The last item on the late Marie Knott’s “bucket list” was completed last month when, at Dr. Robert Sharp’s veterinary clinic in Hillsboro, a black cat named Antoinette Keeks was laid to rest.
Elizabeth Molodetz-Schlueter, a longtime friend, nurse and “adopted daughter” to the weather-keeping Hillsboro icon, told The Times-Gazette that Knott had a bucket list that “I swear was 10 pages long.”
“She was very open about her cancer,” she said. “And she told me ‘this is what I want you to do when I die.’”
Tom and Marie Knott were well known in the Highland County community for their weather commentary on local radio, Molodetz-Schlueter said, with Tom delivering daily weather reports as an official U.S. weather observer until his death in 1988, when Marie took over his duties.
Marie Knott passed away on Jan. 26, 2007 at the age of 84.
In December of 2006, Molodetz-Schlueter said, Knott’s lung cancer had spread to her bones, leaving her bedridden and on home oxygen.
“She told me ‘honeypot, we’re going to go get us a cat,’” Molodetz-Schlueter said. “That way you won’t be lonely and by yourself once I’m gone.”
On that cold December morning, Molodetz-Schlueter called fellow nurse Becky Turner to go to the Highland County Humane Society Animal Shelter in search of a cat.
“I think Marie weighed about 80 pounds around that time,” Molodetz-Schlueter said, “and off we went to the shelter with three coats, four scarves and a big oxygen tank.”
She said she brought out different cats for Knott’s consideration, and 23 cats later, Knott settled on a sickly, scrawny black feline that was 6 months old.
“Take her to the vet,” Knott said, according to Molodetz-Schleuter. “She has pretty eyes.”
On the trip back home, Molodetz-Schlueter told Knott, “My God, Marie, I don’t know who’s going to die first, you or this cat.”
The little animal was christened “Antoinette,” Knott’s middle name, partly for sentimental reasons and partly as a dig at the elders of her church, who always seemed to have a hard time pronouncing the elegant French name, according to Molodetz-Schlueter.
For the next few weeks, she said, Antoinette somehow knew her job was simply to lay with Knott day and night to be petted and babied until the time came when Knott passed.
After Knott’s death, Molodetz-Schlueter said, Antoinette became a full-fledged, licensed service animal, which is unusual for a cat.
Along with that came a new, less formal name.
“One day, I meant to say ‘kitty,’” she said. “And I said ‘keekers,’ and that cat turned around and followed me like a dog, so the next few days I kept calling it ‘Keeks’ or ‘Keekers’ and that crazy cat seemed to like the name so I guess she named herself.”
In the months and years that followed, Molodetz-Schlueter said, she and her cat companion would visit residents at area nursing homes, with the cat displaying an innate ability to find and cuddle up with those who were very sick or “just needed a hug.”
Ten years ago, Molodetz-Schlueter went back to college, earning a degree in chemical dependency and social work counseling.
“Sometimes I’d take her to the office with me,” she said. “If someone was there that was hurting really bad from domestic violence or something, that cat would jump right up in their lap and let them pet her.”
According to Purina pet foods, the first two years of a cat’s life is roughly equivalent to 25 human years, with each cat year after that equaling four years. At 12 years of age, her cat was pushing the equivalent of 65 human years, and Molodetz-Schlueter said the animal was tired and sickly.
“That little cat really was my best friend,” she said. “Keeks and I were there with Marie when she was passing through the veil, and now I’m with her as she has passed through it as well.”
She said the circle of life is a strange thing, especially when shared with something like a cat.
“It was a humble honor to serve Marie for the 19 years I knew her,” Molodetz-Schleuter said, “and it was my humble honor to be with another of God’s creatures for these past 12.”
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.