July 1976. I heard of a sidewalk sale at a nearby mall in Culver City, California, and decided to check it out. I was always happy to find good deals on whatever merchandise that might strike my fancy or was at least utilitarian.
What I went home with that day was a kitten.
I hadn’t intended to get a kitten. The landlord’s rules for our little apartment building was “no pets.” But I was walking along the sidewalk at the mall and heard mewing sounds. I turned to look, and saw a young man and an older woman with a large box. The young man handed a furry gray kitten to an interested passerby. Smiling, I stopped to admire the kittens. There were only two of them left, I could see. It was no more than a casual interest on my part – I loved cats but I wasn’t thinking of getting one.
The next kitten that the young man lifted out of the box was almost identical to the one the passerby was now holding – all ash gray and furry – except that it had NO TAIL! My interest was immediately piqued; after growing up with a Manx cat as a pet, I was partial to the breed, knowing how affectionate they could be.
“That kitten,” I said to the couple getting rid of the kittens, “it doesn’t have a tail.”
“No, it’s not supposed to,” the young man replied. “It’s a Manx – a breed without a tail.”
“But the other kitten has a tail,” I pointed out.
“Yeah – well, their mother is Manx, but their father – well, we’re not sure who he was, but he definitely wasn’t a Manx!” So, he explained, it was logical that some of the litter would have tails and some would be tailless. This had been a litter of three – Manx cats tend to have fewer babies than other cat breeds, and one had already been sold.
The young man seemed prepared to explain about Manx cats, since most people don’t know about them, but I said, “I grew up with a Manx cat, and my aunts raise them – I love Manx cats!”
Next thing I knew I was carrying the “stumpy” to my car (she had a stump about an inch long protruding from her behind) wrapped in a small blanket. Although the couple had hoped to sell the kittens, I had shown such enthusiasm and warmth that they gave her to me for free. I hadn’t talked to my boyfriend about this, of course – there were no cell phones in 1976 – but I hoped he’d approve of this addition to the household.
Leaving the kitten in the car and cracking the windows open an inch or so, I went into a department store to buy basic supplies: a litter box, a small bag of litter, a food bowl and a few cans of cat food. Then I drove home to our apartment in West L.A.
I didn’t bring the kitten in right away – I had to warn my boyfriend first. Besides, I couldn’t find her.
I ran into the apartment and breathlessly told him about the kitten: “She’s beautiful, but – but – I can’t find her! I’m afraid she escaped!” Having expected her to meow all the way home, her silence and then not finding her, I was sure she’d escaped somehow, perhaps when I’d opened the door to put my purchases on the front passenger seat.
My boyfriend was delighted and curious to see her. He came out to the car to help me look for her. We searched what seemed like every cranny of our Toyota Corolla, but then he found her: he saw in the darkness under the driver’s seat two golden eyes shining out at him. She was so scared that she had pressed herself into a hard-to-reach corner under the seat and had not even let out a mew of protest. She hadn’t been looking out from under there when I’d searched from her so I didn’t see her.
When he saw those bright shining eyes, my Brazilian boyfriend said, “joia!” Joia is the Portuguese word for jewel, and it also is a slang term for beautiful.
So this was how our half-Manx kitten got her name even before she came into her new home! Joia – it was perfect.