We expect people who have grown up on a farm to be good with animals. My dad, city boy from Danville Virginia expected it from my mother, who hailed from the community of Nut Bush, in Meherrin County, Virginia.
But Mom, though she had a great love of animals, was no dog-whisperer or horse-whisperer and she wasn’t even a cat-yeller. Mom was, however, a cat-lover, despite the fact that she had quite a few adventures and misadventures with cats. Her first, at least in my lifetime, was with Tabitha.
Although we had owned a dog since about 1963, we never had cats, owing to my dad’s allergy to them. In the late 60’s, we went to visit another family that had moved out of town and stayed in their home. The resident cat had recently given birth to a litter of kittens and the mother cat had situated them in what she considered to be a safe place, if not convenient for the humans. She tended her kittens in the middle of their living room, underneath the coffee table. Adding to the chaos, out of alarm for the apparent hardships of single-motherhood encountered by the mother cat, the 70 pound family dog, a Weimaraner, appointed herself chief social worker and nanny. Frieda was only slightly hampered by her inability to fit under the coffee table. She’d “sit” endlessly with her rump in the air, her stump-of-a-tail wagging, and big head jammed under the table to help watch over the kittens. Though there wasn’t much space left for us, we humans squeezed in, watching the nature show playing out. After quite a while, it occurred to us girls that Daddy, though packed in the room like a sardine, had not sneezed. Not once.
Wheedling commenced and when the weekend was over, a small black kitten was packed up with us (which seemed to disturb Frieda much more than the momma cat) and we went home with Tabitha, our first cat.
We hadn’t had Tabitha long when Daddy noticed something odd about the way Tabitha walked –well, odd for a girl cat. He had us girls come into the den and call the cat so it would walk away from him. Soon Daddy was laughing. Tabitha was a tom-cat. Daddy’s snickers grew into guffaws as he bent over convulsing with laughter. He didn’t just find it funny that we’d misnamed the poor creature after the little girl on “Bewitched,” he found it hilarious that his farm-girl wife couldn’t tell the difference between a boy and a girl. Mom tried reasoning with him that she grew up on a tobacco farm where all the cats were feral, so you didn’t glimpse them until they were more, a-hem, fully developed. He still loved to joke about it, and teased her mercilessly. In retrospect, I think he may have felt a twinge antagonistic about the teasing he got when he didn’t sneeze once in the house with about ten cats, despite the decade long stories of cat allergies and was probably frustrated that his cover was blown so easily.
Tabitha, truth be told, was not the friendliest of cats. Often he was down right hostile. We used to speculate about whether he’d have been nicer without a girl’s name. Maybe he had a “Girl named Sue” syndrome. (We thought about changing his name, but he already had issues with coming when he was called. We were novice cat-owners and didn’t know the coming-when-called concept was considered completely optional and discretionary by all cats. We questioned his intelligence.) Or, maybe it was Daddy laughing at the sight of the poor guy’s genitalia that was misconstrued. (There may have been a chorus or two of “My Ding-a-Ling”.) Or, perhaps he resented us taking him away from Frieda.
© Laura Hedgecock 2009