Portrait of a Cat Named Winston

Of course, he wasn’t always called Winston.  When this black and white feral kitten first appeared on Green Hill Farm in the early 1990s, he was just another no-name, country kitty looking for food and shelter.  You see, in the country, we don’t buy or go get a cat; it just shows up.  First, it takes up residence in one of the barns or sheds—a safe place with an occasional mouse treat. Next, you may catch a glimpse of it under a bush or behind some flowers.  As it gets more comfortable, it begins sunning itself on the front porch and leaving dead rabbits at your door.  Before you know it, the cat has had its mail forwarded to your address and now considers itself a full member of the family.  At least, that seems to be the story with this congenial cat Grandma and Grandaddy Rieley took a liking to and adopted many years ago.  Besides supplementing kitty’s diet of mice and rabbits with cat food, my grandparents also allowed him in the house at night to watch television with them.  As I mentioned, my grandparents became very fond of kitty, and Grandaddy began referring to him as—wait for it, “Nyning-Nyning.”  I’m not even sure I’m spelling it correctly as it was more of a noise than a name.  Anyway, Nyning-Nyning was well-loved and became a permanent fixture on Green Hill Farm.  He enjoyed hunting, despite receiving two or three meals daily. And his very favorite pastime was hanging out on the front porch, sleeping on a cushion in a rocking chair Great-grandaddy Rieley built.

After Grandma Rieley passed away, Grandaddy moved in next door with my parents…and Nyning-Nyning followed.  He continued to live outside at my parents’ house until Farmguy and I moved to Green Hill Farm in 2004.  Soon after moving, we noticed Nyning-Nyning was hanging out more often with us.  He’d follow along on walks with the dogs, roll around in the dirt of our kitchen garden as we worked, and sleep on the front porch on sunny afternoons.  We knew he was here to stay, especially when he began leaving dead rodents as well as their various parts outside our kitchen door; we found a rabbit’s eyeball one morning–yuck!

Not knowing very much about this cat, I asked about his healthcare, vaccinations, and diet.  I figured I should find out when he last visited a veterinarian, what kind of cat food he ate, and if he had a real name. Nyning-Nyning had been to the vet, but not in a while; he was due for a few vaccinations.  I learned that Grandaddy was feeding kitty a brand of cat food called, Alley Cat–which was cheap a deal at 6 cans for a dollar (I remember thinking, good grief, no wonder this cat is such a good hunter.  That cat food can’t have much nutritional value.).  And, I discovered that Nyning-Nyning was just Nyning-Nyning. There was no other name.  Okay…I thought, if I’m going to take on this cat, he needs to visit a vet.  But first, he needs a name that I can easily pronounce and spell.   So, I set about coming up with a name that was a bit more mainstream, and most importantly, pronounceable.  I needed something that resembled the term of endearment my grandparents bestowed upon kitty, especially since I didn’t want to confuse him or annoy Grandaddy. Then I thought—What in the world sounds like Nyning-Nyning?  Consonant-vowel-consonsant combinations as well as words that rhymed with Nyning-Nyning swirled around in my head.  All I have to say is, I used all the phonemic training I received as a speech-language pathologist to meet this challenge. After a while, I decided, what the hell; I’m just going to call him Winston.  I’m a Churchill admirer, the name is pronounceable, and it has a similar vowel sound in it.  Plus, Winston Churchill loved cats.  So, Winston it is!

It wasn’t long until Sir Winston, The Cat had a new bill of health and was eating good quality cat food.  I’m sure he felt a little bit like nobility after his upgrade.  Winston lived with us from 2004 until around 2013. He was mainly an outside cat, except in the winter when he slept in our vestibule or covered porch.  When he became elderly, he moved in with our dogs, Sadie and Maud—often sharing the same bed with Maud. Winston’s health started declining in 2012, and Farmguy and I began feeding him a special diet of chicken, fish, or whatever he’d eat.  We also administered various medicine, which we crushed into cream cheese and smeared on his nose in order to make it more appetizing.  And, we started taking him to receive fluids at the vet every few weeks as he was dehydrated.  Winston’s food and medicine routine was now taking us 40-45 minutes twice daily, and that’s not even counting the other animals’ care.  At this point, Farmguy and I were struggling to adequately care for Winston and get out of the house on time for work. Winston was frail and needed more intensive care than we could provide.  We were faced with saying good-bye to him or finding another solution.  I have to stop here and say something.  Not only did we love Winston, but I also remembered how much my grandparents had loved him (Grandaddy Rieley passed away in 2006). Understandably, we felt motivated to find another solution.  Although Winston didn’t appear to have much time left, he wasn’t quite ready to go, yet.

My mother lives next door, and since she’s retired, I asked if she would mind helping with Winston.  I truly believed that he only had a few months left…maybe.  Mom thought about it and agreed.  That was about 3 years ago. I give Mom full credit for Winston’s Lazurus-like comeback. She is an attentive nurse to this lucky kitty.  If Winston is finicky, Mom’s determined to find something he’ll eat:  hamburger, chicken, turkey—you name it.  I’ve called to check on Winston to see how he’s doing, and Mom says, “He’s fine; I’m scrambling Winston an egg, or I’m making Winston a salmon cake.”  Winston cuddles on Mom or Dad’s lap every day and is quite content. As I’ve said, I didn’t expect Winston to last this long.  People often ask, “How old is that cat?” We’re not really sure, but he has to be close to 20-years-old.  We joke that Winston is going to out-live everybody on Green Hill Farm.

Unfortunately, Winston hasn’t been well lately. A couple of weeks ago, Mom asked if I’d paint a picture of him as a memento. I wanted to say—yes, of course!  But, I really didn’t know if I could paint a cat, especially since I’ve only painted landscapes and a crazy, abstract rooster so far. Recently, my art class was cancelled because the teacher was sick, and I didn’t have any painting assignments.  So, I endeavored to paint a portrait of Winston based on an oil painting that Farmguy gave me last year, because the cat in the painting looked so similar to Winston.  I thought it would be a good exercise to paint something more challenging, and if it resembled Winston when I was finished, then I’d give it to Mom.  The painting was quite a challenge, especially since I’m still learning.  Nevertheless, I’m happy I decided to try as it turned out well enough to give as a Mother’s Day gift.

Here’s the thing:  All is well that ends well as the saying goes. I wasn’t sure if I could paint a cat, but now I know I can.  Mom is happy to have a painting of our beloved Winston.  And, a country cat who went around for half of his life eating Alley Cat cat food and answering to Nyning-Nyning now has his own portrait titled, Sir Winston–Beloved Cat of Green Hill Farm.



Happy Mother’s Day!


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