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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Cameo And The Christmas Tree

(This re-post will be stuck here through the Christmas season. Please scroll down for more recent material)

With many thanks to Stogie, who made the graphic for this post in 2011! Click directly on the picture to enlarge it:

I wrote the story below the fold in 2005. Within the past several months, Cameo has mellowed (somewhat, anyway, in large part due to her recent illness). But the memories of those bygone days Cameo's terrorizing the Christmas tree still bring a smile to our faces. I hope that the anecdote will bring a smile to your face too.

Cameo, our youngest cat of a little over four years, is one-fourth Siamese. As she is mostly Russian Blue, she doesn't have the appearance of a lean Siamese; in fact, she's smoky-gray, except for the dainty white spot on her chest and built like a little fireplug. Every annual check-up at the vet brings the warning, "You'd better watch her weight." Keeping Cameo's food intake to a lower level is easier said than done, however, because she steals the other cats' food before she eats her own — and none of the other three girls mess with Cameo's feeding station.

True to her Siamese heritage, Cameo is busy, busy, busy. I suspect that Christmastime is her favorite time of year because the season provides her with more opportunity for getting into trouble. From the moment that I wrestle the decorations out of that miniscule guestroom closet (A man built this house in 1940, and apparently he didn't believe in closet space or in enough electrical outlets, for that matter), her eyes glow with mischief.

As soon as my husband struggles into the front door with the large box containing the artificial tree dragged from the rafters of the shed, Cameo dives headfirst into the box. We guess that she detects the scent of mice as our shed is infested with those vermin. As the box gets progressively empty, she watches intently as we assemble the tree. First, we lay out all the branches so that we can match the back prongs to the now faded color scheme on the "trunk." It never fails: Cameo leaps from the box and drags off one of the branches into the dining room, and I shout, "Cut that out! Leave that tree alone." But after a few minutes of struggle with her, the tree is up. We loop a piece of twine around the trunk and fasten the tree to the window ledge. I don't want that tree tipping over and coming home to find the angel-topper's porcelain head in pieces on the floor!

Next come the lights. Of course, strings of lights have to be plugged in and tested, and Cameo participates in checking the lights too. The string itself is interesting, but when those bulbs come on, Cameo seems to feel that it's her duty to double-check that each bulb works, and she makes every effort to bite each one. As we wrap the lights around the tree, the trailing strands probably remind her of her favorite toy, the laser gun, so she becomes ecstatic with the thrill of pursuit. Again, I scream, "Cut that out!" followed by "Leave those lights alone!"

The first decorations to be placed on the tree are the strands of beads. We store the beads in plastic bags and, no matter how carefully we've put them away at the end of the Christmas season, somehow they get all tangled up, so we have to disentangle them. Cameo has no interest in a ball of tangled strands, but once they're laid out as separate strands, she goes into action. "Cut that out! Leave those beads alone."

Assembling the tree and putting on the lights take less than an hour. But then the real fun begins for Cameo — putting on the ornaments! She watches carefully as each ornament is placed. Then she spies the empty boxes. Small though they are, Cameo feels that it's her obligation to inspect those boxes and to try to secrete herself therein. "Cut that out! Leave those boxes alone!"

After hours of work, the tree is glowing with lights and ornaments, and all of us — my husband, the four cats, and I — sit back to inspect the results. Our tree has no tinsel, of course: tinsel can be fatal to cats. They love to eat it, and tinsel and digestive tracts are not a good match. We learned that lesson with a previous cat; fortunately, the vet got to her in time, and Laxatone took care of the problem. But my husband and I decided that, from that point on, our Christmas tree would go tinselless rather than risk losing a beloved pet.

As soon as the tree is completely festooned, Cameo goes after those ornaments on the lower branches. Unlike another cat I once had, she has no particular favorites to scramble for. Rather, any ornament on a lower branch is her target. I grab the water spritzer and soak her good. "Cut that out! Leave that tree alone!" Sheepishly giving me that what-did-I-do look, she goes to the radiator, which is still tantalizingly close to the tree, and pretends that the tree isn't really there.

Inevitably, we have to leave the house within hours of decorating the tree. Either work calls or we have to run an errand. You guessed it! When we return home, the lower branches are bare. Sometimes the ornaments disappear, only to be found during spring housecleaning; sometimes the ornaments are just below the branches or in the gift bags. We put the ornaments back on, once again, with "Oh, Cameo, can't you just leave that tree alone?" Her eyes are round with innocence.

Every evening, we go through the same routine: Cameo secretes herself under the tree as soon as the switch is thrown, I shout "Cam-eee-ooooooo!," she swats at an ornament, and I grab the water spritzer. "Cut that out! Leave that tree alone!" Sometimes the very sight of the spritzer does the job, and I don't have to soak the tree skirt and any presents under the tree as I attempt to shoo her out from under the tree. Being a little klutzy, Cameo usually dislodges an ornament or two in her scramble to the radiator. I sigh and readjust the tree. My husband says, "Leave that cat alone."

Cameo's first Christmas was the most disruptive for the tree, but the most entertaining as well. After several days of the above routine with the spritzer, Cameo decided to be sneakier in her approach. While I was busy polishing the silver tea service, she removed all the ornaments on the lower branches. My hands were full, so I let that defiance go and waited to see what she would do next. She went to her toy box, and, one by one, retrieved her toys and placed them on the lower branches. If I hadn't seen this with my own eyes, I wouldn't have believed it! Then she sat back to survey her work. Within a few minutes, she stalked, then attacked the tree and swatted her "ornaments" all over the house. To our regret, Cameo has never again repeated her tree-decorating efforts.

My husband and I have had cats all our married lives, and we've noticed that most cats lose interest in a Christmas tree as they get older. In fact, because of that waning interest, until we got Cameo, we had become accustomed to using only felt and plastic ornaments for each cat's first Christmas tree and returned to using the breakable ones as the years passed. But Cameo seems to be a true Siamese — ever curious — and we don't foresee adding many breakables during her lifetime, especially on the lower branches.

I hope that I don't have to soak Cameo too many times this year. After all, it is Christmas and the season of good will. I don't want "the little portly" to catch cold!

Uh oh! She's staring at the tree again right now. Where is that spritzer?


This year's graphic, created by Stogie:


  1. I like that picture because of the cheery Christmas lights, the cozy fire and beautiful Cameo!

  2. Oh dear! CATS! We can't live with them, and we CERTAINLY can't live without them, can we?

    My father was an engineer among other things, and being extremely thorough in the way of engineers he always put "guy wires" on our tree -- at least two -- securely fastened to the trunk, then pulled taut and fastened to the baseboard on either side of the corner where the tree always stood.

    One of our kitties -- a white semi-Persian with the highly original name of Fluffy -- loved to climb all the way to the top every chance he got. I think he liked pretending he was an angel.

    If it hadn't been for Daddy's guy wires, the tree would have come crashing down, and made a terrible mess. As it was, we only lost one or two ornaments a day.

    No matter how we yelled and screamed and shrieked and roared Fluffy never paid the slightest attention, except to give us a sidelong glance as much as to say, "You know I'm adorable, why don't you just admit it and let me have my fun?"

    Today we have cheap plastic ornaments from mainland China bought for a dollar a dozen at The Dollar Tree. They look like hand blown glass -- sorta -- but you'd have to use a sledgehammer to break them.

    Very pretty they are, but somehow, since I long ago succumbed to the convenience and economy of using an artificial tree, Christmas just isn't the same anymore.

    I have considered the possibility that getting older maybe part of that.

    May God love Cameo -- and all our precious kitty cats -- and may He bless us -- every one -- this Christmas Season and throughout a Glad New Year.

    ~ FreeThinke

  3. FT,
    Back when we had out big Christmas tree -- the tree in the graphic -- it was an artificial tree because we could not prevent our cats from climbing a real tree. Plus, I have terrible allergies and simply could not deal with falling evergreen needles.

    But even with the artificial tree, we had to use wires to fasten the tree -- in the case of this house, to the window frame.

    I don't like plastic ornaments -- well, except for the few that my parents used on the tree when I was a toddler. Breakable ornaments, however, can be dangerous for cats; and so can tinsel. So, once we had ornament eaters in the cat family, we opted for mostly handmade ornaments of felt, quilting material, tatting, crochet, etc. I used to have some ceramic ornaments that I painted and glazed, but they were too breakable for the cat family.

    I do make an effort to put some Christmas decorations in every room of our house -- with the living room and the piano room being the most extensively adorned.

    One of the advantages of having been a teacher for over 40 years: I have many, many ornaments and decorations that were given to me by my students.

    You should see how many beautiful Christmas mugs I have! Yes, I use those mugs every Christmas.

    Next year, I'll likely go back to using a full-sized Christmas tree. Amber will be a year older then and not so mischievous. I hope.

    Cameo (age 11) and Mysti (age 13) have mellowed a lot now, so they don't bother bric-a-brac now; besides, they aren't climbers. But Amber is! Fortunately, Amber is not clumsy.

  4. Stogie,
    Cameo does make the picture, doesn't she?

  5. Duck,
    Cameo is, um, a portly and pretty well anchored to the floor. ;^)

    That's a good thing! When she was a climber, she was clumsy in the extreme. Her first Christmas, she knocked off the kissing angels on the mantel; I renamed the angels "Headless" and "Assless."

  6. FT,
    the convenience and economy of using an artificial tree, Christmas just isn't the same anymore.

    I use a lot of scented candles to get "the smells of Christmas" in the house.

    I'd like to get some real holly with berries. Before this area became so citified, I could always find holly in the wild. Not now, unfortunately.

  7. Cameo is so pretty! Of course, this year she will probably just swat the ornaments towards the bottom. If it's not too much trouble. ;)

    We must have a graphic of little Amber!

    Our new tortie, Nibbler, is about 9 months now. She hasn't bothered the tree at all, except to drink out of the stand. Luckily for us, the tree is in a very heavy cast iron base and thus hard for her to jostle! Also, since I let the kids decorate the tree every year, most of our ornaments are 'unbreakable.'

  8. The picture would make a great Christmas card. I'm guessing Cameo hasn't missed many meals.

  9. That's great. I just posted about Hemingway's cats in Key West. I'm not a cat person myself, we love dogs, but you have two keepers.

    Right Truth

    (p.s. I'm having to post in some identity other than Google, for some reason I keep getting a "WHOOPS SOMETHING WENT WRONG" error.


  10. There is a simple solution, of course. Cameo, needs her own tree. smile


  11. Cameo looks like a plushy toy that everyone wants to pet.

    But I must say that she is quite feisty. It's usually her way or the highway.

    It took me YEARS for me to establish my dominance over her. Still, to this day, she hates the word "No!" and rebels against it every time. If I say "Easy, easy," she mellows right out.

    Actually, she has a tender heart -- as I've seen in her relationship with Amber and in 2009 when I took her to visit Mr. AOW in the nursing home. She might have made a therapy cat! She has a heart for those who are ailing and never gets feisty with them even if they are strangers.

  12. Tammy,
    Cameo thinks that EVERYTHING in the house is hers. She is queen!

  13. Brooke,
    Amber is a little over 9 months old, as is your Nibbler, and not so little now! She has a tall and lean build. And those legs! So long! She's walking on stilts!

    I'm hoping to have a Happy New Year graphic with all the AOW kitties included. I've sent Stogie several photos to consider for the graphic.

    I have taken many pictures of Amber and will soon be posting some of them at my photos site and at my Flickr Photostream page. I'm still learning how to navigate the latter's interface.

  14. Conservatives on Fire,
    Cameo eats several times a day. Can't you tell?

    You are one of several people who have suggested that I make a Christmas card out of this graphic. I should do so, I know, because Cameo isn't young now. She'll be 12 years old in July.

    Mr. AOW does use the Cameo-Christmas Tree graphic as the wallpaper for his iPad during the Christmas season.

  15. Lovely photo, but it wouldn't be as nice without Queen Cameo.

  16. My Marcello and Musetta, 28 yrs ago when I got them (they've been gone a few years, lived till about 20 each) loved their first Christmas tree...I have wood floors and the first night, from my bed late in the night, it sounded like Hanoi in the middle of the war...crash! Boom! break! I finally learned to put the breakable ornaments higher! Of course, Marcello also climbed up the bark, but...

  17. I remember that story about Cameo. It brings back good memories especially at this time of year. Of course, you remember my cat's blog ... I lost the name and I'm sure they removed the blog. It was also at Christmas time. Ah, the memories.

    Best Christmas wishes to you, the Mr. and all the cats. -Jason

  18. Jason,
    Merry Christmas!

    I hope that Lara gets a special treat for Christmas Day.

    BTW, Stogie has made me another Christmas graphic -- one with all three of our cats. I will include that graphic in a later post. In a few minutes I'm going to see if I can get that graphic posted in my sidebar.

  19. I'm astonished. Your head post has been up for several days running, and that dear kittycat hasn't toppled that tree YET?



    ~ FT

  20. AOW,

    MERRY CHRISTMAS to you and yours!


  21. Like you, my cats are more dear to me than my tree! I put my tree in a 100 pound urn, in a bucket filled with bricks! We do use a real tree so I am truly concerned that their curiosity will get the best of them. I am only truly worried about McGillicuddy. he isn't a climber so much a a leaper! I have seen him eyeing the top of the tree (why did I put ostrich feathers on top? LOL!) So far, the tree and McGillicuddy are sound!

    Merry Christmas to you and yours!



  22. Andie,
    Just be sure that your cats can't get to any of that tinsel stuff.

    Years ago, I had to give up putting tinsel on our Christmas tree. One member of our cat family at that time ate tinsel -- and Easter grass, too. Fortunately, I was able to apply home remedies; otherwise, there would have been major surgery involved.

    Merry Christmas, Andie!

  23. MERRY CHRISTMAS to you and yours, AOW!
    (Yeah, I know... JB's already said the same thing. I'm just not very original. BUT IT'S THE THOUGHT THAT COUNTS!)

  24. FT,
    If I had put the big Christmas tree up this year, Amber would have demolished it! I'm 99.9% certain of that.

  25. I love this Christmas Story, AOW! Your sweet cameo is really something. I don't have a big tree because I know my molly would do the same thing.

    MERRY CHRISTMAS to you and yours, and thanks for your nice prayers and comments over my way, much appreciated.

  26. Bunni!

    I'm so glad that you stopped by. You have been on my mind.


    God bless you.


    To help celebrate this Christmas Season we have posted a series of examples of the finest performances we could find of sacred music composed especially for the Christmas Season at FreeThinke's blog.

    Starting yesterday after first posting the original television broadcast of Amahl and the Night Visitors in its entirety, we offer splendid performances of the following:

    O Holy Night


    I Wonder As I Wander


    Il est ne, le divin enfant


    For Unto Us A Child Is Born


    O Magnum Mysterium


    Rejoice , O Daughter of Zion


    Ding Dong Merrily on High


    Christmas Day, a Choral Fantasy


    Please feel free to wander back and forth through these individual selections, and enjoy them in no particular order, as ~ or if ~ the mood strikes. They'll be here all Christmas week and beyond.

    Merry Christmas!!! "And may God bless us, every one!"

    ~ FreeThinke

  28. Merry Christmas and a Happy, Healthy New Year.

    A day to be thankful that God so loved us he sent his only son...
    To live a perfect life on this earth...
    To pay the price for our sins...
    To offer the gift of life, all we need do is accept that gift.

    My best to you and your family.

    Right Truth

  29. I love that your cat decorated the branches with her own toys! Too bad you didn't catch that on video!
    I hope you and Mr. AOW are having a wonderful Christmas season.

  30. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and Mr. AOW.

  31. Oh. Just thought I'd add this:

    Our youngest dog, Harley, gets excited when I sing "Soft Kitty, Warm Kitty" to him. He doesn't respond to any other song I sing to him. Just that one. How weird is that?


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