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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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11th Street South and a gravel pit . . .

Eleventh Street South is where I lived for a couple of years that included my first year in elementary school. It was the second house we lived in following our migration from Vernon, Alabama to Columbus, Mississippi. That first house, located on Fifth Street South, has some vivid memories I intend to share with my visitors, memories that are just as fresh as when they were acquired. The house was where I and my youngest sister were administered to by our mother—medicated—when she became convinced that we both had or soon would have scabies—the itch. Click here for that story—it’s worth the visit!

I lived on Eleventh Street with my mother and three older sisters in a small frame house, a three-room shot-gun house, so called because it was said that one could fire a shotgun through the front door and the shot would go straight through the house and out the back door. The house boasted electricity and running water but had no bathroom. The necessary, a one-hole privy or outhouse, was located a few yards from the back door. Ours was the next-to-last on the block, and Fuqua’s Grocery was located at the other end of the block, a mercantile that figured prominently in our lives, especially mine—it’s a fit subject for a posting, and deserves individual attention. It’s mentioned in a previous posting, and among other things includes a discussion of my first job and my first firing—click here for that posting.

The last house was the residence wherein resided my best friend Tootie—his name was Edward Earl but he was nicknamed Tootie and for good reason—he had a predeliction for producing gas—flatulence—he would have been more aptly named Flatus—that has a nice Roman ring to it—a Latin lilt, so to speak. Tootie figures prominently in this posting and will be featured in a future story concerning a significant Saturday, a day when Tootie and I were privileged to ride in a city police car for a short distance and a day on which in current times would have warranted an Amber Alert.

Just as a harbinger of tales to come, Tootie once nailed the door to our privy shut—I’m unsure why, but the act was probably his revenge for something I had said or done. My mother had to borrow a hammer from a neighbor in order to pull the nails and put the family back in business.

Just as an aside, back in the 1980s while living in the Washington, D.C. area, I spotted an auto license plate that read FLATUS. I was traveling to my job in downtown D.C. with a friend and his wife. I laughed when I saw the plate and they asked me what was so funny. I told them and they both laughed, but after a short pause the wife said, “What does that mean?” Her husband unashamedly admitted that he didn’t know, so I had to explain. In their defense, I must tell you that they were from Minnesota, born and bred there—that should be adequate explanation for anyone that remembers Rose Nylund on  TV’s Golden Girls, portrayed by Betty White as a typical native of Minnesota.

The asphalt pavement ended at our house, and the two-lane gravel road continued straight for a short distance and then made a sharp left turn, almost ninety degrees, before continuing on into rural areas, outside city limits. If, instead of turning left, a driver or pedestrian continued straight on a two-rut road for a mile or so, they would come to a large gravel pit filled with water—cool, clear, blue and deep water, a magnet for the boys from a nearby orphanage, the Palmer Home—and for me. Click here for a brief history of the home. Over the years the orphanage has grown and is now known as the Palmer Home for Children. Click here for an update.

My mother often threatened to send me to the Palmer Home unless I changed my ways, specifically concerning my frequent trips to the gravel pit. I never told her that I would welcome the transfer because I envied the kids there. They had all sorts of animals—cows and horses and dogs and goats and a farm where they grew vegetables—they were allowed to feed the animals and milk the cows and work in the garden and had what appeared to be unrestricted access to the gravel pit—in fact, the gravel pit was on property owned by the Home.

For those unfamiliar with the term, gravel pits are created when material—gravel—for use in road building and construction, is mined in an open pit. Because the water table was high in my area, a grand swimming pool was formed—a pool of cool, clear, blue and deep water, a magnet for the boys that lived at Palmer Orphanage, and of course for me.

On a memorable day in a hot summer, memorable for the heat and the cooling effect of gravel pit water, but most memorable for me a day in which my mother came to the gravel pit looking for me and found me. I was blissfully floating around on my back in the middle of the pit, face upturned to the sun and eyes closed, and a clamor arose.  I looked around and watched my friends from the orphanage scramble for their clothes and head away from the pit towards the orphanage in considerable haste. And I saw my mother standing on the bank, my short pants in one hand and my leather belt in the other.

With the departure of the other boys the area grew silent, a silence broken only by my efforts to stay afloat and offshore as long as I could. After awhile my mother told me I might as well come on in because she wasn’t leaving without me. I stayed out in that cold clear deep water until my lips turned blue and everything I had shriveled up—you know, like fingertips, toes, etc. When I finally came out my mother refused to let me have my shorts, but instead pointed me in the direction of home and ordered me to march.

And march I did, driven on by frequent pops on my bare derierre. With each pop I accelerated my pace a bit, but each time my mother told me not to run, that it would be even worse when she caught me. The blows from the narrow belt were not delivered in anger—I would like to believe they were delivered with love, but with repetition they began to take a toll, much as does the fabled Chinese water torture process. She whipped me for the full mile, all the way to our house, along the two-rut road and into the middle of the street, past Tootie’s house where that worthy was standing on the front porch, laughing and pointing at me as I hopped, skipped and jumped along, and finally after an eternity, through the front door of our house.

No, that derierre above is not mine—that’s a plastic replica of Donatello’s sculpture of David. The colorful ones on the right are those of naked cyclists, presented here only because the colors are as fascinating as they are functional.

I learned a lesson that day, not to stay away from the gravel pit, but to be far more furtive—sneaky, so to speak—in planning my trips to the gravel pit. I couldn’t help it—it was in my nature—as a child I was a vagabond and probably would have been well served with around-the-clock supervision. Had I been a a few years older I would have been riding the rails with the multitude of others during the Great Depression.

As a child I was inexorably drawn to water in all its locations, whether pond, lake, creek, river, swimming pool, mud puddle or sewage ditch—yes, sewage ditch—our next home, also located on the south side of town, was adjacent to an open sewage ditch where I spent many blissful hours. Because of water’s attraction I had great difficulty staying at home, a trait—call it a fault if you will, but I consider it a trait—less admirable than others but nevertheless a trait rather than a fault. There will be additional postings in reference to my fascination with water in all its aspects. That’s a threat as well as a promise, so be forewarned and govern yourselves accordingly.

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

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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I remember Earl Wilson . . .

I remember Earl Wilson . . .

The purpose of this posting is to introduce Earl Wilson to the multitudes of people that were not around to enjoy his contributions to our society through his varied writings, and in a small way to bring him back, even if only for a brief time to a brief few.

From Wikipedia: Earl Wilson (May 3, 1907 in Rockford, Ohio—January 16, 1987 in Yonkers, New York) was an American journalist, gossip columnist and author, perhaps best known for his nationally syndicated column, It Happened Last Night. Wilson’s column originated from the New York Post and ran from 1942 until 1983. For a biographical sketch of the famous columnist, click here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earl_Wilson_%28columnist%29.

I read Earl Wilson’s column faithfully over a period of many years, and I still remember many of the quotations attributed to him. For a comprehensive listing of those quotes, click here: http://creativequotations.com/one/2506.htm.

Earl sometimes referred to his Earl’s Pearls as Oil’s Poils—Brooklynese, perhaps, for the term. An internet search for that expression was fruitless, as was my memory of Wilson’s treatment of Thirty days hath September . . .

The following web site has 73 variations of Thirty days hath September—http://www.leapyearday.com/30Days.htm, but it does not include the one I remember best—the one I have parroted frequently over the years—this one:

Thirty days hath Septober,

April, June and Octember,

All the rest eat peanut butter,

Except grandma

And she drives a Cadillac.

Did I mention that I read Earl Wilson’s columns over a period of many years? Well, I did, and I still remember many of the quotations attributed to him. As a starter for those not familiar with Wilson’s wit, here’s a sampling of his quotes:

An exhaustive study of police records shows that no woman has ever shot her husband while he was doing the dishes.

Poise: the ability to be ill at ease inconspicuously.

Benjamin Franklin may have discovered electricity, but it was the man who invented the meter who made the money.

Snow and adolescence are the only problems that disappear if you ignore them long enough.

This would be a much better world if more married couples were as deeply in love as they are in debt.

Saying Gesundheit doesn’t really help the common cold, but its about as good as anything the doctors have come up with.

Success is simply a matter of luck—ask any failure.

Somebody figured it out—we have 35 million laws trying to enforce Ten Commandments.

Always remember, money isn’t everything, but also remember to make a lot of it before talking such fool nonsense.

Spend enough time on the quotations site, and I promise you that you’ll garner enough one-liners to dominate almost any cocktail party, reunion, pajama party or any other gathering—the younger people there will have never heard of Earl Wilson, and the older people there will have forgotten both him and his prodigious output of Earl’s Pearls.

Trust me on my analysis of people at cocktail parties, reunions, pajama parties and any other gathering—I was a younger person for a considerable length of time, and I’ve been an older person for an even longer length of time—I know whereof I speak and therefore have earned the right to advise—so trust me!

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2010 in Humor, newspapers, Writing

 

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