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‘Great Cat Caper’ a Christmas to remember

I missed the deadline again. It doesn’t matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to make it. My entire childhood, I was told to have your Christmas tree down by Jan. 1 or you will have bad luck all year. I certainly hope that is not true or I’m in trouble! I can’t remember the last time I ushered in the New Year with a treeless home. This year is no different.

As I walked through my house the other day, it was very quiet. Gone were all our guests and friends who had stopped by during the holidays. Gone were our children, including our daughter’s dog and boyfriend.

Gone were all the presents, wrapping paper and bows. All that was left were the decorations, the tree and a whole lot of pleasant memories.

This holiday season left my mind filled with all kinds of wonderful reflections that I can take with me for a lifetime.

To me, this is what the holiday season is all about.

One memory that particularly stands out in my mind involves some cats. Yes, I said cats. Four, to be exact. I know you are wondering how four furry felines affected my holidays this year. And, no, I didn’t get four cats as a Christmas present. Well, not really.

“The Great Cat Caper,” as my wife referred to it, began back during the summer months.

A man approached me at the gym where I work out and asked me if I would do a portrait of his four cats to give to his wife for Christmas. She had seen some other cats I had rendered and liked them. So he lovingly came up with this idea and we put the plan into motion.

He wanted this to be a complete surprise to his wife so we had to be very careful with our correspondence. Thinking of everything, he set up a special e-mail address so that we could communicate without her seeing it. Kind of sneaky, don’t you think?

I wrote to him and told him I needed to meet the cats. He let me know when his wife was out of town so I could visit and see them. All you cat lovers out there know that most cats work on their own time. They do what they want, when they want!

I saw three of the four cats in person. One remained secluded in a bedroom with no hopes of making an appearance. One thing I discovered right off the bat was that these cats were not just cats. They were family members. They all had three or four names with pedigrees to match.

As I drove home that day, I wondered if I would be able to capture their personalities as well as their looks. I knew these were going to be a very special gift and I wanted each one to shine. I am familiar with this kind of love for a pet because I have a dog that is part of our family. I felt a lot of pressure to get them right.

So, as summer slowly turned into fall, I worked on the cat portraits from photographs the man had given me.

Each one of the cats emerged as I painted them. After I finished two of them, I wanted to show them to the husband to see if I was capturing their essence.

I photographed the portraits and sent them to him for his approval at the special e-mail address. I nervously waited for his response. Later that day, it came and he was thrilled. I now had two more of the cats to capture.

After completing them, he wanted me to frame them. There was also one more thing he asked me to do.

He wanted me to deliver the cat portraits in person to surprise his wife. Back and forth we wrote until we came up with the perfect time. His wife was going to be out of town on Christmas day so “The Great Cat Caper” was scheduled for a couple of days after Christmas.

I wrapped each of the portraits in tissue and placed them in a bag adorned with an angel. Off I went with my wife, my son and my daughter’s boyfriend to deliver the special gifts. I must say I was a little nervous when I rang the doorbell.

All of a sudden, I heard a woman say, “That looks like Mark Ballard at the door!”

You should have seen her face when I entered the room. On it was a mix of surprise, confusion and anticipation upon seeing the large bag.

Her husband stood in the background as he watched his intricate plan unfold. Tears streamed down her face as she opened the portraits of her “fur kids.” She was elated!

As we drove home, I felt so privileged and blessed for having a part in such a wonderful and special gift. You see, those cats gave me a gift as well. It was not wrapped in paper and didn’t have a bow. It was a memory of a husband’s love and affection called “The Great Cat Caper.”

That was just one of the many special moments I had this holiday season.

I hope each of you made some memories to take with you into the new year.

Now I have to begin my un-decorating process. I hate to see it go, but I’m already late! Happy new year!

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