Siamese Cat Painting by Virginia Miller

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Siamese Cat by Artist Virginia Miller

Original Lithograph from Jonah's Workshop, circa 1970s

original lithograph of Siamese by Ginny Miller

I had some great friends in high school, but my best friend was a Siamese cat named Junior.

Junior slept under covers with his head next to mine on the pillow. He sat on my desk while I did homework. On school days, he would walk with me through the woods and the cemetery, only stopping to wait at the edge of the school parking lot. Even in winter, when the snow was too deep to walk and I used snowshoes, Junior would hop along in the tracks I made. When I stayed out until 2 or 3 in the morning, I'd come back to a darkened house with a patient Siamese waiting by the door. And, yes, I did let him eat from my plate!

During the 1970s, my parents would host evening get-togethers for the local craftspeople several times a year. One time, I went downstairs to use the bathroom. When I came back through the dining room, I saw Junior and Ginny Miller sitting face to face.

I knew Ginny and her husband Clayton from the crafts fair circuit. I worked (or volunteered, depending on the intake!) for my parents' crafts business, and Ginny and Clayton were usually at the same fairs. But the Millers were different than other craftspeople. In their canvas pants and boat shoes, they looked as if they'd just gotten off a sailboat. In a time when most women were going for the "natural" look with long hair, Ginny wore a pixie cut and lipstick. The Millers were friendly, but quiet, Clayton especially. I think I only heard him speak three or four times.

They owned their own lithography press that they used to print notecards and matted prints. But even cooler than owning their own press, were the prints they made of Ginny's drawings.

Most of the prints that Ginny and Clayton put out through their company, Jonah's Workshop, were animals. They printed in two color: the animal was printed in black ink except for the eyes, which would be printed in a second color. Sometimes Ginny drew animals that bordered on cutesy, reminiscent of what you would find in a children's book. More often her delicate drawings were realistic, capturing the spirit of the animal.

I was in awe of this woman.

Junior usually didn't bother with anyone other than myself. But he and Ginny were sitting there like two old chums. Ginny was leaned forward, studying Junior's face. Junior allowed her to do so.

I waited.

Ginny leaned back and lit a cigarette. "Handsome cat," she said.

Ginny went back to my parents' get-together, and Junior and I returned to my biology homework.

At a crafts fair a few months later, I passed the Millers' booth, which was crowded with customers. All the sudden, Ginny was walking next to me. Without a word, she handed me a notecard, then turned and went back to her booth.

I looked at the card. It was Junior!

A year and a half later, I left home for college in another state. It was the first time in my life I would be living cat-less. But I knew I'd be able to see Junior on vacations, and in a few years I'd get an apartment and have him with me again. For the short term, the hardest adjustment was not having a nine pound cat draped over the pillow at night.

My parents called a few weeks into the semester. Junior had been diagnosed with feline leukemia. My parents had Junior put to sleep immediately, as soon as the vet had given them the news. They had known I would have taken the seven hour bus trip home to say goodbye to him, if I had known that he was sick, but they didn't think that was practical.

No one, not even my family, knew that I had filled notebooks with pen and ink drawings throughout my childhood. I had made a few clumsy drawings of Junior, but none of them captured his personality.

But I did, and still do, have the notecard of Junior that Ginny handed me that day. Its worth isn't just that it's nice to have a picture of my cat. I still have his image firmly planted in my mind's eye thirty five years later. The worth is that someone else, Ginny, recognized what a remarkable cat Junior was.

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