Tag Archives: lard

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.


Posted by on May 9, 2011 in Uncategorized


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Frog legs, pocket knives & hackberry tea

This YouTube video is in no way related to the primary subject of this post, namely the treatment of raw sewage to recapture the 99.9% of raw sewage that is water and make it potable. I intend to end this post with the same video. I am presenting it here to ensure that my legions of followers have the opportunity to view it. If you view the video at this point and are so turned off by it that you don’t read the posting, it’s your loss—you’ll miss a highly educational essay—timely, well constructed and presented, and I say that with all sincerity aside. I know, I know, everyone always reads my posts all the way to the bottom, but just in case . . .

This morning while watching a cable show—MSNBC—I learned that at sometime in the future much of our drinking water will consist of treated sewage. That knowledge as defined by Wikipedia rests uneasy on one’s gustatory palate:

Sewage is water-carried wastes, in either solution or suspension that is intended to flow away from a community. Also known as waste water flows, sewage is the used water supply of the community. It is more than 99.9% pure water and is characterized by its volume or rate of flow, its physical condition, its chemical constituents and the bacteriological organisms that it contains. Depending on its origin, waste water can be classed as sanitary, commercial, industrial, agricultural or surface runoff.

The spent water from residences and institutions carrying body wastes, washing water, food preparation wastes, laundry wastes and other waste products of normal living is classed as either domestic or sanitary sewage.

The purpose of this post is an attempt to allay the fears of those that may be taken aback when told that the water they drink in the future will be sewage, coming direct to them as treated sewage from some remote treatment plant that has taken the action necessary to eliminate contaminants from raw sewage and now wants people to believe that the water is pure and potable—drinkable.

I know that’s a stretch, given the fact that the so-called sanitary sewage includes body wastes donated—love that term donated—by the community. However, I have personal knowledge that the decontaminated liquid may be consumed without fear of the consumer becoming contaminated—how that knowledge was gained is the purpose of this post.

As a young boy growing up between the ages of six and nine years I lived near a flow of treated sewage moving away from the city’s treatment plant via an open concrete-floored ditch—locals called it the Big Ditch—idling along on its way to Luxapalila Creek, a stream that joins Mississippi’s Tombigbee River, a stream that converges with the Alabama River to form the Mobile River that in turn empties into Mobile bay on the Gulf of Mexico—take that, Mobile!

Purely as an aside, the Indian word Luxapalila is said to translate into English as floating turtles. Considering the effluvial characteristics of human waste materials entering the stream, perhaps the first syllable of turtles, accidentally but aptly, describes the water and its contents—how’s that for coincidence!

But I digress—back to the Big Ditch, its contents and the marvelous flora and fauna that thrived—-or throve, take your pick—when I was a boy. The ditch may well be covered by now, or perhaps its contents have been diverted elsewhere. Many years have passed since I was treated—so to speak—to a life in that area and that era. Perhaps the Big Ditch is still fulfilling its destiny as a playground for the enjoyment of today’s children, activities in dialectical opposition to their parent’s wishes.

On more than one occasion I and one or more of my boyhood friends—always boys, although girls would have been welcomed and we would have been delighted by their company, but none accepted our invitations—dined on the banks of the Big Ditch, feasting on fried frog legs and hack-berry tea, a simple meal easily prepared. From our respective homes we brought a small frying pan, a small pot for boiling water, a block of pure lard, our pocket knives, a bit of corn meal, a pinch of salt, a few matches and our appetites to the Big Ditch, a Shangri-la for giant green bullfrogs easily rounded up by a couple of hungry boys.

We built a small fire and boiled water for our tea—yes, we used the nearest available source of water, that which flowed along the bottom of the Big Ditch. When the water was boiling we dumped in handfuls of hackberries gathered from the proliferation of hack-berry trees that thrived on the banks of the ditch.

The hack-berry tea was set aside to cool, and we heated the pure lard in the frying pan. After separating the legs of several frogs from their bodies we skinned the legs, rolled them in the corn meal, placed them in the frying pan and turned them until brown.

Don’t laugh—our culinary talents and our gustatory senses  at our age were underdeveloped and unrefined, and we had minimum expectations that the meal would equal those served in fancy French restaurants specializing in fried frog legs and offering fine wines to accompany the meal—cuisses et vin de grenouille frits—the French refer to the legs of frogs as thighs instead of legs. The use of the word thighs is probably considered a sexual reference by the French, intended to affect the mood of a dinner companion, whether male or female. A Frenchman might say, Mon cher, j’aime le goût des cuisses, delivered softly and translated as My dear, I love the taste of thighs—his after-dinner delights would be guaranteed—dessert, so to speak.

So there you have it—treated sewage can be safely ingested, digested and further processed by humans without fear of damage to their bodies or their life expectancy. My body shows no perceptible damage from the meals of cuisses et vin de grenouille frits, and I am just a hop, skip and a jump away from successfully completing eight decades of living life to its fullest—whether because of the frog legs or in spite of the frog legs is unknown. However, also unknown is the collective fates of my various boyhood companions. Some of them or all of them by this time may have already exchanged their earthly realm for one or the other of our two alternatives.

I must reluctantly admit that the others—some of them, none of them or all of them—may have already succumbed to the ravages of various diseases that were directly attributed to those meals of cuisses et vin de grenouille frits, and I do not recommend such meals to today’s boys, at least not meals garnered from the same source or similar sources—nope, I would neither recommend it nor suggest it.

I am of the opinion that today’s youth, although physically larger, stronger and enjoying greater longevity and enhanced motor skills, are not significantly more intelligent—in fact many, perhaps most, are somewhat lacking in basic subjects as demonstrated by accumulated grades given on an incredible numbers of tests administered by our schools. There are so many unknowns that I hesitate to imply that meals such as we prepared in the Big Ditch increases longevity, but I will postulate that such meals may promote a higher level of intelligence.

Today’s youth lag behind in the three Rs—reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmatic and their skills in communication skills are deplorable—they are deficient both in receiving and transmitting the spoken word, obviously derelict in vocal expression and auditory reception. I feel that my detailing just one of my eating habits as a boy proves, at least in some degree, that consumption of treated sewage water will not be harmful to us and our neighbors, and that proof has been beautifully presented to my viewers. That’s why I was motivated to make this posting and I feel that I have made my point—my efforts were successful and productive for society.

I apologize for diverting my attention to other problems facing our society and our nation—I couldn’t help it—it’s either in my nature or it could possibly be the result of my being distracted by a cantankerous keyboard.

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

Postscript: The fact that I frequently watch MSNBC does not mean that I like MSNBC. I frequently tune in to get the side of the news and opinions that are presented by other, more reliable and more truthful cable entities. I do not  dislike MSNBC—I enjoy its graphics and its presentations of news that are not permeated with and perforated by personal political presentations, situations that are far less frequent than presentations that are afflicted—tainted, so to speak—well, let’s face it—filled with and distorted by such taints and afflictions. Tune in to MSNBC on any weekday evening and listen to the talking heads in its evening lineup—you’ll be both attracted and reviled by their vituperative views on subjects ranging from A to Z—from armadillos to zebras–but particularly on Cs and Rs—Conservatives and Republicans.

One more postscript: Having clicked on the center of the above YouTube video, you have read the notice that someone, somewhere and somehow decided that the videos violated copyright, and it is stated that “the YouTube account associated with this video has been terminated due to multiple third-party notifications of copyright infringement from claimants including Real Clear Politics” . . .

Obviously when I showed the video and in effect compared it with the effluvia and solid particles that characterized the Big Ditch in my boyhood, I stepped on someone’s pepperoni and they demonstrated their ability to exercise their right to censure that part of of this post. I consider it a violation of my right to express my disgust of the vituperative drivel that nightly spews from the show. It’s still on YouTube, along with similar excerpts from other Ed Shultz’ nightly rants—check ’em out.

And just one more note: I understand now why the network abruptly tossed Keith Olberman out the window—they didn’t need him because they had Ed Shultz.

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


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