One warm Saturday afternoon in the spring of 1998, my mother heard desperate, raspy kitten meows from 40 feet down in the old hand-dug well behind her house. Poor kitty was likely chasing a mouse when she fell in. Somehow, she landed between the red clay wall and the cistern, and not in the murky, stagnant water. The mouse was not so lucky.

Mom, Steve, Val, and I were all too large to fit into the well. Plus we didn’t have the equipment to safely get us down there and back with kitten in hand. So Mom came up with a solution: She opened a can of tuna, dumped it into a two-gallon bucket, and tied a long rope to the handle. Then, with Steve holding a high-powered flashlight, she carefully lowered the bucket into the well, as close to the kitten as she could. “I’ll check in the morning,” Mom said. “Maybe she’ll figure it out.”

Morning came, and Mom hauled up the bucket. In it was the bony brown-tabby-and-white female kitten—barely eight weeks old, and, predictably, covered in tuna juice. “Eeeeert. Eeeeeert.” She had been crying for help so loudly, and for so long, that her meow was broken. Worse, blow flies had found her in the days before we did: a live “wolf” larva writhed and turned in the pencil-sized hole in her neck.

We took her to the vet, where she stayed for several days after surgery. When Val departed a few months later for graduate school in Gainesville, Florida, she took the kitten with her. She named her Hazel, after a favorite character in the novel Watership Down. When Val moved to Denver in 2000, Hazel and sister Madeleine (RIP) went along, too.

For most of her life, Hazel has been semi-feral. Only in her old age has she finally mellowed and “learned how to cat.” She’s 19 now; if she were a person, she’d be 92. She needs medication every day, and has reconciled herself to needing, and accepting, help from her people. We don’t know how much longer Hazel will be with us. But we’re thankful for every moment she’s still here, meowing her cranky meow when it’s time to eat. She’s one of our all-time favorite cats—the best Caturday companion ever.

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)