After Tigger died at 21, the pantry soon filled again with field mice skittering about and adding what looked like rough-ground pepper to our rice, nuts, pasta, and silverware.
“That’s it, time for a new cat,” I announced. Steve and Anna were delirious at the idea of a kitten to play with.
We had the usual ya-ya-ya talk about chores and responsibility and then headed off to Frank Bryan’s farm in Starksboro to pick a kitten from his hay barn that housed countless homeless barn cats and their kittens and minimized his loss of grain.
Steve, then 7 and Anna, then 5, picked out a double-toed tiger and we headed home to prepare a grocery box for his bed and to refill the litter box.
While the kids lay on the floor playing with our new arrival and discussing what to call him, the little fur ball took his first domestic dump on the kitchen floor. I heard the giggling saw what happened and went to get a wet paper towel while muttering to myself, “Ought to name him sphincter.”
“What’s that?” Anna chirped. No question is a dumb question to a good parent so I told her. She and Steve were gleeful and decided to call their kitten the exciting new word they had learned but couldn’t pronounce. So our kitten came to be known as “Phinxter.” This was less disturbing than my name and easily won my approval.
About six months later, my wife, somewhat less amused by the genesis of our new mouse-catcher’s name than the children, reminded me that Phinxter need his shots. I made an appointment with the local vet and, still anxious to engender responsibility in my children, announced that they would have to bring the cat to the vet.
We arrived at the small farmhouse and went inside with Anna holding young Phinxter in her arms. Our turn came and we were ushered into an examining room.
“What is your little kitty’s name, Sweetie?” the vet asked with a little too much unction for my taste.
“Sphincter,” Anna announced with pride as if she had just mastered a new language.
The vet stared at her for a minute and then turned to me with a quizzical look on his face.
“That’s her kitty’s name,” I confirmed.
Still seeming doubtful, he typed the name into his computer, administered a shot, examined his patient perfunctorily and sent us home with a bill for $45, all in under 20 minutes. “Good work if you can get it,” I thought.
“Phinxter” had now matured into “Sphincter” to the delight of the children, who now pronounced his name clearly and with obvious glee to any inquiring visitor.
A year later, I received a blue computer-generated, merge-purge postcard from the vet:
“Dear Mr. Schubart, It’s time to bring your Sphincter in for a rabies shot.”