Grief and silence shadowed Alexandra as her once-bustling home became an empty nest. So the Navy veteran adopted a bonded pair of sibling cats to renew her spirits and home.
Music, sweet music
In 2003 and after 20 years of service, Alexandra retired as chief musician and principal clarinetist of the U.S. Naval Academy Band in Annapolis, Maryland. She wanted to devote more time to her then 10 year-old daughter.
“My mother did not work when I was a child and I wanted to have some years doing the same for my daughter, Laura,” she explains.
Alexandra’s husband was in the band as well, but the marriage ended in divorce. Fortunately Alexandra’s experience as a Naval career unit counselor helped her secure a job doing similar work for her local municipality.
The Navy veteran’s day job involved intensive career advising and retraining to help unemployed people chart new futures.
It turns out that Alexandra’s job provided plenty of inspiration for her own life.
“It also helped me to see that so many people in desperate circumstances were able to turn their lives around,” she shares, “and it inspired me as a single mom.”
Still, the Navy veteran’s love of music was more than just her military career; it is her soul.
So Alexandra gave private clarinet and piano lessons in her free time, whatever was left after working full-time and raising her young daughter.
But the lure of music was too strong for the Navy veteran to ignore. Alexandra chose to use benefits she earned over the course of two decades of military service to advance her music expertise.
“After seven years of career advising in my day job,” she says, “I decided to return to my original career in music by using the 9/11 GI Bill to earn a doctorate in clarinet performance.”
The G.I. Bill was implemented in 1944 to help veterans and their families pay for higher education and vocational training programs.
Service – and music – run in the family
Alexandra is a second-generation Navy veteran. Her father served in World War II as a radioman and was stationed in the Pacific.
After the war, Alexandra’s father used the GI Bill to earn two foreign language degrees. These skills were instrumental to him becoming a Naval intelligence officer and, eventually, a university professor.
But it was the music that Alexandra remembers most.
“I remember being nine years old when he was stationed at Pearl Harbor, and I distinctly remember watching the Navy Band perform there,” she recalls. “Little did I know that I would later become a Navy musician.”
Over the course of her military career Alexandra would play for some of the most notable people in the world. President Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, General Colin Powell, Bob Hope, and General Schwartzkopf, among many others.
However, it was a speech given by then Senator John McCain about his about his experiences as a prisoner of war in Vietnam that was the most treasured memory of Alexandra’s Navy career.
“The descriptions of his courage and leadership in supporting the men mentally, following the story of their torture, and keeping their minds active through group support was incredible,” she says.
Of course, there were many more lighter-hearted moments that Alexandra recalls as well.
“The most fun Navy memory for me was meeting Tony Curtis, movie star and Navy veteran, in person at the opening ceremony of the U.S. Navy Memorial in Washington D.C.”
Alexandra enjoyed other privileges, too. She played at the Rose Bowl Parade ahead of an Army-Navy game, at a World Cup soccer match in upstate New York, and traveled to Bermuda for various Naval ceremonies.
The sounds of silence
It turns out that music is not the only gift that Alexandra’s parents passed on to her. She grew up in a household where pets were cherished as part of the family.
“As a child,” she recalls, “our beautiful, long-haired black cat, Rosie, accompanied us from Maryland to Hawaii, and then to Kansas, and I am thankful that my parents set that precedent.”
So it was only natural that when she had a family of her own that cats would be included.
Bessie and Sugar were two female cats who graced Alexandra’s home. Both lived til 19 years of age and passed away from kidney disease – first Bessie in 2017 and Sugar the following year.
By this time Alexandra’s daughter was grown and had moved out of the house. What followed was a period of loneliness and isolation.
The silence in the house was deafening. The Navy musician decided to adopt a companion cat.
“I went to the SPCA and visited three times, looking at several cats, including senior cats,” she explains. “On my second visit I saw two three year-old black male cats in a large cage.”
For the love of sibling cats
Although Alexandra did not intend to adopt two sibling cats she could not resist Big Boy and Fluffy. The bonded pair of brothers were three years old at the time she met them in early 2019.
However, the Navy veteran was used to having more than one cat at a time. Two cats felt perfectly natural to her.
Fortunately, the SPCA of Anne Arundel County was committed to keeping bonded pets together.
Since 2016 the shelter has worked with us to adopt the more overlooked animals in their care to veterans in our program. And they waive adoption fees for our veterans in gratitude for their service.
New lives, new names
Like many adopters, Alexandra promptly gave her new sibling cats new names.
Big Boy would be known as Knightley and Fluffy was renamed Darcy. Both are named after Jane Austen characters.
It was not long til Alexandra’s once empty nest was once again filled with the sweet sound of cats.
”Within the week they were galloping up and down the stairs at full speed like a herd of horses,” she shares. “It was a joyous sound to hear them celebrating their freedom. And for me the house was lively again, as if I’d adopted a couple of toddlers, always wanting to eat, play, and inspect everything.”
While the cats are brothers they each have distinct personalities. Darcy is laid back and aloof, but loves to be held. Knightley is more reserved and anxious, does not like to cuddle, and has one very peculiar habit.
“Knightley also loves to drink from the bathroom faucets.”
Yet both cats are keenly aware of their surroundings. They alert Alexandra when anyone comes near the house.
And they are always on the lookout for tiny invaders.
“They especially love the garage,” she says, “where a squirrel had chewed the bottom of the garage door in an arc that made a peephole that some poor, unsuspecting insect comes through on occasion, not knowing that two giant cats are awaiting them.”
Thank you for your service
It was Alexandra’s daughter who first told her about Pets for Patriots and our companion pet adoption program for veterans.
Alexandra was hesitant to apply because she did not think our program was meant for veterans like her.
“At first, I wasn’t sure if I would qualify because I had not been in a life-threatening situation like so many of their recipients’ heartwarming stories,” she explains. “They assured me that all service members and veterans were eligible.”
In fact, we serve veterans from WWII to active duty and from all armed forces, regardless if they served in combat or conflict or were ever deployed.
”I highly recommend contacting Pets for Patriots when a service member or veteran is in need of a special companion,” Alexandra says. “I’m so grateful for all the help they provided.”
For 19 years Bessie and Sugar were a big part of Alexandra’s world. Perhaps it was their plan to have two sibling cats follow in their paw prints.
But whether by fate or chance, the Navy veteran’s house feels like a home again. It is no longer quiet and lonely, and Alexandra’s empty nest is once more filled with joyous music of happy cats.