Homer and the Holiday Miracle: A True Story

Homer and the Holiday Miracle: A True Story

by Gwen Cooper

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781946885784
Publisher: BenBella Books, Inc.
Publication date: 10/30/2018
Pages: 72
Sales rank: 43,226
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.10(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Gwen Cooper is the author of several novels and memoirs, including the New York Times bestselling Homer's Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned about Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat. She is a frequent speaker at shelter fundraisers; donates 10 percent of her royalties from Homer's Odyssey to organizations that serve abused, abandoned, and disabled pets; and serves on the advisory board of Tabby's Place in Ringoes, New Jersey. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, Laurence. She also lives with her two perfect cats-Clayton "the Tripod" and his litter-mate, Fanny-who aren't impressed with any of it.


Gwen Cooper is the author of several novels and memoirs, including the New York Times bestselling Homer's Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned about Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat. She is a frequent speaker at shelter fundraisers; donates 10 percent of her royalties from Homer's Odyssey to organizations that serve abused, abandoned, and disabled pets; and serves on the advisory board of Tabby's Place in Ringoes, New Jersey. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, Laurence. She also lives with her two perfect cats-Clayton "the Tripod" and his litter-mate, Fanny-who aren't impressed with any of it.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

When most people think about cats at the holidays, their thoughts are more apt to turn to mischief than miracles. If you're a cat person yourself (and I'm guessing you are), then you don't need to see any one of dozens of viral videos to know what cats will do to a Christmas tree — the gleeful way they smash ornaments, tangle up lights, shred carefully handcrafted paper trimmings, or simply knock the whole tree down altogether. And heaven help your poor angelic tree topper — perhaps handed down in your family for generations — if it falls into the pitiless clutches of your feline friend.

Homer — the blind, black cat I adopted as a very young kitten in 1997 — destroyed exactly one Christmas tree in just such a fashion. It was the first I had allowed myself to indulge in after moving out of my parents' house. After its destruction, with many a regretful sigh, I gave up on the idea of having a holiday tree of my very own. I learned to make do with a single strand of multihued lights festooned around the living room ceiling — although achieving even that much holiday cheer was something of a chore with Homer around. He'd follow behind me, yanking the string of lights down as fast as I could fasten it up, twining the lights (and his body along with them) into increasingly complex knots until finally, my patience exhausted, I'd yell, "Homer! Enough already!"

Then there was the year when I made the fatal error of leaving unattended for one minute (one minute, I tell you!) the pile of holiday gifts I'd spent two hours painstakingly wrapping. I returned to find what looked like a crime scene, or the wreckage left behind by a school of paper-loving piranhas that had somehow made it from water to land. Every year after that — in a gesture I made with profound love, but also with the certain knowledge that I was allowing Homer to shake me down in what was basically an old-school protection racket — I'd bury a catnip toy in some tissue paper, place it carefully in the kind of flip-top box Homer could easily open, and wrap the whole thing in colorful gift paper topped with ribbons.

I liked to joke about Homer's "superpowers" — the off-the-charts hearing that allowed him to catch buzzing flies (flies he couldn't even see!) in midair; the keen sense of smell capable of detecting his favorite deli turkey even through four or five layers of wax paper and plastic bags. So it was no surprise that Homer's sensitive nose could detect the scent of catnip lurking in the depths of his holiday gift box, and I think he enjoyed tearing the box, paper, and ribbon to pieces almost as much as he loved the catnip-laced prize itself. In any event, this seasonal bribe usually ensured the safety of all my other wrapped gifts — although I still had to guard my spool of ribbon, using my whole body to shield it, as carefully as the Secret Service guards the president.

There's plenty of feline mischief in the tale I'm about to tell, because Homer was, above all things, a mischievous, fun-loving cat. Ultimately, though, this is the story of a bona fide holiday miracle that happened in our own home, before our own eyes.

Before we go back, however, to five years ago when all this happened, I first have to take you back a bit farther — to just over two thousand years ago. Most people know the story of Christmas and the idea of Christmastime as a joyous season when miracles abound. But not as many know the story of Hanukkah, which typically falls near Christmas on the calendar. Both stories are important to this one.

Long ago, in the second century BCE, Greek forces occupied the land of Israel and persecuted the Jewish people cruelly for many, many years. Finally, a man named Judah from a small village called Modi'in joined with his five brothers to lead a rebellion against the Greeks. His "army" was seven thousand untrained peasants pitted against a Greek contingent of fifty thousand professional soldiers. The Greeks came to call Judah the "Maccabee" (Greek for "hammer") for the fierce strength and courage he showed in the face of such overwhelming odds. Eventually, there was a decisive battle at the Great Temple in Jerusalem and the Jewish rebels won, driving the Greeks from Israel for good.

That victory came at a price, however, with the holy Temple sustaining heavy damage. Worst of all, there was only enough oil left to keep the Eternal Flame — sacred symbol of a living God that could never, ever be allowed to go out — burning for one more day. It would take at least eight days for new oil to be made and sanctified, and it was simply impossible for one day's worth of oil to last that long. Miraculously, though — without any additional oil or fuel to keep it going — the Eternal Flame burned for all eight of those days. This became known as the Miracle of the Lights, and it's commemorated every year as the holiday of Hanukkah.

It was a small miracle, perhaps, as such things go. Not quite as dramatic as a burning bush or the Red Sea parting. Still, it's a reminder that even a small flame can shed a great light.

This story — the one you're about to read — is the story of such a miracle. It's the story of a very small cat who had, we were told, only a little light left in him. Just enough to burn for another two weeks at most, if we were lucky.

And yet, that small light would grow into a great one. It was a light that — in defiance of all logic or medical science — continued to burn, bright and fierce.

And it didn't burn for only two weeks. It would burn for the better part of another year.

It was early December 2012 when Homer, who was then fifteen years old, fell over in a faint one afternoon while we were playing a round of that ever-popular game, Change The Bedsheets. In a panic, Laurence and I rushed him to the vet's office. Ultimately, Homer was diagnosed with acute liver failure, his liver values (the level of the toxins, typically filtered out by the liver, that were present in his blood) being fifteen hundred percent higher than what was normal for a cat. "Incompatible with life" was the phrase the doctor used the next day, when the blood work came back from the lab, in explaining Homer's numbers to me.

Treatment options, even the aggressive ones, were limited — and in any case had been emphatically ruled out by Homer himself, the absolute worst patient in our clinic's thirty-year history of dealing with hostile felines (or so the vet techs assured me as they tended to their wounds).

Brought in nearly unconscious, my four-pound blind cat had still managed to fend off — with razor-sharp claws and roars of fury so loud they'd disrupted the entire hospital and every animal in it — one doctor and two experienced vet techs for the better part of forty minutes. They hadn't allowed me to accompany Homer into the emergency area but finally called me in to calm him down long enough to sedate him and draw blood for testing before sending us home.

Most cats, of course, don't have to be fully sedated merely to get a blood test. What can I say? Homer always was special.

He was also, usually, an exceptionally friendly cat. Homer's eagerness to engage new people and make new pals had become the stuff of legend. But the vet's office had always held a stark terror for Homer — and, despite everything I'd done to try to make things better for him (and for Homer's battle-weary doctors, who really were only trying to help), things had only grown worse as the years passed. So when the doctor, having called to discuss Homer's test results, suggested as tactfully as possible that Homer was "unlikely to benefit from a hospital environment," I was in no position to argue the point.

Instead of any intensive or invasive treatment, the vet prescribed a course of medication that could be mixed in with Homer's food — if Homer could even be coaxed into eating, which the doctor seemed to feel was unlikely under the circumstances. The medicine might buy Homer a few more days, perhaps another two weeks at the very most. Given the level of toxins in his blood, there was no plausible explanation for how he was still alive right now, and any long-term prospects seemed doubtful, if not downright impossible. That Homer could even pick up his head and walk around was an amazing accomplishment — and the vet warned that I should expect to see very minimal activity from Homer over the course of whatever few days he had left.

I had gone out to grab a quick sandwich with Laurence when I got the doctor's call on my cell, and I was in tears by the time we got home with what was left of our half-eaten lunch in carryout bags. Homer was dying — he was dying — and I'd left him to go get a sandwich. The twenty minutes I'd been gone suddenly seemed like an infinity of time — time during which anything, anything at all, might have happened.

I don't know what I expected to find upon our return, but the vivid images my imagination readily supplied did nothing to comfort me.

The first to greet us when we opened the front door were the two kittens, now ten months old, who we'd adopted back in April to keep Homer company after losing his two older sisters. Clayton was our "tripod" (so called because he had only one hind leg), a coal-black, roly-poly mush of a cat with a high squeaky voice, an endlessly fun-loving disposition, and a double dose of admiration for his big brother, Homer — tiny Homer who was, for all his small stature, still the biggest cat Clayton could remember ever having seen.

Fanny was his littermate, a sleek, sweet-natured beauty with Clayton's same ebony fur, although Fanny's was perhaps a touch glossier. Fanny didn't like to roughhouse as much as her brothers did, but she'd been nothing but gentle and respectful with Homer — and I knew that her affectionate patience had been good for his spirits.

Homer had been an unwilling big brother at first but, over the past few months, Clayton and Fanny's kittenish high spirits had coaxed him back to all his youthful playfulness. Lately, he'd developed an especial fondness for crouching down and "hiding," then leaping upon Clayton in sudden ambushes. And despite Homer never having grasped the concept of vision well enough to be much good at hiding, Clayton — who was the dearest little boy in the world — wasn't nearly as clever as Homer. It tended to make for a pretty even match.

When we entered the apartment now, the kittens were waiting for us at the door, but Homer was nowhere to be seen. My heart dropped into my stomach. "Homer?" I called anxiously. "Homer-Bear, where are you?" With the feline equivalent of a victory whoop, Homer leapt from the kitchen into the entry hall of our apartment, landing directly atop an unsuspecting Clayton. Gotcha!

Clayton promptly pulled out from under Homer's weight and wiggled his one-legged backside, preparing to launch a counteroffensive. But Homer was already distracted by the aroma wafting temptingly from the takeout bags Laurence was carrying.

Hooray — you have food! He brought his rapidly twitching nose in for a closer inspection. What are we having?

The common thread uniting all the great Christmas stories is the telling of wondrous, miraculous events. Not one of them is a story about something that could have happened, but then didn't. A Christmas Carol isn't that much-beloved redemption tale about three ghosts who don't show up. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer isn't the parable of a uniquely gifted reindeer who opted not to guide Santa's sleigh one foggy Christmas Eve. Even the story of the first Hanukkah isn't that one about the seven thousand ragtag rebels who stared down the barrel of overwhelming odds and then said to themselves, Meh ... why bother?

But, for us, the wondrous, miraculous thing that happened five years ago wasn't so much something that did happen, but rather something that was supposed to happen — that we were told, down to a medical certainty, was absolutely going to happen — but that ultimately never came to pass. At least, it didn't come to pass for so long that, by the time it did, even the most rational among our family and friends had come to laugh off "medical certainty" as primitive superstition, and to believe that the only true certainty in life is that there are no certainties.

What I'm trying to say is that, back in December 2012, the absence of news was the very best news we could have hoped for. And that was exactly what we got.

For the first time ever, I dreaded the unmistakable signs of the holidays' approach — the glitter of shimmering Christmas decorations overtaking Manhattan, the fairyland glow of cunningly decorated shop windows, the colorful pile of holiday cards and newsletters piling up on the kitchen counter. Wrapping Homer's customary catnip holiday gift in one of the flip-top boxes he so loved to pry open, I wondered if there was even a point to it. The first night of Hanukkah was four days away, and the last night was twelve. Would Homer still be here when we lit the last candle? Christmas was three weeks distant, and three weeks had suddenly become a lifetime — more than a lifetime, in fact. It seemed certain that Homer would be gone well before Christmas Eve.

At this thought, my eyes filled with tears and my hands grew so shaky that I couldn't get the wrapping paper onto the gift box. I told myself that I'd get to it later, but days went by and I never did.

Over the next few days, I kept waiting for Homer to slow down, for the high gloss of his black fur to dull, for him to stop cavorting with Clayton and Fanny, or trailing me from room to room while his little paws made a cheerful clip-clop on the tile floor. I waited for his favorite toys to begin gathering the dust of neglect, for the kittens to wonder anxiously why their beloved big brother — their tormentor and role model, whose every movement fascinated them to no end — refused to get up and play. I waited for the tinges of yellow in Homer's ears and gums — the easy-to-spot external sign of his jaundiced liver — to turn an angry, unmistakable egg-yolk gold. And yet, none of the things I waited for took place. Not one — except, if I'm being strictly truthful, the yellow hue in Homer's ears did seem to deepen, just a little. Maybe. If you were looking closely.

If anything, Homer seemed positively rejuvenated in those first few days after his diagnosis. But that wasn't possible, I told myself sternly. The evidence of my own two eyes was the last thing I should be putting any trust in; I was only seeing what I wanted to see. The numbers were the numbers. They were facts — they were certainties. When the vet had said that Homer's numbers were "incompatible with life," I'd understood exactly what she'd meant: On paper, Homer was already gone. The most surprising thing about all the ruckus he'd caused at the hospital was that, with numbers like his, Homer should have been too weak even to twitch his ears — much less fend off three professional animal handlers who had at least a hundred and twenty pounds on him apiece.

Still, I couldn't help noticing what looked like an extra swagger in Homer's sleek panther prowl, one that hadn't been there before we'd gone to the vet's office. And the kittens, far from being unhappy, seemed even more besotted with Homer than usual, an extra gleam of adoration — not anxiety — shining in their wide eyes. Perhaps his victory over the hapless crew at the animal hospital (that day had felt far from "victorious" to me, but undoubtedly Homer saw things much differently) had roused Homer's fighting spirit, calling a retired, grizzled warrior back into the fray. I imagined him telling the story to Clayton and Fanny by the glow of a hallway nightlight, their eyes agog as Homer wove his yarn of fighting three giants into submission — all at the same time! The thing is, I pictured him saying with a cool, casual flick of a single gleaming claw, you have to show these people who's boss.

It was just before sundown on the first night of Hanukkah, four days after our emergency room visit, when the vet called to see how Homer was doing. I was in the kitchen, digging through our hopelessly cluttered "junk" drawer for menorah candles, while keeping my eyes peeled for any fuzzy interlopers who might make an attempt on the preparations for our holiday meal.

"You may have noticed a sharp decrease in Homer's appetite," the vet said, after we'd exchanged greetings. "The conundrum with cats who have liver problems is that it's super important for them to keep eating, but it's usually a struggle to get any food into them. I can prescribe an appetite stimulant, if you think that might help."

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Homer and the Holiday Miracle"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Gwen Cooper.
Excerpted by permission of BenBella Books, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Homer and the Holiday Miracle: A True Story 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous 13 days ago
It was short but super sweet! Thank you for allowing us to know more about this amazing furbaby
lilithPP 3 months ago
It's a cute little story. A bit too short for me, but made me want to read some more about the author's life with cats. Especially as special ones as Homer. This book shows a miracle and power of love, which is truly adorable. A good read for an afternoon around Christmas.
IrishEyes430 3 months ago
I absolutely love Homer and this story was no exception! He is such a unique little cat and Gwen’s descriptive storytelling makes the reader visualize his antics. Even if you aren’t a cat lover, this little guy’s story will tear at your heartstrings. Everyone should be so blessed as to have a pet such as Homer in their lives.
VillaSyl 4 months ago
Sweet story Homer and the Holiday Miracle: A True Story Gwen Cooper posted on blog 10/18/18 Homer, the world-renowned Blind Wonder Cat, returns this holiday season with an ins-purr-ational tale filled with holiday cheer! Fifteen years earlier, doctors had warned that Homer—a tiny, sightless kitten—was unlikely to survive and probably wouldn’t have much of a life even if he did. Miraculously and against all the odds, however, Homer grew into a feline dynamo who scaled seven-foot bookcases with ease, saved his human mom’s life when he chased a late-night burglar from their apartment and rose to global fame—paving the way for other special-needs animals once considered “unadoptable.” Homer’s drama just keeps going with only two weeks before Christmas, the doctors once again pronouncing that Homer didn’t have much time—that he wouldn’t even make it to Christmas Eve—Homer showed everyone that he still had one more miracle left in him. The heroic blind cat proved again, once and for all, that hope, and love aren’t things you see with your eyes. You see them with your heart. Humorous and heartwarming, Homer and the Holiday Miracle will leave you filled with the true spirit of the season. How loving a pet can transform your life and how empty the place in your heart feels when he is gone. Homer and the Holiday Miracle is a story of hope and determination and is the ideal stocking-stuffer for the cat lover on your list—and the perfect holiday treat for yourself. I have never heard of Homer before and will look for other books by this author. I recommend this sweet story and I received a digital copy from the publishers BenBella Books and Net Galley for my review.