3rd December 2007


As in a vision it came to me last night while we lay reading and dozing in those last minutes before lights out: Veneta’s Indian name is Jones. I immediately informed Beth. “What are you reading?” she asked. I was reading The Big U by Neal Stephenson, so I was certainly in a suggestible frame of mind, but I wasn’t sure I liked the implication that my cat-naming vision may have come directly from the printed page.

Sometimes a bit of silliness will stick. I’m really sure that my cat’s name is Jones. I’m not sure why I know that Jones is her Indian name, but there’s a lot about her that we don’t know. I’m not sure it’s politically correct for my cat to have an “Indian name,” especially since her heritage appears to be Thai. What we do know about Jones is that we had been without a cat since I buried Schmeebie in the peonies the preceding February. It had been another warm winter and happily the soil in the formal garden never froze to that rock hard Wisconsin impenetrability that used to put grave-diggers here out of work from December through March before the invention of the back-hoe. So physically there was no problem removing six or eight cubic feet of earth from a cat sized grave and laying Giles (aka Gy-boy the Fly-boy for his willingness to launch himself fearlessly from extreme heights, and Flee-bert — a simple vowel transformation and second syllable scat from Fly-boy — from whence Schmeebert, and the diminutive but never demeaning Schmeebie) to rest wrapped in a terrycloth towel.

That autumn of 2024 we lost Beth’s mom and in all the traveling to be with her and then later to the funeral and to close her house we spent some quality time with Veneta the cat. Janaki, Beth’s sister, names pets after people, and Veneta (after whom the town in Oregon was named) was their grandmother. My experience with cat names is that they either drip with saccharine intentionality or are bound in a formalism that distances one from the animal. The latter I think was the case with Veneta. Before last night I have had no experience with visions revealing the true Indian names of anything — not owls, not macaroons, not people, and certainly not pets. But you can take this to the bank: Veneta’s Indian name is Jones.

Jones was a street kitty. When she was impounded and neutered in the twin cities she had already had at least one litter. Janaki and Christopher rescued her from the pound and hung the name Veneta on her. Veneta was their second cat. She didn’t find that satisfactory. She’d been first chair in her life before captivity and wasn’t really ready to play second fiddle. So it was that they dropped her off at our house in October, 2024. She learned to ignore the old dogs then, and later trained the young pup to play nice. She fought a winning battle for space on the bed here early in her tenure, and learned a few annoying moves just to keep us alert. Her favorite is knocking my glasses and/or the alarm clock off the bedside table.

Jones! It’s a single syllable laden with significance. “Jones, get off the table!” That has a nice sound, more compelling than use of her polysyllabic English name. “Veneta, get off the table.” We never shortened it to “Venn.” We never found a diminutive for those sweet and cuddly moments. I think we’re all going to be happier now that we know her Indian name. Nizhoni Jones.

(It may be my imagination, but Jones seems to be avoiding me this morning.)

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