Thursday, November 12, 2009

Just Living

(For S.B. -- "cat hoarder")

Some of the posts about my childhood have been called gothic. B. at is mainly the one who says that. But the tall Texan loves a scary story no matter how much he pretends otherwise.

However, nothing in this blog is as gothic as the first weeks of life endured by an odd, fascinating creature I still know in Alabama. And I often think about the lesson he brought to me.

I'm not an animal person, really. I admire them from afar. Too many early heartaches with the cats in my life and then with dogs a mixed bag of that and the toddler experience of being dragged by a collie who did not understand that its leash had gotten caught around my neck and that is why people were chasing and screaming at him. Then there was the cocker that bit me in the face when I bent down to say hello.

But this story is about Buddy the cat.

We had made the long drive from northern Virginia to Alabama for Christmas. The stress of urban life falls from me in distinct layers with every 25 miles or so covered. Once we cross the border of Tennessee into Alabama, I am always struck by the utter darkness, penetrated only by distant Christmas lights, that time of year.

And then finally I'm home.

Within minutes my sister generally comes through my mother's back door. And that year she held something in her arms. It was Buddy. My son went straight for him. Then my husband started arguing for a "turn" holding the cat. They bickered. I was in my cat ignoring mode as usual, trying to best him at his game.

This was Buddy's story.

Buddy and several siblings had been owned by a woman who had a dog, a Jack Russell terrier. Maybe several dogs. But pretty quickly the Jack Russell killed a couple of her cat's new kittens. The owner had the animals separated, the cats in the fenced back yard and the dogs inside the house. But the Jack Russell was determined. He was, after all, a terrier. He kept getting out. Eventually, he had killed the mother and most of the kittens.

My niece, who was doing her medical residency at a hospital, had heard about the first killings. She was the dog owner's neighbor. She was working long hours and had a dog of her own. When she found out the back yard next door had continued to be a killing field, she had had all she could take.

She asked for the remaining kittens. She had no idea how she was going to save them, she couldn't keep them, her resident manager had made an exception for her dog and anyway he was not the kind of animal to accept tiny kittens either.

She arranged time off, swapped, cajoled, begged. She got the two kittens, put them in her car and headed for north Alabama after a long shift caring for humans. She had precious little time. She called her family, asking for mercy for these kittens. She would not take no for an answer. Two of her aunts couldn't say no either, after hearing the story.

My sister took a look at them. The little gray and white one crouched down low, staring at her. His eyes appeared to be crossed. Was he traumatized by all he had been through? Would he be difficult and hard to handle? She moved a bit closer. He jumped at her, held up a tiny paw and swatted her gently, eager to play. She picked him up and he cuddled, purred loudly and fell asleep in her arms.

This was the one. Perfect.

He behaved the same way with everyone he met. He mesmerized and charmed. He was the most curious cat I've ever seen, even for a cat. My sister's other cat would snarl and beat him up and Buddy would enjoy it, come back for more. It was as though he was happy for the attention, any attention, as long as he made it through alive.

My husband fell hard for him too:

My mother even fell for him. My mother doesn't even like animals. She would go to my sister's house "to see what Buddy is doing."

I did my best to ignore him. Someone recorded how well I succeeded.

He's all grown up now. But he acts like a wild thing, not really a domestic. He's huge. He lurks and sneaks around the house and ambushes anything that moves. But then you grab him and the purring starts and he's asleep on a lap, out cold, soft and warm.

He's one of a kind. He just got on with it. He lives life fully, hard, to the max, without as much as a glance back at those horrible times. I think about that. I remember that. He is telling us all something.

And yes, those eyes look to definitely be crossed.


  1. What a great story! I've had many cats but only a few who were very special and I will always remember them. I think cats are like people in this way- you meet so many but so very few make you fall in love with them. You are lucky when one enters your life.

  2. Yes! Everybody knows Buddy, he is one of those cats you can't take your eyes from. He is such an enigma I can understand why the ancients worshipped cats!

    Now if I could just figure out how to put links in my blogs... I tried again and failed with guitar and SB. Posting pictures took about five years!

  3. After your posting on my blog, I decided to explore your other blog. What an amazing story about Buddy. And so well written. Keep it up. You have something to say.

  4. ... i meant 'gothic' in the most complimentary, compelling sense! as in Faulknerian Southern gothic.

    glad to see new tales. for a while, thought i was going to have to send a 'how please?' message.

  5. Thank you very much, B. I am "back" now. I was lost in gardening land for a while. But then someone stole my favorite white Angel's Trumpet from in front of my house. And I badly stubbed a big toe. Clear signs that it was time to come back to this blog. Don't ask. My own special method of divining and auguring.

    Re "how please" -- ha ha ha ha! To clarify the riddle, this was workplace message wire talk. When someone was not producing stories in a timely manner, a little message might pop on an old teletype machine saying "how please?" or some such. These were the nice (and the most talented) writers/editors though. The ones who didn't need to bluster about and prove anything. Like Little Guitar.

  6. Glimmer,
    Thank you so much for this post. It is a lovely gift, and it seriously brought tears to my eyes. Your niece is such a doll to help the kittens, and you are such a fine writer, my friend. I say that nearly every time I comment here, because it is so true.

    Incidentally, I always feel the same way as you when I enter the deep South. Like I am coming Home.

    Love you,


  7. I forgot to say that Buddy is really cute.

  8. You are the Mother Teresa of cats, SB! And Dr. Niece is as full of heart as she is brains.

    Some are immune, I guess, but for a lot of us the deep South, the "real" South, burrows in deep. I've been gone for 30 years. And now I know the leaving didn't take at all.

  9. What a great story, and I already love Buddy too. I've had and lost an amazing cat like Buddy. They can be so aloof and wild and yet so loving and greatful. Thanks for sharing.

  10. More Buddy fans, Mel and Shannon! The pictures don't do him justice. He is huge. And really reminds me of a big jack rabbit. He doesn't seem like a cat at all. Until he gets into my lap, purrs and falls asleep.

  11. Lovely post ! I have left a reply on my blog about the colour issues :)
    I will look forward to reading more of your blog x

  12. Sometimes those with the hardest paths in childhood figure out how to live life to the fullest as adults, yes?

  13. I love cats, and I love your story. You are a good storyteller. Thank you! Also, thanks for your nice comment on my blog!

  14. He is one cute cat. I'm glad that you rescued him.