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Memories of my MINNIE float down AS the MAPLE Leaves fall

Autumn in Ireland has to offer some of the most exquisite visions possible. The gently falling leaves form wondrous blankets of russet hues as far as the eye can see.

As I gaze out at the incredible Maple tree in my parents' garden, its stunning leaves seem to be performing as they've turned from a spinach green colour to a vibrant symphony of intense shades of ruby, orange and lemon.

That precious Maple tells a story and reminds me of one of the sweetest creatures I've ever had the privilege of loving.

You see our marmalade kitten arrived the same day as that Maple tree. I was five years old and thought I'd landed in heaven.

As a tiny soft ball of stripy carroty fuzz with a sugar pink nose, we assumed he was a girl and named him Minnie.

By the time we discovered he was a boy, his name had stuck and besides, he never seemed to object.

For it's part the Maple tree was a delicate twiglett of a creature with nothing to bolster it bar a couple of baby shoots. Mum planted it as I stood holding Minnie in my arms.

Minnie thrived on love milk and far too much food. By his first birthday he was a ringer for Garfield. I have never met a hungrier or more affectionate cat.

In retrospect he was probably exchanging nudgy kisses and passionate purrs for plates of tuna.

His expanding frame didn't seem to hinder Minnie either. He was as lithe as a tiger as he scaled trees and walls alike.

Perhaps it was because he was present at the planting, but he favoured the Maple tree over all the others in my parent's vast garden.

As his size expanded so too did that of the tree. By the time both were 10 he had firmly chosen a comfy bough about 20 feet off the ground where he'd snooze regularly.

PURRING

It was as if they were kindred spirits. In Autumn he was hard to spot against the orangey back drop.

So many things changed in my life. I went from junior school to secondary school.

Hormones raged. Friends and boyfriends came and went. But Minnie was always there. Always pudgy always purring always loving.

The Maple outgrew many of the other trees in our mature garden, silently taking it's place as the most magnificent of all.

I left home and moved in with my now husband. I adjusted to being away from my family but craved my times with my orange furry friend!

I stayed in my childhood bed the night before my wedding and Minnie slept beside me.

Several months later I discovered I was pregnant with my first child.

If morning sickness hit or I was feeling awful, I'd sneak home at any opportunity and Minnie would mind me.

Being a first-time mother, all sorts of crazy notions flashed through my mind at that time. Would I be any good at minding this baby?

SECRET

But my secret burning question was one I've never dared to admit until now - would I love it as much as I loved Minnie? I know that sounds utterly insane, but I honestly worried about that!

Minnie had become increasingly sickly.

He was losing his fur by the clump-full and was sleeping for more hours than he was awake. His eyesight wasn't what it used to be and he was as deaf as a doornail.

One October afternoon after my five-month antenatal appointment I dropped into my parent's house to show them the pictures of my scan.

Nobody was home so I looked for Minnie. There was no sign of him inside so I walked to his favourite Maple in the garden and spotted him, curled in a ball by the trunk.

I knew by the spattering of leaves covering him that he was gone.

We buried him beside the tree so he wouldn't have far to run if he ever felt like crawling onto his favourite bough.

Our son arrived the following January. The good news for him is that he wasn't furry and stripy.

We didn't call him Minnie and yes, I love him even more than I loved my furry friend!

Several pets later, all of whom have been loved to bits, I still think of Minnie especially at this time of the year.

Maybe when you see an orangey leaf floating past your vision now, you'll think of him too. I know he'd love that.

Emma Hannigan's new book The Heart of Winter is published by Hachette. Follow Emma @MsEmmaHannigan


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