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Friday, April 3, 2015

Post #15: The Cat House

We bought our first modern house in Aransas Pass in 1982.  We were a young family and excited to move into such a big, modern home.  The house was only a few years old.  The previous owner had moved about three blocks down the street.  His cat may have gone with him initially, but she soon moved back to her old house.  How did we know the cat was a she?

Because of my extreme allergic reaction to all things cat, she was not a welcome site.  However, she did not seem to mind living outside.  And so, we tolerated her.  Wife began to feed her.  She would leave a saucer of milk on the back porch, along with some cat food.  And so we became cat owners.  After a short period of time, she proved her femaleness with a litter of kittens.  Her pregnancy was one of the reasons we had allowed her to stay with us.  Once the kittens were born, Wife began hunting down prospective cat owners.  She was teaching at the high school and had access to a lot of people with soft hearts and kind souls.

Wife was able to place the momma cat and all but one of her kittens. As a family, we decided to keep one small kitten.  The rest were gone.  The kitten we kept had beautiful white fur.  We named her Snowball. 

Wife did a really good job of caring for Snowball.  She grew to be a good companion for the kids, despite having to live outside all of the time.  Then one cool morning, our six month old kitten made a big error in judgment.  Wife backed out of the driveway on her way to work.  Once in the street, she put the car into forward gear and began her trip down the road. Snowball had been sleeping in the engine compartment for warmth.  She leapt down from the car just as Wife began to roll forward …

I found an old shoebox and placed Snowball’s remains in it.  The boys and I had a small ceremony in the sandy alley behind our yard, and buried her.  Wife had to ask me if I was sure she was dead.  She was.

I brought the next cat into our lives.  I was driving home for lunch one afternoon and saw a small black object in the middle of the road.  I guided my pickup carefully so that my tires straddled either side of the object.  After passing over it I checked my rearview mirror to be sure I had not hit the object.  I saw a small furry head rise up out of the middle of the black mass.  It was a kitten.  I pulled the truck over and got out.  I went over to the kitten, and she seemed to be OK.  But the middle of a street is not an appropriate place for a kitten to nap.  I picked her up and went to the houses nearby.  No one wanted to claim her.  Out of concern for the kitten’s safety, I took her home, and assigned Wife the task of taking her to the vet and finding her a home.

Wife called me at work later and told me that her friends suggested she take her to a local vet who was known to be good with cats.  “This vet will find a home for the kitten” her friends had assured her.

Wife took the kitten to the vet.  Before he would give the cat a checkup, the vet’s receptionist insisted that Wife give her a name.  “But we just found her, I don’t know her name,” Wife told the receptionist. 

“Just make one up,” she replied.

Wife thought about it for a minute, and said “Midnight.”

The vet gave Midnight her check-up, gave her some shots, and declared her to be healthy.

“Can you find a home for her?” Wife asked him.

“Sure,” he said.  “You’ve named her, you brought her in for a health check.  Midnight is your cat, now.”

So, Midnight joined our family.

The boys enjoyed playing with Midnight.  She was a beautiful black cat.  I’m not so sure that Spike was fond of her, though.

One afternoon in the early summer, I was busy working at the family grocery store when I got interrupted by a phone call.  The head cashier hollered to the back of the store to let me know that Wife was on the phone.  I picked up the receiver and said “hello?”  First there was silence.  And then sobbing.  “What’s wrong?” I asked.  It took a while for an answer to come.  I waited as Wife tried to control her sobs.  Finally she composed herself long enough to stammer out the story. 

Wife sounded a little like “Laura” on the Dick Van Dyke Show when Laura is crying.

“I … I … think I killed Midnight” are the words that she finally got out.  She told me that Midnight was in the dryer.  Could I please come home and check on the cat?

I’m sorry, please forgive me.  I know this was really traumatic and painful for Wife.  But I was smiling when I told her I would be right home.  I may have even chuckled as I told the grocery store employees that Wife had fluff-dried the cat, and I needed to go home.

Our washer and dryer were in the garage, and the garage door was usually left open.  Wife had been doing the laundry.  Her normal routine was to open the front door to the dryer, pull the dry clothes out and take them in the house.  The dryer’s door opened by pulling it down, making a shelf.  Wife would leave the door open as she went into the house with the dried clothes.  She would return to the garage and place the wet clothes in the washing machine into the dryer.  Then she would slam the door shut, and crank the dial to start the dryer.

On this day, she noticed that Spike was sitting in our garage, staring at the dryer.  Wife didn’t give it any thought until much later.

When Wife opened the door to the dryer, she just glanced in and knew something was wrong.  She slammed the door shut.  Then, she slowly opened the door, peeking in.  Wife could see something black.  She just knew ...  She went back inside to the phone and called me at the store.

Wife was able to keep herself composed when the cashier answered the phone, but by the time I picked up, she had dissolved into a puddle of sobs and tears.

I drove home and went directly to the dryer.  I opened the lid and looked in.  Midnight was dead.  There was dried blood on the load of bath towels that Wife had been laundering.  Towels.  The highest, hottest, longest setting on the dryer.  Midnight did not stand a chance.

Wife is now convinced that Spike murdered Midnight.  She knows that Spike was smart enough to pull it off.  Spike chased Midnight into the garage.  Midnight spotted the open dryer and hid in there.  This was exactly what Spike had planned.  Spike kept Midnight from coming out of the dryer by standing guard.  Wife unknowingly tossed the load of wet towels on top of Midnight.  She couldn’t see Midnight since Midnight was black, and it was dark in the dryer drum.  Wife shut the door and turned the dial.  And so, Wife unknowingly fluff dried the cat.

I found another shoe box and placed midnight in it.  I returned the towels to the washing machine and began re-washing the towels, and then cleaned the inside of the dryer so that Wife would not have to deal with the blood.

And then we buried cat number two. 

“Are you sure she’s dead?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

One other cat lost its life at our house.  Wife was outside, working in the flower bed.  She looked up just in time to see a car run over one of the neighborhood cats.  The woman got out of the car, looked at the cat, and pitched it onto our property.  She then climbed back into her car and drove off.  Another shoe box.  Another cat laid to rest in our little pet cemetery behind the house.

We had yet another stray cat come into our lives, although somewhat briefly.  She found a nice hidey-hole on the side of our house and had kittens.  Once the boys discovered the kittens, the mamma cat moved her kittens into the culvert under our driveway. 

Mamma cat soon disappeared.  I'm not sure what happened.  We just knew that there was no mamma to take care of the kittens.  I was concerned about the kitten’s welfare.  Cats did not seem to last long at the Hamilton home and I did not want to adopt this litter.  At least one of the kittens had already died.  I called animal control and asked them to pick up the surviving kittens while Wife was at work.   

Wife came home while animal control was there.  She was upset.  She feared that all of the kittens would be killed.  Wife confronted him about the future of these kittens.  He reassured her that he would take care of them.  He had a cat that was nursing, and would bring the kittens to his home.  He thought his cat might take the kittens as her own.  The kittens would not be put down.  Wife relented, and allowed the officer to remove the survivors.

I think the surviving neighborhood cats posted a sign somewhere in our yard after this family was moved out.  The sign must have warned all other cats to stay away from the Hamilton home at all costs.  We never had another stray cat try to adopt us for the rest of our time in that house.