“And she said she had four kittens at home that were ready to give away,” Hickman recalled. “The next thing I knew she brought them to the store – all four of them – and they were running around the petites department. And Baby is the one I picked.”
Hickman placed the tiny calico cat in a box, folded the top closed, put the car in gear and headed for home.
“I hadn’t got away from the mall good before she got out of that box, and I rode the rest of the way home with her on my head,” Hickman said.
That was 22 years ago.
Today, Hickman and Baby spend their days keeping each other company. Hickman’s husband of 51 years, Jerry, died last year, leaving her with a huge void in her life.
“She’s been a lifesaver for me,” Hickman said. “If I hadn’t had her after Jerry died, I don’t know what might have happened.”
Baby is in remarkably good health for a geriatric cat. She’s had some problems with dehydration, but otherwise is agile and alert.
“There were times when my husband was still alive and he’d go to work in the mornings before I would and she’d get in the bed with me and just stretch,” said Hickman, 70. “And then I’d feel this little soft paw on my cheek – she’d be trying to wake me up. I’d try to go back to sleep and I’d feel something damp on my forehead and it would be her cold nose. And she’d keep at it until I got up to feed her.”
And Baby is very picky about what she eats.
“She eats canned tuna and Whiskas pouches mostly,” said Hickman. “I’ll put food down and if it is not what she wants, she’ll just sit there and look at it. And I’ll say, ‘I’m going to leave this here until you eat it.’ But after awhile I’ll go in there and rake it out and get something else out. And I’ll do that until I find something she wants.”
Hickman said when Baby was younger, she was a climber.
“I’d go to looking for her and she’d be on the mantle, on top of the fridge, on top of the grandfather clock,” she said. “She doesn’t climb much anymore. I’ve put a padded stool beside the bed so she can jump on that to reach the bed. She’s got to where she doesn’t feel sure of herself anymore.”
Baby spends her days on Hickman’s lap, sleeping in the bed or eating. And even though the cat’s eyes are bright now, Hickman knows she won’t live forever.
“After PeeWee died, I said I’d never have another cat,” Hickman said. “And then Baby came along. Because she’s kept me so much company, I think I’d get another one. But I’ve already made my sister promise that if I do, and something happens to me, she has to come right away and get the cat and find a home for it. Because if I ever got another one, I would certainly go before it did. But for now, Baby takes care of me.”