardroom and was shut in there by mistake. That door is locked because it contains a valuable collection of books. In any case, at 10:30 that night motion sensors were set off. The signal was picked up by an off-Island company that called local police who, in turn, called the librarian and had her come down and unlock the library. There, through the glass doors of the boardroom, one could see the dangerous furry perpetrator standing on the table. No one at the scene reported what she was reading.
I haven't seen Psipsina in a while. One of the librarians told me she is looking a little weary lately. Henry Nieder says she now prefers to sit on a kitchen chair rather than jump up on her perch. I'm not surprised. In cat years, she and I are about the same age. Maybe she's ready for retirement as well.
Varian Cassat, who now lives in Havenside, told me there's been a cat hanging around there lately. Hmm.
Carol Carrick a writer and illustrator lives in West Tisbury.