We came here with two babies, a cavalier king charles spanial named Kimba and a hope that this would be home. Despite putting a fence all around the yard, one morning, a couple of months after moving in, our dog was hit on the road and died. Heartbroken, exhausted from unsleeping twins, feeling isolated and defeated, our house went back on the market.
But during the contract with the estate agent, things changed. I met new friends at the local playgroup, our kids started sleeping a little bit more, I started to fall in love with our little patch and a big ginger cat marched into our lives like she belonged here. She was an adult cat and clearly very comfortable here. We think she may have been left by previous owners and not come out until Kimba was gone. But whatever her story, she came to us, found a little place in our hearts and our home. We named her Cleo after the ginger cat in the children's story 'Cleo the cat', which we happened to have out from the library that day and who did much the same thing as our Cleo (ie. marched in, had a bowl of milk and made herself at home).
Over the years we got chickens, then a new puppy and then some guinea pigs. Another puppy a couple of years later and then more chickens. Kittens for the boys a couple of years back and then goats and bees last year. The house has changed and changed again. Not a single one of the original plants remain, but a thick bushy garden and a food forest have grown around us. And all through it, Cleo, who was never really a house cat, was there. She tended to stay in the front garden, never keen on venturing indoors, but very happy for a cuddle and a pat in the evening sun shining on our verandah, and a pretty, fluffy welcoming party near our front door.
We don't know how old she was when she came to us - we never took her to the vets (though we wormed her and treated her for fleas regularly). A couple of years after her arrival she seemed to become an old lady though - still able to fight of the odd stray cat, but happy to just sleep and dribble on anyone willing to cuddle her.
This year, we noticed something wrong with her eyes. The pupils stopped dilating and were huge black pools at all times of the day. She went blind and restricted her movements to the verandah. The boys made sure she had a warm blanket in a bed, a bowl of food always present nearby and we tried to keep stuff out of her way. But she seemed happy still. Greeting everyone with a miaow and a smooch, purring like a little engine if you'd sit with her for a while.
Then yesterday, she wasn't there. Just gone, the way she just came. We think her time had come and in her lovely, independent lady way, she went away to die. We'll miss her fluffy, chatty presence on our verandah.
I think that maybe Cleo was sent to us to make this place our home. A little feline guardian angel to bring warmth and sometimes humour to our family and what was then a relatively unloveable garden. And now, here we are, having nearly sold it again this year, but realised that it is always going to be home and special to us, maybe her task was done.
And I think, as a final tribute and thanks to her, we've finally, after the last three years of trying to, decided on a name for our home, and therefore put that last stamp of 'ours' on this place. From now on "Cleo's Cottage" is where we belong.