El Gato del Correos

I returned to work on April 6th following a ten-month absence. I’d taken time off to receive treatment for multiple myeloma, a cancer affecting the plasma cells in my blood. I spent the fall and winter months recuperating from an immune suppressed condition, the result of an autologous stem cell transplant.

Curly's Pad

Curly’s Pad

I am the Postmaster at a small rural community in Oregon. This unincorporated area is comprised of apple, pear, and cherry orchards. A country highway runs through town, north to the Columbia River and south to the Mt. Hood National Forest.

The town has a strong Hispanic influence, reflected in the mix of businesses that dot the main drag. The Michoacan Cafe sits next door to Taqueria Los Amigos, and both are popular eateries serving authentic Mexican food. There’s a gas station where, in addition to fuel, you can get weather reports, gossip, and credit. We are just an ink spot on the map, but if you’ve got a problem, just ask for Butch or Paco.

The office I manage sits on a side street, catty corner from the elementary school and Methodist Church. For the most part, I work alone selling stamps and delivering mail to post office boxes. I’m also a companion to Curly, the postal cat, aka, El Gato del Correos.

Curly arrived in the spring of 2003. She was dirty, malnourished, and as I was soon to learn, pregnant. At that time, family concerns frequently drew me away from work. Therefore, I failed to put the kibosh on Curly’s opportunistic adoption of the post office for a home. Everyone in town, but for me, felt that she belonged and was the sidekick I needed to take my mind off of a troubling time.

A local graphic artist allowed Curly to use her studio to deliver a litter of two. She found homes for the kittens, arranged for a local non-profit to provide spaying, and returned Curly to our care.

Some less observant folks think I bring her from home each day; but no, the post office is her home. We put her outside at night. Each morning, when we open, she is waiting patiently at the front door. Winters here are long and sometimes fierce. Nonetheless, she thrives. On weekends and holidays, customers stop by with treats to tide her over until Monday. Obviously, it takes a village to raise a cat.

El Gato del Correos

El Gato del Correos

In my recent absence, a succession of temporary Postmasters (out-of-towners) served in my stead for three-month stints. Each tolerated Curly, less they bear the wrath of the community. She is absolutely the Queen of the town, lording over both children and adults, not to mention the former cat curmudgeon that was me.

I have mixed emotions about returning to work. The meditative recuperation of last winter suited my personality. Still, I realize good luck played a part in this opportunity. Many patients with MM lose their jobs. Their myeloma treatments may be too demanding or, worse, the cancer has stolen their job skills. I have a reprieve and the reward is, ironically, work. Curly’s placid company complements my gratitude.

Thus far, the eight-hour days test my stamina. My feet, numb from peripheral neuropathy, throb during the long periods I must stand. Expensive, cushioned running shoes seem to make a difference. I use hand sanitizer compulsively to offset the exposure to germs from mail and money. I have some back pain but my oncologist wants to wait until later this spring to do a bone survey. Until then I’ll have faith that inactivity, not multiple myeloma, is the culprit.

In a way, I’m like Curly, the postal cat. We are both survivors who found sanctuary in this tiny rural post office. Here, adversity happens in proportions equal to that of any population. My cancer is just another local story, remarkable only because, for the time being, it spins positively.

Curly’s inauspicious beginning aroused compassion in the community. In a metaphorical sense, we all begin as alley cats, squalling for attention, playing to the instinct for tenderness inherent in sentient beings. Life’s journey comes without a guarantee. It’s on loan to each of us. In return, we have only love to offer as collateral. Curly, El Gato del Correos, reminds me that love is all you need.

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8 responses to “El Gato del Correos

  1. John I have come over from my friend’s blog, Scoopondan. I have noted your name several times over the last few months and decided to follow your e-tracks to your blog. It was a pleasure reading your recent entries. Thanks for the support you are sending Dan’s way and may your journey be filled with wonderful spring days, an awakening earth and a lush victory garden.

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  2. Wonderful post, John, as usual!
    I really enjoyed the video about Curly, although I admit to feeling badly that she has to spend all her nights outdoors, especially during the cold snowy winter months. But she looks so happy…and certainly well-fed…and I am sure she finds warm shelter somewhere, as you say.
    I wholeheartedly agree with you: cats have formidable healing powers. I am happily “owned” by four (house)cats who have faithfully nursed my husband and me through many colds and fevers. When they sit on me and purr, I feel better almost instantly. 🙂
    Well, thank you for this heart-warming story. It gave a lovely start to my day.

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  3. You are indeed fortunate that your job was still waiting, that you are capable (if somewhat challenged) to perform it, and that Curly is still “on the job.” She’s a pretty cat, and probably a good companion. Blessings on blessings, and an indication that your village is a pretty good place to live.

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  4. What a wonderful cat Curly is! I really like your Curly-flick! I found the healing influence of my cats as well. And I am sure we are not unique in this. My cats also star at several occasions in my blog. Keep up the good work, and survive!!!

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  5. 🙂

    My love to you and Curley

    (I finally foudn the courage to come read your blog…I wish I had done so sooner).

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  6. Hi John — found you through your comment on the New York Times nature essay.

    Great site — wonderful writing and great photos, too. Thank you for being out there, and present and here, all in the same impossible-to-describe ethereal kind of way. I’m just getting used to the blogosphere and have read a lot of nonsense, but to me, you’re the real deal.

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  7. Pingback: The Cat Came Back « Good Blood, Bad Blood·

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