April 22, 2011

In Memory of a Muse named Deadly Nightshade

        Two weeks ago we had to say goodbye to our geriatric cat Nightshade, and have her put to sleep.  So this post is dedicated to our Nightshade, aka die Schnurrmeisterin, aka La Sombra de la Noche, aka Shady-shade…
        I never wanted a cat, but D did, so I knew that upon our marriage a cat would be part of the deal.  My recompense was that I would be allowed to choose the one I thought was prettiest at the shelter.  After some searching at all the local shelters I picked a handsome young tuxedo cat… but as we sat in the waiting room to fill out the forms, we noticed that this adorable creature was far more
interested in the other cats than he was in us.  He was clearly not going to be happy as the only cat in the house.  And the cat who did have more interest in us than in anything else?  The ugliest colored fur in the entire shelter!  (For P and T, who have heard this story many times, this is the quintessential lesson on why character is more important than appearance.)  Yes, our beloved Nightshade was a color that T when she was in preschool called "mulch" and I generally called "mud in a blender."  (Technically it's "dilute tortoiseshell and white.")
        If you're wondering why a light mud-colored cat should be called Deadly Nightshade, that story actually began a long time ago, when I was around 12.  My goofy best friend proposed a Solemn Vow to which we both agreed: she promised she would name her firstborn child Pondscum if I would name mine Deadly Nightshade.  Years passed, and I was the first to get married.  From the first moment D and I planned to get a cat, it was a given that it would have to be called Nightshade whether it was male or female, and no matter what it looked like.  After all, I had to fulfill my Solemn Vow -- or at least get by on a technicality!  And that's how we got a Nightshade.  (A few years later my friend got married and they got a puppy.  And what do you think she named the dog?  Nope.  The dog was called Spencer.  Uh oh.  Then my friend was the first of us to get pregnant, and what do you think she named her daughter?  …I used to tell this
story to my middle school students and here their eyes would get wide with horror.  "Oh no!  She didn't!!!"  No; she didn't.  Her daughter is named Claire.  She broke the Solemn Vow.  But that is why our cat was named Nightshade, anyway.)
        Nightshade was a klutz, a wimp, and the color of mulch, but she was nevertheless a muse to me.  She inspired and modeled for many a block print, (I hope not all mere Cat Art!)  Block prints featuring some version of Nightshade are now hanging on walls all over the USA from New England to Ohio to California, and even in Japan.  Nightshade was also the inspiration for the cat Nasturtium in the Kate and Sam Adventures.  The fictional Nasturtium's personality is what I imagined Nightshade's would be… if she could talk to humans and go on adventures with us.  It was fun reimagining our silly, stay-at-home Nightshade as a fantasy hero.
        Perhaps there is a lesson here on finding muses everywhere, on using our ordinary lives as the building blocks of even the most fantastic artistic creations.  I could even bring back Nightshade's mulch-colored fur as a metaphor for how it's plain old compost that makes it possible for a garden to grow bright flowers and delicious
foods.  But I wouldn't want such generalizations to detract from just how special our Nightshade was.  She was soft, affectionate, loyal, and a generous dispenser of purr therapy until the very end.  She will be greatly missed.  But she will live on, memorialized in both art and writing.

[Pictures: Nightshade, rubber stamp by AEGN, 1997;
Happy Place, rubber block print by AEGN, 1999 (sold out);
Cat in a Box, rubber block print by AEGN, 1999;
Nightshade in the Sunlight, rubber block print by AEGN, 2007 (sold out);
Nasturtium, chapter heading from Kate and Sam and the Chipmunks of Doom p102, colored pencil by AEGN, 2009.]


Pax said...

A very nice eulogy. Will Nightshade's successor be named Pondscum?

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Nope! "Pondscum" was never my responsibility!

Anne Higa said...

Aww... Thank you so much for sharing this. What a great story.

Anne from annehiga.com