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A feral cat, a loaf of bread and an execution . . .

Cat in the Hat Barn

A couple of months ago I posted the story of my family’s brief attempt at living life on a farm in Mississippi in a three-room house with no bathrooms, no electricity and no running water. Winter was kept at bay by two fireplaces that heated the combination living room and bedroom and a separate bedroom. Added to those two rooms were the combination kitchen and dining area and a lean-to intended for storage, primarily for stove and fireplace wood and livestock feed. Click here to read the details—it’s well worth the read, featuring tales of cotton picking, sexual abuse of chickens, killing twin fox terriers and threatening runaway children with a shotgun.

This posting is about an incident on the farm that featured a feral tomcat. One evening at dusk my stepfather, knowing that I longed for a pet, came in from the barn and told me there was a wild cat in the barn and that if I could catch him I could keep him for a pet. Although I was exultant at the thought of having a pet, I approached the barn with more than a modicum of apprehension—I had learned earlier that his promises should not be taken literally, but with a grain of salt.

One Saturday soon after we moved to the farm he promised to bring me a present from town. I felt sure that it would be a bicycle, but it turned out to be a wheelbarrow, to be used to clean stables and other indelicate and backbreaking activities. I spent that Saturday afternoon shoveling you-know-what out of long-neglected barn stalls and hauling the loads to our garden and to what my stepfather called his horse pasture, although we didn’t have any horses. Also one year near Christmas time he promised to bring my sister and me dogs as Christmas presents—he gave her a collie and me a Pekingese—hers decorated an ashtray and mine was a leaded doorstop. Read the full story here.

I was surprised to find an actual wild feral cat in the barn, hiding out among the hay bales and equipment stored in the barn’s loft. Equipped—armed, actually—with nothing more than a flashlight with weak batteries, I finally cornered the cat, a multicolored tomcat with a ferocious temper. I caught him after many tries, each of which added to the plethora of scratches he inscribed on my hands and arms. I tried to stuff him in a burlap bag but finally just wrapped it around him and made a triumphant return to the house. The hardest part of that return was going down the ladder from the barn loft using only one hand, with the other holding firm to some fifteen pounds of wriggling screeching tomcat.

The farm included a skid-mounted store fronted by a single gas pump, a dinosaur mechanism operated by first pumping fuel from the underground tank with a hand pump into a glass reservoir with gallon marks and then using gravity to lower the required number of gallons into a vehicle’s tank.

The little store measured some 12 by thirty feet and was stocked by those items that country folks needed to replace between visits to markets in the city, items such as bread, cigarettes, cigars, snuff, candies, thread, needles, lard, sugar, flour and various canned goods. The store was infested with rats, and my stepfather told me to close the cat up in the store and it would take care of the rats. That sounded plausible to me as a temporary measure, and then I would begin a program to domesticate my new wild pet.

It was not to be. That cat ate an entire loaf of bread the first night, leaving only the plastic wrapper. Store-bought bakery bread came in one-pound loaves only in those days—today’s one and one-half pound loaves had not yet been developed.

My stepfather indicated that he understood the cat’s depredations, considering that he had been in the woods with only bugs and field mice for sustenance, and then only if he could catch them. He told me to catch the cat and cage him, then put him in the store again in the evening. Having filled up on a full loaf of bread, the cat’s movements were slowed down, and that feeling coupled with his belief that he had found a cat’s Shangri-La made him easy to corner and catch. That day happened to be a Saturday, and at dusk I locked him in the store.

The store was closed on Sundays, and my stepfather awakened to start his usual morning with a few snifters of bourbon before breakfast, a practice that continued following breakfast, and in mid-morning we opened the store’s door and the cat catapulted out—did you get that? He catapulted out and kept going, quickly disappearing under the house some one hundred feet or so from the store.

The evidence was spread all over the floor near the bread shelves. A full pound loaf was a bit too much for him this time, and several slices were scattered about, some whole and some shredded in various stages of having been eaten.

My stepfather voiced numerous epithets, loudly and earnestly and not one of them was anything similar to “That darn cat!” No, they were not gentle, and all contained words and threats not really suitable for my young ears—not that I hadn’t heard them before, of course—and all seemed to be centered on the likely untimely demise of the cat.

And so it came to pass. My stepfather raced—staggered, actually—to the house and retrieved his 16-gage shotgun from its stance against the wall in the corner nearest to his side of the bed he shared with my mother in the combination living room/bed room. The shotgun was kept fully loaded with a live shell in the chamber, as was the military .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol he kept on a bedside stand, again on his side of the bed.

The house was built on piers that provided a substantial crawl space underneath. The shooter kneeled, peered under the house and fired one shot from the shotgun. I soon learned that the cat had been outlined against the base of the brick fireplace when the buckshot took his life.

I learned that because I was tasked to bring out the remains and dispose of them properly. It was not an easy task because numerous particles had been splattered against the bricks, but I managed to clean up everything, to not leave anything that might cause unsavory odors on hot days.

There is a story about Abraham Lincoln that I would like to tell now. It seems that some unruly urchins had inserted dynamite into a certain orifice of a stray dog and then lighted the fuse. Abe was witness to the explosion and he commented at the time that, Well, that dog won’t ever amount to anything now—at least anyway not as a dog.

That story is probably apocryphal but it serves to showcase Lincoln’s sense of humor and perhaps his belief in an afterlife, perhaps even in reincarnation. Who knows? Could be!

I know that my erstwhile potential pet, that feral feline, that thief of baked goods and consumer of the same never amounted to anything else, at least not on earth and not as a cat. And as regards reincarnation, I and my family have had several cats over the years, and I cannot discount the possibility that one or more of them could have been reincarnations of that wild cat I rescued from a life in the woods and sentenced him to be executed, to die an untimely and undignified death for no other reason than his hunger and my drunken stepfather’s temper.

That was as close as I came to having a pet while I lived with my stepfather. I did come close another time when I saw a speeding car hit a black-and-tan hound dog on the road some distance from our house. I raced to him to see if he was alive, and finding him inert but breathing I carried him back to the house.

That was no easy task—that darn hound was full grown and weighed almost as much as I did. I stretched him out on the front porch and asked my mother if I could take care of him and keep him if he lived. She assented but only after considerable thought, saying that he was probably a working dog and that my stepfather would want to keep him for hunting. We scrounged around for something to use as a bed, and with an old quilt in my arms I returned to the front porch.

The dog was gone. I looked around the yard and then glanced up the graveled road where he had been hit, and there he was, going full-tilt in the same direction he had been going when the car hit him, going at full speed without a trace of a limp, kicking up gravel with every stride.

For a moment I felt anger, not for the driver that had hit him, but for the dog that fooled me and made me stagger a considerable distance to get him to the house, then forced me to convince my mother to let me nurse him and keep him. Yep, I really took it as a personal affront that he had recovered so nicely and thus denied me an opportunity to nurse him back to good health and keep him for a pet.

My anger was brief, however—I realized that had I kept him and returned him to good health and he turned out to not be a working dog, a dog that would not contribute in some way to the family larder, he would eventually suffer the same fate suffered by the two fox terriers and the wild cat—splattered, perhaps, all over the brick fireplace and at that thought I breathed a sigh of relief.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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Posted by on May 9, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Has anyone read Cosmo lately? . . .

Has anyone read Cosmo lately?

I stumbled and mumbled my way through the March 2010 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine, a copy donated to the Nephrology Clinic at San Antonio’s Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) by a generous (or perhaps disgusted) patient, one that is probably not among the clinic’s geriatric population—that’s not a given, of course—there are always exceptions to rules.

Listen up, everybody—Cosmo as literature is soft porn, and it may as well be called a ragazine. This issue borders on hardcore, and it is my learned opinion that hardcore looms in its future issues—the publication will, so to speak, go all the way. It already rivals Playboy and is apparently seeking equality with Hustler.

Run, do not walk, to the nearest newsstand—you may be unfortunate enough to find a copy. If you do, treasure it—it will some day be considered a classic, an apt item for hungry sellers on eBay—Half-price Books will probably display it in locked glass-front cases and purvey it at inflated prices.

Here are some peeks into the March issue (don’t let the kids read this):

Under the title of “How to touch a naked man):

Five sexiest spots to touch a man

T spot (for tip)—one hand on bottom half, other hand on top half leaving tip uncovered (yeah, right—good luck with that one!).

B spot (for base—self-explanatory)

F spot (for frenulum—Google it!)

S (for scrotum—self-explanatory, at least for me)

P (for perineum—Google it!)

Six household items to use below the belt (a must-read!):

Warm wash cloth, shoelace, mango, lace cami or bra, fine-tooth comb, cotton ball

I believe one should assume that those items are meant to be used one at a time rather than all at once, and that some, perhaps not all but some, could be used multiple times and also for their original intended uses. Perhaps, but probably not—although, on second thought . . .

Speaking strictly for myself, the above items are far outside the pale of my imaginative powers. In the absence of illustrated instructions picturing live models—a DVD would definitely help one to master, or at least to attempt to master, the techniques discussed in the article. Without such assistance, I would never attempt to use the recommended items. Well, for their original use, sure—but not for the uses suggested. I should think that irreparable harm could result, either to the one wielding the objects or to the target, or targets, of the objects wielded.

The article recommended some other things that will require the combined efforts of one or more contortionists.

Warning: This posting to the Internet may spark a rush that will equal the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in California, or equal even to a Walmart half-price sale. If you act quickly you may be able to find the March issue, and if not you can perhaps contact the publisher in search of unsold copies.

Quickly, I say—time is of the essence!

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2010 in Books, Humor, news sources, Uncategorized

 

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Civil War oddities & photography with flair . . .

This posting is the result of a comment made by a visitor to one of my recent postings:

https://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2009/08/01/alabama-cotton-fields-old-black-joe/

Some thoughts on picking cotton: (excerpted from the above posting):

While in basic military training near the mid-way point in the past century, I was discussing cotton-picking with a new-found friend from Aspermont, Texas. I mentioned that at the tender age of 11, I picked cotton in Mississippi for a few days for a penny a pound. I was never able to pick 100 pounds in order to reach the dollar-a-day wage. Some adult males picked as much as 200 pounds in one day by working from dawn to dusk. Early in the season, when the cotton was heavy on the stalks, pickers earned a penny a pound, but later in the season when the cotton was sparse on the stalks, the rate rose to two-cents a pound (it was sparse when I picked it, but my never-indulgent step-father paid me only a penny a pound).

Bummer.

The visitor’s comment follows—anyone interested in stylishness and originality in photography—photography with phlair, so to speak—should check out his work here:

http://burstmode.wordpress.com/

Interesting term: Bummer. Bummers were the foragers associated with Sherman’s army as it marched through the old South. In the march through Georgia and South Carolina, they tended to take and occasionally burn. Bummer became a very negative term, indeed. But there is more…

To bum something, say a cigarette, means that the borrowed item is not expected to be paid back or that the borrowed item will not be returned, like a cigarette. Meaning is a little different from what the Bummers did…

In the final phase of Sherman’s march through North Carolina, it was apparent the Confederacy was in collapse. Additionally, North Carolina had never been a Confederate hotspot (unlike Sought Carolina) and it had lots of Yankee sympathizers, so Sherman instructed the Bummers to pay for items in chits. A farmer that had lost all his chickens to a bummer and received a chit in return had been bummed or, the bummer had bummed the chickens from him because the farmer never expected to see payment. Oddly, Sherman paid and the final significant battle of the Civil War was fought outside Bentonville, NC.

No idea why I told you all this. . .

And this is my reply to the visitor’s comment:

Whatever your reason for telling me, thanks for sharing this Civil War tidbit. I’m familiar with some of that conflict’s many oddities, but I was not aware that Sherman’s foragers were called “bummers” because of their proclivity to take items without repaying.

Considering Sherman’s scorched-earth policy on his march to the sea—a policy established to deny the enemy food, shelter and transportation—the foragers, having appropriated everything useful to the campaign, would have been the logical ones to torch everything that remained and thus would have—or at least could have—been known as ‘burners.” Perhaps some astute southern wag (there were—and are—a few such), watching his crops and home burning after failing to receive remuneration (other than a chit) from the foragers and given the similarity of the terms, referred to the foragers as “burners” rather than bummers, and the term stuck. Come to think of it, that same wag may have given the same treatment to the word “chit.” Not by coining a new word, necessarily, but by using a rhyming word which, coincidentally, also utilized only four letters.

I freely proffer this alternate explanation for the origin of the term “bummers” to all present and future historians for their use in revising the history of the War Between the States. As is all history, the history of the Civil War is constantly being rewritten, and perhaps future revisions will show that “bummers” actually evolved from “burners.”

And perhaps not.

One of Civil War historian James Street’s books deals primarily with such oddities—a small tome, but fascinating reading. It includes the story of a child birthed by a virgin southern belle, the result of a pregnancy caused by the errant path of a mini-ball fired from a Yankee rifle. The round pierced the lady’s outer and inner clothing (if any) and came (no pun intended) to rest in the specific location of the lady’s interior which could cause a pregnancy. The mini-ball had apparently passed through a soldier’s genitals enroute to its final resting place. We may safely assume that the unlucky target was a soldier of the South—either that or the southern belle was on the wrong side of the battle lines. Of all the oddities of the War Between the States, this is my all-time favorite. It’s been discounted, of course, but it’s still my favorite.

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2009 in Humor, Military, wartime

 

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Alabama cotton fields & Old Black Joe . . .

SueCottonPaintingOne of my three princesses, the one that lives, loves and works in Virginia, created a painting for her friend Sue as a house-warming gift. Sue had recently relocated from Virginia to Huntsville, Alabama and needed a mantle-piece decoration suitable to that part of our country. My daughter e-mailed me and included a photo of the painting (shown at right with the proud owners). Check here to read her posting on the painting and its journey to its new home.

This is my reply to her e-mail:

I shore do lak ‘at, especially the sky—and as you said, the trees on the horizon eliminate competition between the clouds and the cotton field.

Beautiful, simply beautiful.

At the instant I viewed this image, a phrase from a refrain immediately popped into my remembering apparatus, a song we learned in Miss Mary’s elementary school, probably around the second or third grade—I hear those gentle voices calling—I googled the phrase, and this is the song:

Old Black Joe
by Stephen C. Foster

Gone are the days when my heart was young and gay,
Gone are my friends from the cotton fields away,
Gone from the earth to a better land I know,
I hear their gentle voices calling “Old Black Joe.”

I’m coming, I’m coming, for my head is bending low,
I hear those gentle voices calling, “Old Black Joe.”

Why do I weep when my heart should feel no pain,
Why do I sigh that my friends come not again,
Grieving for those now departed long ago,
I hear their gentle voices calling “Old Black Joe.”

I’m coming, I’m coming, for my head is bending low:
I hear those gentle voices calling, “Old Black Joe.”

Where are the hearts once so happy and so free,
The children so dear that I held upon my knee,
Gone to the shore where my soul has longed to go.
I hear their gentle voices calling “Old Black Joe.”

I’m coming, I’m coming, for my head is bending low,
I hear those gentle voices calling, “Old Black Joe.”

A word of caution—you probably shouldn’t spend a lot of time on Foster’s poem. If you do, you may find yourself becoming misty-eyed and feeling a certain tightening in your throat, a sure indication of a heavy heart and bitter-sweet memories (of course it could be nothing more than a psuedo allergic reaction to the heat and dust and airborne molds found in cotton fields and wooded areas).

Your painting and the poem brought so many memories crowding in that I didn’t have enough room for them—I had to push some aside so I could concentrate on others.

SPECIAL NOTE FOR SUE: She might want to consider printing the poem on a small placard and placing it near the painting—after reading it viewers (anyone over the age of 16 and assuming a reasonable understanding of the English language), would lapse into a moment of reverie, alone with their memories, oblivious to sights and sounds around them, even though they may have never seen a field of cotton, in Alabama or elsewhere.

And then again, maybe not.

Some thoughts on picking cotton:

While in basic military training at the mid-way point in the past century, I was discussing cotton-picking with a new-found friend from Aspermont, Texas. I mentioned that, at the tender age of 11, I picked cotton in Mississippi for a few days. I was never able to pick one-hundred pounds in order to reach the dollar-a-day wage. Some adult males picked as much as 200 pounds in one day by working from dawn to dusk. Early in the season, when the cotton was heavy on the stalks, pickers earned a penny a pound, but later in the season when the cotton was sparse on the stalks, the rate rose to two-cents a pound (it was sparse when I picked it, but my never-indulgent step-father paid me only a penny a pound).

Bummer.

My friend told me his mother picked as much as 800 pounds a day. I figured this was nothing more than a tall Texas tale, but after further discussion I learned that there was a huge difference between the states in the method of removing the cotton from its stalk. In Mississippi we picked the cotton ball out of its bowl—in Texas they pulled the cotton, bowl and all, from the stalk, and occasionally also placed the stem in the cotton sack (inadvertently, of course).

The latest ginning machinery that separated the ball from the bowl had not yet found its way to the deep South. In rural areas Mississippi also lagged behind the rest of the country in electricity, paved roads, water lines and sewers.

I know—I was there. We cooled ourselves with hand-held fans, usually purloined from church benches, we heated our homes with wood-burning open fireplaces, we cooked our meals on wood-burning cast-iron stoves, we did our school homework by lamp-light, we hand-pumped our water from wells, we made the long trip—out to and back from—outdoor privies in daylight and darkness, in the heat of summer and the cold of winter—and the only way we talked to anyone other than family members was either face-to-face or by sending and receiving letters.

Ah, those were the days, my friends.

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2009 in Family, Humor

 

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