We had a cat, my mother, brother and I. She was one of many animals who paraded through my childhood. This one was special, a pure-bred Siamese. I have no memory of how we acquired such a beauty. We would never have had money to buy her.
But there she was, chocolate nose, paws and tail, proud bearing. Where she was not chocolate, her creamy fur was tipped lightly with brown. She was regal. She was exotic. So it seemed important to give her a splendid name.
We chose the name of a woman we adored. Born in Japan, Tsu Tau spoke halting English. She was delicate, porcelain skinned, stunningly beautiful.
Her husband had returned to Japan to marry her. He was from a family ripped from their coastal American home by a war machine that labeled them a danger. At war’s end, the family remained in Idaho, bought land and became prosperous farmers.
We visited them every summer. They were good friends of a family in Marsing, Idaho, who were among those closest to my mother. If goodness and generosity have a face, Lucille and Giles bore it. They, too, were a farming family so it was natural the two families would become friends and that we would be welcomed into their circle during our annual visits.
Tsu Tau, her sister-in-law and her mother-in-law introduced us to foods that stretched the boundaries of our meat-and-potatoes palates. I will always remember sampling my first rice ball, startled by the acid bite of the pickled plum at its center. Or laughing as the rice-paper cellophane wrapping a sweet square of candy melted on my tongue.
Tsu Tau’s father-in-law talked to his plants. His rubber tree was decades old and the largest I had ever seen. Every week he took a soft brush and gently dusted each leaf. His vegetable patch produced enormous, succulent beets, tomatoes, carrots and daikon radishes.
We loved the family, but we adored Tsu Tau. She was gentle and patient. Her eyes glowed with warmth. We knew our beloved, exotic cat deserved to be named for the quiet, elegant woman we dreamed of between visits.
The next summer we could hardly wait to tell her of the honour we had bestowed on her by giving her name to our Siamese cat. We eased the conversation around to cats. To our dismay, she shuddered.
Tsu Tau, our beloved, exotic friend, could not abide felines. We were mortified but hid our dismay from our beautiful friend. We never did change the name of our cat and loved our pet all the more fiercely because she bore the name of someone we admired.
Learning that Tsu Tau detested cats taught us an important lesson, one I have had to continually relearn in my 65 years on the planet. The people we love are not us. They are their own beautiful selves. We love them, and hope they will love us, in spite of our differences. Love makes us realize how inconsequential those differences are when we love without reservation.