Sheba: a mostly true cat tale

by Tina Kane

This is the story of the Queen of Sheba—a truly remarkable cat—known by close friends and family simply as Sheba.  This tale begins when she was no longer a kitten, though not an old cat either. But perhaps it really begins centuries before because Sheba came from a distinguished and royal line of cats. She was, in fact, the daughter of a Mau, which means ‘cat’ in ancient and modern Egyptian. Think about that, it makes sense. Sheba’s mother was a relative of an Egyptian Mau and looked something like this:

egyptian_mau_cat

In ancient Egypt, Maus had spots, like leopards, but today they can be striped or almost anything. For thousands of years Egyptian Pharaohs, Queens, Princesses and Princes worshiped Maus. There was even a Mau Goddess named Bast (sometimes also called Bastet) of whom there were bronze statues, like this one:

bast

The cat goddess Bast, or Bastet, was responsible for many things including joy, music, and dancing. Here you see her wearing an earring. She also protected people from evil (and mice).

There are two features that distinguish Maus: first they often have an M on their forehead, and then, second, their eyes are clearly outlined in black, as if they used eye liner, just like Egyptians used to in the time of the Pharaohs.

Detail of Banqueter from the Wall Paintings at the Tomb of Nakht --- Image by © Charles & Josette Lenars/CORBIS

Detail of Banqueter from the Wall Paintings at the Tomb of Nakht — Image by © Charles & Josette Lenars/CORBIS

Sheba had Egyptian eyes and an M on her forehead.

sheba1

She seemed to understand that her ancestors were worshiped. She was always elegant, poised, and smart.

Sheba spent most of her life in a small town high in the Rocky Mountains with her family, who were all musicians. This was appropriate for a cat descended from a god of music and she clearly enjoyed listening to music. During the long snowy winters she would settle high up on a broad wooden beam where it was warm. There she would stretch out and listen with half-closed eyes. Mr. C and Ms. P, after they retired and the children had grown up, taught music lessons at home. Many of the students were excellent, but sometimes the beginners were not. Sheba tolerated this; however, occasionally if she heard a truly awful note, she would discreetly cover her ears with her paws. In summer she would move to the windowsill and would lie there and gaze out at the mountain scenery, purring.

bozeman

In the evenings she would lay on Mr. C’s shoulders or on the back of Ms. P’s chair as they listened to more music or watched a movie. And on Sunday mornings, in the summer months, she would eat fresh cantaloupe, her favorite food.

Many years passed peacefully and life was simple and joyous in the house in the mountains, filled with love and music. But nothing stays the same forever and one year Mr. C and Ms. P began to grow old, and then invalid, and finally they had to leave for a place they could not take their beloved Queen of Sheba. That day the house was empty, silent, and sad. Soon after that Sheba found herself in a cat carrier, in a car, and then on an airplane to New York. And this was how she left the mountains forever, to go and live with her new family, relatives of the musicians, Mr. P and Ms. T.

 

When Sheba arrived in New York, Ms. T was there to meet her at the airport. Sheba recognized her at once (of course they had met before) and immediately made it known, in a loud clear voice, that she was not pleased. However, there was even more in store for her that day. Mr. P and Ms T loved cats and had many of them. Now Sheba knew other cats existed, but had never seen so many in one place. When she arrived at her new home she was greeted by black cats, tabby cats, tortoise shell cats, calico cats and one very large, handsome orange tomcat. She remained as poised as a Queen and uttered neither a hiss nor a growl. Instead she took a good look around and then, in one great leap, was up on top of the highest cupboard looking down on them all, as if to say, graciously of course, what is this riffraff? And all the other cats looked up at her in surprise (and some admiration) and then went on with their cat business of grooming, playing, watching birds, hunting butterflies, eating, sleeping, dreaming, and so forth.

cats_looking_up

Only the handsome orange tomcat, whose name was Remington, and who looked exactly like a lion, gave Sheba a good long look. Over the following days and months Sheba became accustomed to her new home. In the summer she looked out of her own private window at the flower gardens, listened to music, and ate cantaloupe.

gardens

Then during the first winter in New York she accepted Remington as her consort to keep her warm during the cold weather. He worshiped her and after a bit they were inseparable.

Sheba and Rem041

Sheba spent most of her time in Mr. P’s private office with Remington and when she needed something she learned to play a simple melody on the keys of the fax machine to attract attention. All in all life became satisfactory for her once again. And her new family adored her. And all the other cats admired her from a distance. And so, again, the years passed peacefully until one day she celebrated her 22nd birthday (her 154th cat birthday) by eating a large piece of cantaloupe. She had enjoyed a good long life for any cat, even a royal Mau. Soon after that she began to sleep more and more and then one morning she did not wake up. Remington, Mr. P and Ms. T and all the others were very, very sad that day. If they had been ancient Egyptians P and T would have gone into mourning and shaved their eyebrows. But they were New Yorkers, not ancient Egyptians, and although they mourned they left their eyebrows on.

It was May, early spring in upstate New York, and Mr. P went out to the field in back of the house to dig a grave and lay Sheba to rest before leaving for his job. Had Sheba been a Mau living in Ancient Egypt she would have been mummified, embalmed in cedar juice and special herbs, wrapped in fine linen, and buried in a gold and jeweled cat coffin with all she needed for her new life in the next world. The Ancient Egyptians believed life was eternal and that people reincarnated in their last life as cats before they became gods.

cat_coffin

But New Yorkers, even those who worshiped cats in the 21st century, did not know about such things. Ms T. had to leave before Mr. P had buried Sheba to go to work in New York City. When she returned it was late afternoon. She went out to plant catnip and forsythia on the grave. And as she did she began to cry and wondered, how could she go on without her friend the beautiful Queen of Sheba?

As she stood there weeping suddenly something very strange occurred. She heard a sound behind her, like a snort, and when she turned to see what was there she saw a yearling doe standing very close behind her.

Deer in Grass Web

The doe looked directly at her, pawed at the ground twice and snorted again as if to say, “Why are you weeping?” Then the doe turned around and slowly walked away, grazing here and there as she went. Ms. T was so surprised she did, in fact, stop crying. There were always deer around their place but they were very spooky, and certainly never behaved like this. She finished planting and said a cat prayer for Sheba’s spirit and turned to go, still thinking about the strange deer. She recalled reading somewhere that deer, in Ancient Egypt, were symbols of renewal, among other things.

When Ms. T came in to the house, and into the kitchen, she saw something she could scarcely believe! There were two kittens sitting there: one was a gray tabby, and the other looked very much like a miniature Queen of Sheba. They both had Mau eyes and M’s on their foreheads!

Sherbert & PQLater she found out that when Mr. P. returned to the house that morning, after burying Sheba, he found them waiting on the back porch and had brought them in. They are still alive today and have brought much joy into the lives of P and T. Although these cats neither play the fax machine, nor eat cantaloupe, and although it has never been possible for either Mr. P or Ms. T to explain rationally what really happened that Spring day, in their hearts they understand that the Queen of Sheba orchestrated a miracle for them.

 

(2010)

 

 

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