The Cat and His Boy
My husband rescued our cat, Pete, from the animal shelter in the Summer of 1997 and put him in our barn to control the mouse population. Pete stayed there for about 15 minutes and then, with an unhurried gait, he walked out of the barn, across the field, under the fence, through the yard and up the steps to our house. He took his place on our front porch where he would live for the next 17 years. He would not be told where to sleep or given parameters in which to roam. He could not be contained by the walls of the barn although my husband tried several times to keep him there.
Being allergic to cats, I kept a distance between Pete and me. That was fine with him. He was not born to be a lady’s lap-sitter. He was a hunter and a protector. Too proud to eat our packaged Cat Chow charity, Pete hunted his own food.
To prove to us his hunting prowess, he left the spoils of his nightly raids, the hearts and kidneys of our mice and mole enemies, on the welcome mat for us to find in the mornings. It was his way of saying, “I am on the job. No need to worry about things today. I will be watching over the farm while you are out.”
From the day Pete joined us, the other animals knew he ruled our place. If they questioned his authority, a quick flick of a claw put them in their places. Pete bowed to only one, our four-year-old son, Peter. (I realize that to name a child Peter and an animal Pete may seem odd. But, being lovers of good stories, my husband and I named our son for a character in The Chronicles of Narnia and our cat after the barn cat in the Hank the Cowdog books.)
It took Pete about a day and a half to realize that if Peter was to live to manhood, he needed more than his father and me looking out for him. We had three older children and Peter tended to get lost in the shuffle. With commiseration and a bit of pity in his eyes, Pete gave me a nod that said, “You’ve got your hands full. I’ll take care of this one.” And he stepped in to become Peter’s companion.
They developed an unusual friendship. That cat let our young son mistreat him terribly. Any other animal of Pete’s nobility would have fled the embarrassment. But, with fortitude and indulgence, Pete allowed himself to be caught when Peter chased him around the yard. After getting his hands on the cat, Peter would pick him up by the tail, hang him upside down by his back legs, and carry him around the yard with his front paws dragging the ground.
Pete never squirmed, fought or clawed his way out of Peter’s arms. He just hung there in discomfort, wondering, I’m sure, how many years it would be before Peter outgrew the game. Occasionally, the cat would mew a little. It didn’t seem to be a protest aimed at Peter. I felt it was more of a reassurance for me.
“It’s okay. Don’t worry about me. I’ve got this. Really, I do.”
One day, a few months after Pete arrived, I returned home from the grocery store to find our two oldest boys playing basketball in the driveway and Peter watching from the yard. I knew without asking that his brothers had said he could not play with them. Peter followed me onto the front porch and slumped into a rocking chair with a sigh that whispered four-year-old sadness. Pete jumped into his lap to join him.
I left the two of them there and went inside with my groceries. In just a bit, I began to hear sounds coming from the porch. The pounding of small feet scurrying across the porch was followed by little boy giggles. Little boy laughter was accentuated by the thudding of young legs jumping on the floor boards. Peter was happy again.
The front door flew open and Peter ran in, filling the room with the odor of outside play, “Mama, Mama, come watch me play basketball! Pete and I are playing basketball, Mama!”
Peter had gone from mournful to merry in two shakes of a cat’s tail. (I feel sure Peter had done the actual tail shaking.) I could have kissed that cat, allergic or not.
I followed Peter out the door, entering into his imaginary basketball game. “Is Pete playing for the other team?” I asked. “Who is winning? You or Pete?”
I expected to see my son chase his cat around the porch with a ball in his hands. Instead, Peter walked to the top of the porch steps, picked up Pete and said. “He isn’t on the other team.”
“Is he on your team?”
“No, he’s not on my team either.”
“Then how are you and Pete playing basketball together?”
Hanging upside down, Pete gave me an indignant glare that said, “This one! You are gong to owe me big time for this one!”
“Pete isn’t a ball player, Mom,” My son said with a big smile. “He is the ball!”
Then, as I watched in amazement, that regal, proud, fierce, wonderful cat closed his eyes and let my son roll his body into a ball and pitch him off the porch.
I wrote this story to be submitted to another publication so it reads a bit differently than the humor I usually post here. But you can’t know our family’s story without knowing of Pete. He was the best cat ever to love a family. He is buried under the tree that shades our front porch.