Meet The Kitties

Since 2006, I have participated in Illustration Friday's weekly drawing challenge. Every Friday, the site offers a new word to serve as inspiration for a work of art. Immediately, All of my drawings feature the cats (and sometimes a dog) that I've had in my life. 

I'd been drawing my kitties since the 1980s, but I don't live with all of them. I only have one cat, Lily, living with me in D.C. The others, from past and present, live(d) with my parents or my sister in their Ohio homes. They may live miles apart in real life, but they are still family to me and make good companions on Melissa's Kitties blog. 

Here are the stories behind my inspirations.

The Mother Kitty

The Mother Kitty
The Mother Kitty finds a spot in the sun.

The son of one of my dad's friends, who was attending the University of Akron, was looking for a home for the cat that lurked outside his dorm. One day, Dad brought her home.

After a scrubby bath, what we thought was a salt-and-pepper kitty turned out to be fluffy winter white. Her friends at the University of Akron called her Ghost. But, since she was the only cat we knew, we referred to her as The Kitty, a name that she approved.

Soon, The Kitty became The Mother Kitty, bearing six kittens. (One was kept—more on him later—while the others moved in with friends.)
Baby (May 30, 2008)
The Mother Kitty with her kittens.
(Baby: May 8, 2008)

The Mother Kitty—and all the kitties to follow—became instant family. She roamed our two-story house and surrounding yard and woods as if she owned it. (She did.) Indoors, she hunted through our belongings for barrettes, paper clips, business cards, and jewelry. At times, she’d trap me for hours, napping on my lap. Outside, she helped Mom out with the mail and her daily gardening. She climbed her favorite pine tree and always kept her eye on all the neighborhood happenings.

The Mother Kitty is a true lady, caring and stern, street smart and full of wisdom, opinionated and no-nonsense. Mom, Bette Davis, and Eleanor Roosevelt are just a few of her role models. Her eclectic pastimes include reading, gardening, fine dining, music and formal dancing, astrology, staring contests, and messing with her roommate Simon’s head.

Her most distinctive feature, her multi-colored eyes, has always been a mystery. Some reports suggest that The Mother Kitty is thousands of years old and that her eyes mark the ages, serving as windows to the different eras and worldly locations she’s experienced. Others say her eyes reflect the level of her Jedi powers. Several studies explore their respective purposes and origins, but no conclusive or definitive comparisons have been drawn. Some have gone as far as to link her to Buddha, David Bowie, and Dorothy Parker. The Mother Kitty does not dispute any of these theories but will not discuss it. And she will stare you down until you stop asking her.


Gordon, camouflaged in one of our porch flower boxes

Equipment (May 14, 2010)
From somewhere south of the equator,
Gordon sends his mom a sweet message.
(Equipment: May 14, 2010)
Born behind a piano in Northeast Ohio and named after a famous rock star, Gordon knew from an early age that he wanted to see more than his own backyard. A real outdoorsy type, Gordon spent his early years hunting and hiking, roaming our neighborhood daily. After his first few years at home, he bid his mom and the rest of our family adieu and set off on one of his many adventures.

Gordon excelled in the arts and has become a true performer—proficient in music like his namesake, Sting (real name: Gordon), and currently starring in the Johnny Kitties series, celebrating Johnny Depp. He attributes his lifelong love for classic films and Johnny Movies to his upbringing of afternoon lap naps in front of the TV for my movie marathons. He also has an encyclopedic knowledge of music, which makes him the favorite for DJing parties. While—of course—Sting is his hero, he leans toward guitar gods Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Jimi Hendrix.

Now traveling the world, exploring new cultures, religions, and languages, Gordon shares a worldly, ageless reputation similar to his mother's. He returns home with a flicker of a new indistinct accent, treats from afar to share, and tales and legends to tell. What's true? What's legend? Only Gordon knows.

Some of his favorite destinations include Mozambique, Taiwan, Italy, New Zealand, and New York. To counter his life on the road, Gordon spends his spare time taking long walks, reading, reflecting, practicing yoga, and catching a quick snooze between flights.


Helping Dad with his latest construction project in the garage, Simon takes a work break.

A few years after Gordon left home, Simon showed up outside my parents' office building. As we exited the front door, he sprung out of the bushes and circled the parking lot doing a handstand on the seat of a unicycle. We took him home immediately.

Acrobat (September 17, 2010)
Simon in the old days....
(Acrobat: September 17, 2010)
With the hint of a French accent, Simon told us of his tenure with the Cirque du Soliel. He had to quit his high wire act after a fall that broke his front paw. On the mend, Simon enjoyed his new surroundings at our home with The Mother Kitty, though The Mother Kitty was not as thrilled. It took years, but I think she secretly tolerates him now.

On a typical day, Simon roams the yard, inspecting every change from the day before—in the air and on land. He enjoys sunbathing by the fish pond, reading and writing philosophy, and helping Dad with his craft projects in the garage. More than anything, though, Simon loves a lap. In his spare time, he continues to practice his old circus tricks and to exercise, walking in circles and making frequent u-turns. These skills have helped him score a spot as star point guard for the Boston Celtics. You may know him as Rajon Rondo, but don't tell anybody.


When Julie received her White Coat, a milestone in her veterinary studies, Comet was first to test it out.
Brave (March 5, 2010)
Comet makes a cautious approach.
(Brave: March 5, 2011)
While Comet still struggles to conquer his shyness and fears, life with Julie was completely different. Days were full of love and fun, as they spent them playing Hide and Seek and Tag. A couple of years down the road, Julie brought Ashes home to be Comet's new friend. It took some adjusting, but now—as you know—they're inseparable.

Comet prefers the quiet life, and works on building up his courage every day. He spends his days hiding, wrestling with Ashes and listening to her endless stories, napping, and watching the birds. Comet enjoys reading the works of great, reflective minds, such as Abraham Lincoln, Richard Feynman, and Leonardo Da Vinci, and brave adventurers, including Howard Hughes, Jane Goodall, and the Cowardly Lion. He practices yoga, watches classic MTV, and enjoys musicals, silent films, and The Honeymooners.


Ashes, keeping the bed warm for my nephew Liam in 2002

Ashes spent her early life in a Cincinnati cat shelter, uncertain of her future and always planning her escape. When my sister Julie brought her home, she happily found only one cat to deal with and room after room full of things to explore, climb, and possibly destroy. Every time she accidentally ruined something, she got warnings of returning to that crowded cat cell from which she came, but she could always talk her way out of that. Besides, she knew Julie was too kind-hearted to follow through with any such threats.
Magnify (August 28, 2009)
"Good morning!"
(Magnify: August 28, 2009)

Ashes's bold, infectious personality is undeniable. Soon, everyone warmed up to her, including her best friend Comet. She's never understood the reasons behind Comet's shyness and spends her days trying to snap him out of it. He, on the other hand, teaches her the joy of sitting quietly for reflection. Typically, for Ashes, with some much to do and topics to discuss, there are never enough hours in the day. Some of her hobbies include singing, sewing, jewelry-making, and floor hockey. Some of her idols include Janet Jackson, Tim Gunn, and Joan Crawford.


Norman, ready for his close-up. 
Norman muscled his way into my sister Julie's life after spotting her on a bike trail in Cincinnati, where somebody "took him on a little trip" and promptly disappeared. Confused and unsure of his situation, he spent hours trying to snag passersby, but to no avail. By the time he saw Julie on her bike, he was desperate and ran for it! Julie, hearing a constant pulsating cry, finally looked behind her and discovered she was being chased. 

Crunchy (December 4, 2009)
Norman goes Method
in his Halloween costume.
(Crunchy: December 4, 2009)
Once home, Norman immediately settled in—to the great dismay of Comet and Ashes. Julie named her new kitten Norman after Psycho's "Norman Bates" because he was and is completely mental. As a kitten,  he attacked everything with a feverish, unsettling look. He jumped after anything, with no consideration of how or where he might land. Norman is a survivor.

The early trauma Norman experienced in that open field planted deep-seeded insecurities about belonging. Analysis was useless. Once he had the constant guarantee of scheduled meals, he also began his lifelong struggle with weight. The older he gets, the more of a bully he becomes to ward off any potential teasing in these sensitive areas. And, he doesn't always need to be provoked to lash out. While lazily content in his new life of luxury, he still gets that crazy glint in his eye every once in a while, so watch out!

Norman loves laps but not to be pet. He spends his time napping and eating or eating and napping, sitting, and randomly smacking whoever crosses his path—cat or human. Norman's heroes are Marlon Brando and Mike Tyson.

Of course, Norman has his good, lovable side too. Since his birth, Liam—Julie's now 7-year-old son— has been Norman's favorite person. They bonded and are best playmates, who over the years, have fought many dinosaur and Star Wars battles. Norman's newest dearest inseparable friend is Mini, the latest addition to Melissa's Kitties. Although he lights up at the mention of his new friend, Norman can't talk now. He's off to defend Iron Man against Liam's Harry Potter wizardry. I'm not sure who's winning yet.


B.J.'s chillin' at home

B.J. was tired by the time he decided to move into my sister Julie's home. At the time, he was living on the streets of Cincinnati with other alley cats, fending off his territory and scraping up any leftovers he could find. Julie fed him whenever she saw B.J. in her driveway, which he always appreciated.
Strong (September 4, 2009)
B.J. is strong like bull. 
(Strong: September 4, 2009)
One day, he caught a cold, and Julie took him to the vet's office. He didn't like her as much that day, but it was a good thing they went. It turned out that he had contracted FIV from his pals, and his immune system had taken a recent hit. While B.J. dismissed this news as an annoyance, Julie insisted he come live in the safety of her warm, dry house. Always a lone traveler, he preferred the open air and sky. He had travelled all the way from the Wild West, and his early days under stars on the prairie forever remained in his blood. Still, although he was afraid he'd miss the outdoors, he couldn't pass up such a generous offer.

To his great surprise, being an indoor cat suited him just fine. Eternally grateful for his good fortune, B.J. became an increasingly happy-go-lucky cat. Named Bob, Jr., after Bob, an identical orange kitty Julie used to care for before he settled into a friend's home, B.J. shared Bob's good nature. He got along with everyone, except for Norman. (Comet and Ashes assured him that Norman rarely got along with anyone, but B.J. always tried.) He also loves watching Paul Newman and Jimmy Stewart movies, playing board games, and weight lifting. He most enjoys conversations covering the day's events. There's nothing better than a sunny spot by a window so he can keep up with his old pals, spy on new ones, and check out his neighborhood's happenings. He'll tell you all about it.


Mini spends a lot of time on the stairs.

Chicken (January 15, 2011)
But she'll eventually make her way
downstairs to greet you.
(Chicken: January 15, 2011)
Years ago, my sister Julie moved from Cincinnati to Columbus, and Mini showed up at her work place in early 2010. Like B.J. Mini was a stray living outdoors and off the kindness of strangers. When she also contracted FIV, her original caretakers no longer wanted her because of her bothersome disease. Although sad and angry, she brushed off this rejection and instantly regained her sunny disposition in her new life with Julie. In Julie's house, she found several friendly cats, including a huge one who looked just like her! Like a long-lost relative, Norman saw her and called out, "Mini-Me!" He raced up—as much as Norman can race—and gave her a bear hug. They were instant friends, bosom buddies, and definitely an odd couple!

Much like Norman's kitten ways, but with unvarnished sweetness, Mini spends her days climbing, attacking, and exploring. She fears nothing and is ready for everything. She cannot grow up fast enough, and there is not enough time in the day for playing. She spends them chasing and attacking Norman, to the great amazement of everyone around her. Mini loves games, gossip, social engagements, and basically anything and everything exciting. Right now, she is obsessively investigating the workings of the living room's mysterious giant clock. (It sets itself at random times, but why?) Her role models include Tallulah Bankhead, Oprah Winfrey, Shaun "The Flying Tomato" White, and James Dean.


Lily, seeing the world from her top perch

On a visit to my sister's office, I met Lily in October 2009. While it was love at first sight, it took a month or so before Lily could make the move by car, plane, and elevator from Columbus to my apartment in Washington, D.C. 

Dusty (January 21, 2011)
Lily is completely innocent here.
(Dusty: January 21, 2011)
We are best buddies, with daily games of Chase and Hide-and-Seek. She's proficient at batting practice and an expert at Dad's Blanket Game. While The Mother Kitty is the staring champ, Lily is a close second with her unprecedented dilated eye tricks. Currently studying the phases of the sun and moon, she spends her days researching the changing lights, shadows, and sounds throughout our apartment. 

She loves jigsaw puzzles and brainteasers, movies, music, and hosting company and social events. Though she enjoys our quiet life, she chronicles the endless outdoor activities of the bustling city from the vantage points of her window seats. Like Mark Twain, she plans to have her radical findings published 100 years after her death. 

Though she hates computers and wishes I'd throw mine out the window, she helps with sorting my markers and scanning my artwork. But she's really all about the breaks, often sabotaging my blog posts and stealing my sketchbooks to get her way. Her idols include Martha Stewart, Marilyn Monroe, Rosie Perez, and Amelia Earhart.



Tyrone used to live in a sewer drain pipe. A good samaritan who works at the post office in Alliance, Ohio, discovered and rescued him and his two siblings and found each of them safer homes. Tyrone moved into my parents' garage on September 17, 2013. He was about 2 months old at the time.

Pattern (December 13, 2013)
The origin of Tyrone's markings is still
under investigation.
(Pattern: December 13, 2013)
So far, he enjoys playing and playing and playing and playing and playing and sleeping and eating and playing. He spends most of his days exploring his new surroundings. When he ventures outdoors, he fearlessly races through the yard and climbs trees. In an effort to harness his attack-and-conquer approach to flowers, Mom spent the rest of Fall teaching him how to garden properly and to respect the plants. In the evenings, he helps Dad with his woodworking projects. This Winter, Tyrone discovered his true love, snow. Mom knit him a hat and scarf. I invested in a parka and boots, but he'd have none of it. Luckily, his heavy coat protected him from any sniffles. On those rare occasions when Tyrone's ready to crash, he'll find and climb into whoever's lap is closest.

When we first met, I introduced Tyrone to all sorts of music and movies and left him some good books to read. He should be up to speed with the other Kitties any time now. A quick learner, he has already identified Art Carney, Richard Pryor, Jackie Robinson, Dave Grohl, Mandy Patinkin, and Mohammad Ali among his heroes. (We'll get to the ladies eventually, but right now he thinks girls are gross.)

When asked recently how he likes his new digs, he responded, "It's better than the sewer." That's the truth!


Two kitties, Ryo-oh-ki and Mew, have been a part of our family for the last several years. Technically, they are my sister's boyfriend Dan's cats, but everyone has been living under the same roof in Columbus for quite some time. I have been slow to introduce these kitties here because they are usually busy studying Japanese and practicing it on me whenever I visit – even though I don't know the language. It took all this time for us to understand each other.

Ryo-oh-ki sees you...
Ryo-oh-ki is an old, wise Maine Coon. While public records say that Ryo-oh-ki was born in 1999 behind Dan's bed in Cleveland, legend has it that he's lived various lives for hundreds of years. Some say that his mythological lore rivals The Mother Kitty's. (While The Mother Kitty considers him a peer, she shrugs off any comparison.)

Ryo-oh-ki (11-15-2017)
Hello, Ryo-oh-ki!
Ryo-oh-ki is named after the Japanese anime character, Ryo-ohki – a shape-shifter that's a cross between a cat and rabbit. (Someone added the extra hyphen to Ryo-oh-ki's name to help with pronunciation after hearing him sound it out slowly to everyone he met.) Like his namesake, Ryo-oh-ki spent years studying shape-shifting techniques (mainly by trying different Edward Scissorhands inspired haircuts) and developing his own taste for carrots and talent for hopping.

While he is inexplicably worldly and knowledgeable beyond his years, Ryo-oh-ki spends his days modestly, studying the stars, meditating, and amusing his kitty-pupil, Mew. Together, they love everything Japanese and practice Taikiken (martial arts) and Ikebana (Japanese flower arrangements) daily. He's an avid fan of anime (of course) and Akira Kurosawa films.

Ryo-oh-ki loves making new friends and having deep, lengthy conversations with them. Among his role models are Mark Twain, Michelle Obama, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Clarence from It's a Wonderful Life. (He's friends with them too, but he doesn't like to drop names.)


Dan found Mew on the side of a road. She was on her way to Japan, but he convinced her to stick around.

Mew was meant to be named after the Japanese anime character Nyu, from Elfin Lied, but everyone kept mistaking it for Mew, assuming she was named after the Mythical Pokemon character. She's a little bitter about this error because she thinks Mew is too cute to fit her strong-willed personality. I tell her that, while Nyu is resilient and tough, she is a sad and dark character. Mew, on the other hand, is bright and sometimes mischievous. I remind her that Mew is the single ancestor of all other Pokemon characters, and she has mad skills: she can learn any new Pokemon moves and morph into other Pokemon characters. She's also a shapeshifter with psychic abilities, who is capable of flight, teleportation, and invisibility. She's more than cute.

Mew (January 12, 2018)
This is Mew's favorite way to say hello.

Convinced by this argument, Mew follows in her namesake's footsteps. She is a daily practitioner of extreme martial arts and Samurai moves. She spends her days with her mentor Ryo-oh-ki to reap the benefits of his wisdom, learn the art of shapeshifting, and share their mutual love for everything Japanese. While she hasn't perfected flying, teleportation, or invisibility (yet), she is stealthy and likes to spy on new visitors before making her presence known. Mew is a certified psychic. She's happy to tell anyone's fortune anytime, and she can read everyone's mind, so watch what you think around her.

Mew doesn't have a lot of spare time because she's always training in her latest martial arts level, studying Japanese, meditating, or making travel plans (though she hasn't yet followed through on them). When relaxing, she listens to music and reads Marvel Comics (X-Men are her favorite.) She loves James Bond movies and, of course, Lost in Translation. Some of her favorite people include Aretha Franklin, Liam Neeson, Amy Schumer, Kazuo Ishiguru, and Bruce Lee.