The image of my young daughter’s grief at such a simple event stuck with me. I remember the sight of her and the sound of her as she realized that she had accidentally discarded her symbol of childhood memories—the small ceramic cat given to her by her grandmother. I now had a mission: to find a replacement.

I had never been one for browsing antique stores or flea markets. A popular weekend time filler for many, picking through others’ discards held no appeal for me. My wife and I had done it before, but I never had any passion for it. My nose was always firmly high in the air as I looked over tables and tables of what I considered, frankly, junk. But now, with my mission clear, such weekend outings grabbed me by the shoulders and pushed me from one stall to the next; from one table of oddities to the next bin of forgotten items. That green-gray cat was certainly not a one-of-a-kind piece, I reasoned. It was mass produced and therefore someone somewhere would have it lying out among old vinyl LPs, tobacco tins and Depression glass.

At every chance we got we stopped and scoured every vendor’s wares. The image of that cat was so clear in my mind’s eye that I would know it in a glance. If it was out there, I would spot it. Years went by and I had become a master at flea market grazing. Other things captured my interest—old sheet music, ancient office machines, jade-colored trays—and I made my share of purchases over time. In all that time, though, that little cat never was far from my thoughts. I wanted to find it more than any other treasure I might encounter and I was hopeful that it would be found. My wife would often show me similar cat figurines, but her recollection of the real thing was not as vivid as mine. “That’s not it,” I would say all too often.

At one, huge Sunday antique show we visited near Buffalo, New York, we were making our way up and down, in and around the endless aisles of vendor displays when WHAM! There IT was. I spotted the cat. THE cat. The EXACT mother cat that had eluded me for more than ten years. Ten years! I never gave up the hunt and finally it was pay day! I knew it instantly, of course. And my first reaction was to jump out of my skin and shout, but I knew I had to remain cool and calm. Flea markets are built on the give and take of supply and demand. And I would have paid a king’s ransom for that item if need be. But I couldn’t let the dealer know that his cheap little cat meant the world to me and to my now-grownup little girl.

I found my wife and pulled her aside. I excitedly told her about the find. I hadn’t even picked it up and looked for a price sticker! I regained some composure, approached the cat, and casually picked it up. I remember the wonderful feeling it gave me to actually hold it. Oh the joy that Laura would feel when she would hold it in her hands again! I carefully turned it over and saw the price sticker. $7.00. That was it. Seven dollars and it was mine. It was only after my treasure was bought and paid for and carefully wrapped in old newspaper that I told the vendor of my decade-long quest to find that one item. Unimpressed, he was happy to take my money and move on.

While I was very excited about the find, I resisted the urge to wrap it up and send it to my daughter the next day. Laura lived hours away from us and on her own. I wanted to be there and present her the gift myself. We would be seeing her for Christmas, but it was some months away. I decided that I had waited over ten years for the pleasure; I could wait a few months more. I tucked that secret package away and felt so very happy inside at the way things turned out. What were the odds? Hail the power of persistence!

Christmas came and we traveled to be together with our children. And I made sure to have the special package ready for Laura to open last. I handed her the small box which she opened slowly. And then, moving away the white tissue paper, there it was. The moment that her eyes once again saw that precious mother cat that had meant so much to her. And she looked…puzzled.

“What’s this?” she asked.

I explained, “Honey, it’s your cat? Remember? The one Grandma gave you? The one you accidentally threw away when you were 14?”

And she said, “Oh yeah. Where did you find it?”

And I proceeded to tell her the story of my secret quest. Of our years of weekends spent with the goal of getting to this very moment. And it became obvious to me: now that she was a grown woman, that cat meant a lot more to me than it did to her.

Not that she didn’t appreciate it, but the lesson to me was clear: sometimes children get over hurt and disappointment more quickly than the parents who suffer along with them. The quest for the cat wasn’t only for Laura; the quest was as much for me. I’m the one who needed to find that cat. I’m the one who had hurt so very much because I was helpless at the time to dry my daughter’s tears. And when I finally found that cat, I felt a sense of accomplishment, a sense of being a good dad, a loving father who would do anything, even chase a dream for years and years, to make his child hurt less.

I haven’t seen that little china cat in a very long time; I don’t notice it as a displayed knick-knack in my daughter’s home. But I hope that as she is about to have her first child that that mother cat will make a silent appearance standing guard in the baby’s room to be there as a symbol of the strength of this father’s and this grandfather’s love. And as a reminder to never, ever give up the quest.

PS: A happy ending! That cat was spotted at my daughter's home recently. It is proudly perched on the family room television! A picture with baby is next...