by Valerie Ramer
As a kid growing up in the Bronx in the 1960’s with just my dad and sister, I felt like a misfit. “Where’s your mom?” kids would ask. I had no idea. She left the family when I was two years old. Everyone else seemed to have a mom, how come I didn’t? On the outside I looked like a regular kid, but on the inside, I felt like I was different from the other kids.
Fast forward to today, and my life is rich and full, with two grown children, a great career, lively friends, and two cats. I have always been drawn to felines. I remember looking in the mirror as a child and thinking I looked like a lion. Maybe it was then I connected to cats. Or maybe it was my early childhood connection to Friskey, the cat that was already in the family when I was born. She was white with interesting black spots that looked like ink had spilled along her sides. I remember feeling special and “chosen” when she slept in my bed, and I was always comforted by the sound of her purring.
As a young adult, I moved into an apartment of my own in New York City under the shadow of the Empire State Building. My apartment felt empty and quiet. I knew I needed to have animal energy in the house. I went to get a cat, but I fell in love with two of them and couldn’t decide – then I discovered they were from the same litter. I couldn’t separate the brothers! Bustopher and Atticus, both orange tabbies, came to live with me. They filled my apartment, my life, and my heart with so much love and companionship. They moved across the country with me to Seattle and lived long enough to see me get married and have my two children. They will always be in my heart.
My love and memories of those two precious boys made me always lean towards the orange tabby. I liked the fact that they look like baby tigers. I once drove 500 miles in one day to pet a baby tiger; it was so worth it! So, of course, when the time was right, I brought home two new orange tabby brothers, Scout and Ollie. My children grew up with them and experienced their love and shenanigans, which filled our home and hearts with so many laughs and memories.
As Scout and Ollie reached their senior years, my adult son, who had his own apartment in Seattle, adopted an exotic long-haired kitten. I was unfamiliar with the breed, but I thought he was the cutest thing I had ever seen. My son named him Alastair, and I visited many times, nicknaming myself “Grandmeow!” Three months later, my son was transferred to New York City to work at the Empire State Building (interesting how that worked out!). He was going to live with a family member in New York to give him time to find a place of his own, but there was no room for a cat. Without hesitation, I took Alastair. I had no idea I had just acquired my MUSE!
Alastair was about five months old when he came to live with me. He weighed about six pounds, and his hair was long. His face was flat, his legs were short, and his paws looked like giant mittens. I found everything about him unique and adorable – so different from my orange tabbies. Scout and Ollie, on the other hand, were thirteen years old and not very fond of this little misfit who was now part of the family.
I identified so strongly with Alastair, not fitting in, feeling different than everyone else. Even though it had been a long time since I felt that way, those feelings came rushing back to me. I saw myself in Alastair. I observed different ways that Scout and Ollie excluded Alastair. He couldn’t eat with them, he couldn’t be on the bed with them. I watched as Alastair tried to fit in. It broke my heart to see this.
One day I picked up that little ball of fluff to give him a hug, and without thought, out of my mouth came “Oh Alastair McAllister, I love you so much.” Suddenly his name was Alastair McAllister.
I had to learn how to take care of Alastair. At first, he ate from the same bowls as Scout and Ollie. But I realized his flat face didn’t fit, so I had to buy flat plates for his food. Also, his eyes drip and need to be delicately cared for with cotton balls and Q-tips. Alastair also needs to get groomed every three months. I’ve never had to take a cat to the groomer before. His hair gets so thick and long, and he gets so hot and weighed down from his fur that he doesn’t want to play. But you should see him after he gets groomed; he is so happy, he leaps in the air and is ready to play all day. Compared to an orange tabby, he is high maintenance! But he had me at hello, and his sweet nature, cuddles, and purrs make up for all of it.
Throughout my life I’ve thought many times about writing a children’s book. I’ve had many different ideas but never did it – and here in front of me, this story was unfolding with my very own cats. I empathized so strongly with Alastair that I wanted to write a children’s book from his point of view. I could imagine how he was feeling, just like I did, so many years ago. I started to see the story and pictures in my mind, and then – I knew I needed to write this book! So, I did! I wrote a children’s book based on the behavior I was observing and my own memories of feeling different.
The book is called Alastair McAllister Goes to School. It’s all about Alastair, an exotic long-haired cat with a flat face on his first day of kittygarten at the Acatemy. He gets teased for being different, but he wants to fit in. It is a timeless story of loving yourself and accepting the differences in each other. The book is purrfect for 3–9-year-olds. Scout and Ollie are in the book too!
The book was published in 2021 and sadly, both Scout and Ollie have since passed on. My heart is filled with their memories and love for all my orange tabbies. Alastair is five years old now. And guess what? Alastair has a new brother…an orange tabby named Finley! Finley has a distinct personality. Where Alastair is slow, Finley is fast; his nickname is Rocket! Many stories from Alastair’s point of view are swirling around in my head – I feel another children’s book coming, as Alastair continues to be my muse!
Valerie Ramer, www.Redwritingbooks.com
Alastair McAllister Goes to School just won first place in the Chanticleer International book awards! The book can be found online at Amazon, my website, some local stores and other on-line outlets.
About the Author
Valerie Ramer – Author of Alastair McAllister Goes to School
Valerie Ramer has a degree in theater and has worked as an actress, talent agent and acting coach. She has written and directed many plays for children around the Seattle area. Her writing uses teachable moments, told with humor, to shed light on issues children face. She has also worked as a ghost writer for TV and film scripts.
She has raised two amazing humans, Rebecca, and David, and lots of kittens. Alastair McAllister is her real-life exotic long-haired cat. Valerie is a strong advocate for animals.
These days, Valerie spends her days deep in the details working for Microsoft and working on her next book.
She hopes everyone can see themselves in Alastair McAllister, as every child is unique and special in their own way.