My sister was eleven and it was my eighth birthday. For almost a month, my sister had been locking herself in our play room and avoiding me. I had tried to go in with her, but she always made me leave. Needless to say, I was not happy with her, but that all changed when she gave me my birthday present from her. A stuffed kitty. It wasn't just any kitty either. It was a hand sewn and stuffed kitty with fabric that did not match. My very own sister had painstakingly created a friend for me from fabric, thread, cotton, and a piece of her heart.
His name was Growltiger. She had made him based on the description of Growltiger in the song sung about him in the musical Cats, a VHS that played at least once a month in our house. Fabric was bunched up where his short legs met the body to fit with, "he was baggy at the knees". One ear had a part cut out of it, because, "one ear was somewhat missing". Then he had a patch over his right eye for, "he scowl upon the hostile world from one forbidding eye". My sister had also tried to embroider a belt with a sword in it. Admittedly he wasn't the best made stuffed animal, but, for an eight year old, it was a work of art.
I loved him. Every night he slept with me and my panda. The panda had always been with me for as long as I could remember. Soon Growltiger had a story that tied into that of my panda. The panda was a waitress and Growltiger was a pirate that fell in love with her. She would have nothing to do with him, however, until he gave up being a pirate. Being deeply in love with her, he did give up piracy only to find that her family (I had a lot of stuffed pandas and they were all related to my favorite in some way) had engaged her to a tap dancing panda (a marionette). He then dueled the panda and, being an ex-pirate, won. Growltiger then married his love and helped her run the seafood restaurant.
Even when I reached the age that most people consider "too old" for stuffed animals, I slept with Growltiger and his panda love. My mother had often patched up his arms when the stitching came undone, so he had a few "scars". Growltiger still became an old cat. The paint rubbed off of his button nose, the eye under his eye patch came out and broke, his left eye lost some gold paint, and worst of all his fabric wore down, so that it had holes in it that could not be fixed. I still slept with him and the panda. Then one day, I woke up and found cotton in my bed from Growltiger's stuffing. I had two choices. I could throw him in the trash or put him somewhere safe. It was then that I put together my memory box that grows heavier with time. Growltiger had survived eight long years with me. I cried the night after he was put into the retirement in my closet. His girlfriend stayed with me where she always had been.
I took my box down from the shelf today and opened it. One button eye that had lost most of its paint stared up at me. I scoped him out of the box and held him in a hug. He stayed there, limp in my arms. I wanted to cry seeing how worn he was. I will always love this cat. He has been such a big part of my life.
HERE is a link to the poem Growltiger's Last Stand from Ole Possum's Book of Practical Cats, my sister's inspiration for my stuffed kitty.