I remember that cat from my own childhood. The formal living room of our Bronx house on Tenbroeck Avenue was free of clutter—my mother wouldn’t have it any other way. But it had its share of trinkets and knick-knacks on various surfaces. A tall green glass vase with pussy-willow stems, an oriental themed container with dried silver-white sand dollars or orange colored Japanese lantern blossoms. Ash trays of odd shapes, some photographs in frames, a small music box mandolin souvenir from someone’s trip to Italy. These and other tchotchkes were neatly arranged and tastefully displayed.

Among the items was a set of three, small ceramic cats. Nothing valuable or particularly special, just typical of 1950s New York decor. A mother cat and two small kittens cast in playful poses could be arranged in an infinite number of ways. The mother figurine, a dark greenish-grey, was about six inches long and three inches high with the kittens proportionately smaller. As a little boy I would sometimes take this family down from the shelf and place them on the avocado sculptured carpet to play and pretend. And I would always return them to their frozen position on the bookcase.

When, after almost thirty years, my mother decided to sell the house and move closer to me and my family, that little cat family made the trip with her. The cats were on display in my mother’s new home where she now spent some time each day with two of her four grandchildren; my children. The youngest grandchild, the only girl, was my daughter, Laura. Grandma and Laura had a special bond that grew tight in part because while my son was in school fulltime, little Laura had Kindergarten for just three hours each morning. That left Laura home for lunch with her grandma all to herself each day as my wife and I worked. Laura’s afternoons with her grandmother created indelible memories for them both and we were glad that our daughter was in such good care and that my mother was enjoying her only granddaughter in that unique way.

Before my mother finally moved away some years later, she gave Laura the mother cat figure—the kittens had long since disappeared—that she often had played with and that had become part of her growing up as it had been a part of mine. And although Grandma had gone away, the green-grey cat stayed and found a place on a shelf in Laura’s bedroom amongst all the prizes and treasures of a young teenage girl.

One ambitious afternoon, a bout of spring cleaning fever hit and Laura decided to reduce the bulk of her belongings that had crowded and cramped her impossibly small bedroom. Black plastic trash bags were filled with old clothes, toys, shoes, dead batteries, dolls, books, used school supplies and whatever else didn’t fit in with her current adolescent perspective. She hauled the overstuffed bags down the stairs, out the front door, and down the driveway to the roadside for trash pickup. Her room, by virtue of her whirlwind efforts, appeared brighter, sunnier, and in fact larger. A fresh start!

Some time passed, I don’t remember how long exactly, but we heard a scream coming from Laura’s upstairs bedroom. She raced down the stairs with a look of horror on her face. Her mother and I immediately shot into panicked parent mode and tried to assess the situation. Was she hurt? Bleeding? Burned? Laura screamed, “MY CAT!” She discovered that she had accidentally tossed that mother cat figurine into one of the bags she had set out roadside. She ran down to the driveway furiously as fast as she possibly could… but it was too late. The driveway was clear. The truck had come and carried all her things away. The gray-green mother cat was gone with the trash.

And this is the part of the story I remember the most. I remember the crying, the wailing, the hurt, the sadness that my young daughter felt. The blame she placed on herself, her large eyes could not hold all the tears that filled up her emotions. Her mother and I stood by helplessly as Laura sobbed uncontrollably for quite a few moments. She was inconsolable, mainly because she had done this herself. It wasn’t just a trinket she lost; it was the symbol of her childhood. It held the memories of times with her grandmother, a reminder of all the things that little girls remember whenever growing up becomes too much to deal with. It was an instant passport back in time for just a little while. And it was gone. Few memories haunt me today the way this one does. My youngest child, my baby girl, was hurting beyond measure. And there was little I could do to ease her pain.