A Cat Tale (The latest news from Watervalley.)

Okay, I admit it.

I really don’t like cats.

The first cat I ever encountered bit me and then laughed about it. I was only five, young and impressionable. From then on, my attitude toward cats, and my thumb, were scarred forever. 

In the spirit of full disclosure, my favorite dog also bit me. But that was my fault. We were wrestling and it got out of hand. He apologized and we hugged it out. 

Come to think of it, I dated a girl in high school who bit me. The romance sort of went downhill after that. Anyway, I’m sure she had her reasons.

But not that barn cat. He just wanted to pick a fight. Well, he broke it up when he bit me. Over the next several days, whenever I came around, all the other barn cats would point, laugh, and then smack-talk me a little. It was humiliating and I was determined to get even. 

Fortunately, I had a buddy named Carl. He was fearless. Cats didn’t scare him at all. He agreed to go to the hay barn with me and get the situation sorted. As we entered the barn hallway the bully cat was sitting ten feet away from us….looking all smug and superior. Carl ran right at him. That cat jumped high enough to need a stewardess. All the other eight or so cats scattered. Bully cat hid in the hayloft. Carl climbed up and tried to root him out. No luck, but mission accomplished. Bully cat had been publicly reduced to a sissy. I hummed “R E S P E C T, find out what it means to me,” all the way home.

I thanked Carl and gave him an extra scoop of Gravy Train. He was our family Doberman. 

Later, when I told my dad about the cat bite, he looked up from the newspaper and responded with a compassionate, “Well, what the hell did you expect?” The word “nurture,” wasn’t exactly in the High family lexicon. 

It was the sixties, and I was reaching out in the spirit of peace and love. But all I got in return was a tetanus shot.

A few years passed and I became emersed in books; especially dog books like “Old Yeller, Call of the Wild,” and “Rin Tin Tin.” The only cat book I ever read was “The Cat in the Hat,” a precocious feline that entices children to disobey their mom. Not exactly a stellar endorsement.

Cartoon characters reinforced the concept of dogs as good guys. Huckleberry Hound, Scobie Doo, Mr. Peabody (Bullwinkle show), and even Snoopy were positive role models. Counter that with Garfield.  

So, by the time I became a full grown, mature adult (around five years ago), I was thoroughly indoctrinated to dislike cats. And candidly, I was quite content in that partiality. 

Then, about seven months ago, she showed up. 

We were building our dream home on my small farm in rural Tennessee… a rustic farmhouse built, in part, with lumber cut from the property. Meanwhile, we were staying on site in a 30’ camper, an experience somewhat akin to living in a hollow tree with the Keebler elves.

I walked out the door on a cold February morning, all excited about crawling under the house to do the plumbing rough in, and there she stood. She was black with white stockings, every bit of five pounds, and looked rather pathetic and desperate. I responded to her impish meows with a rather an endearing, “scat”!

Apparently, she didn’t speak English. She followed me to the barn, then to the house, then under the house, then back to the camper later that day. No amount of harsh tone or trash talk seemed to deter her. She was clingier than Saran wrap.

So, I was left with a decision. I didn’t want to encourage her to stick around but, she clearly was starving. Understandably, we had no cat food. The best I could offer was a can of Vienna sausages. She woofed that down like she had a plane to catch. After that, she looked at me like she wanted to build a religion around me. In reflection, it was all rather strange. In my experience, cats were indifferent and haughty, with their “haute cat-ture” always including a pair of sassy pants. But for all practical purposes, the entire day, she had acted like a dog. I guess the whole cat persona wasn’t working for her, so she assumed a new M.O. 

Since we were temporarily living in a sardine can, I had a small room in the barn where, at days end, I would check e-mails, pay bills, or just read. Invariably, she was in my lap, usually curled up and dreaming. As well, my wife’s attitude toward her began to thaw, a little, so long as she stayed in the barn. Per my wife, rule number one was that she was not going to be an inside cat. This struck me as a little odd since in years past, our Golden Retriever, Rhett, had been allowed to live in the house despite having weapons-grade flatulence. 

Meanwhile, the days passed. By now, cat food had been added to the grocery list. But I had to be careful, making sure my reputation of cat condescension went unquestioned. I’d stroll down the pet food aisle at Kroger nonchalantly rubbernecking at the potted cat food options. We fed her dry food, but sometimes a girl just needs a treat. 

After a few months, I noticed a couple of impassioned cat-anova’s hanging around, sporting flowers and boxes of chocolates. It didn’t take much to discern what they had in mind. I tried to have a fatherly talk with the cat about the pitfalls of the flesh and that all the TV shows she was watching were trying to normalize shallow, destructive behavior. I might as well have been trying to explain the rules of baseball. It didn’t do much good. Soon, her bulging middle foretold that a visit to our friendly vet was necessary. After this conspicuous fall from grace, we sent her off to Bible camp for two weeks, just for good measure.

In time, another unexpected thing happened. She grew, a lot and became a tough little cookie. She could likely take on most of the neighborhood dogs and maintain a winning percentage. 

A couple of months ago we finished the house and moved in. After some serious marriage maintenance, I obtained permission to let the cat come inside and hang out for an hour or so. We’d sit together and talk, mostly about other cats. Over time my wife’s attitude changed from cool indifference to doting adoration. She talks to the cat like it’s a precious newborn, rubs her ears regularly, and occasionally sings silly songs to her. The cat responds to all this affection with an appreciative yawn. It should be noted that in ancient Egypt, cats were worshiped as kings and queens. Apparently, they haven’t forgotten this. 

Lately, it has become clear that sleeping is her superpower. That, along with night hunting. These days she leaves small trophies at the front door. Lizards, birds, moles, and mice…all in various forms of mutilation are left for our gaze and approval. 

As cooler weather approaches, I have petitioned for longer visiting hours. My wife has consented but still keeps the vacuum out on red-alert standby. Although she loves the cat, my wife claims, “You’re spoiling her.” I’m not sure I understand this concept. How can you tell when an animal is spoiled? Does this mean she’ll probably start talking back or refuse to pick up her room?

Meanwhile, she remains an outside cat, although, we have set up snug little cat beds in the barn, in the tractor shed, and on the front porch. She still comes when I call her, (mostly) and regards me like she’d be willing to give up a kidney for me. And even though I’ve been going through a ten-step program to overcome my dislike of cats, I still have trust issues. That’s why I named her, “Puppy.”

I was in my office yesterday working at my desk when she came strolling in and deliberately grazed my legs with her side and tail. I reached down to rub her ears and spoke in an expressive, cooing voice. “Hello, kit kat. Have you come to see your lord and master… to show your undying love and affection?” 

She looked up at me casually and said, “You’re in my chair.”

Stay tuned. Next month I’ll be talking about, “How Green Is My (Water) Valley”… the agony and ecstasy of building your own house. (Note Picture) As well, I’ll talk a little what the heck I’ve been doing since the last book and what the future of Watervalley has in store.