As I was throwing the shovelful of dead mouse into the weeds at the side of the cottage, I heard neighbor Betty calling from her front porch. We had left her in charge of a healing kitty, and we had gone off jaunting around the countryside. We’d been gone for ten days and didn’t really expect to find Kitty waiting for us on the front porch (or the back porch either…)
I leaned the shovel against the tree and walked across the road to get the news. There was kitty on his blanket behind her chair; and there was Betty saying “Oh come in — Have I got a story for you!” (Names have been deleted to protect the innocent…)
Chapter 1: The Disappearing Act, in which Good Neighbor to the Left Responds
Kitty stayed around for two days before disappearing. The night before he disappeared, there was a huge ruckus in the backyard — coyotes have been sighted in our neighborhood by several neighbors. Positive that Kitty had been carried off by a coyote, she worried all day and finally, that evening called the neighbor further up the hill. “Now you just calm down, Betty,” Good Neighbor to the Left told her. “They’ve been haying up here all day, and I’ve seen that cat up here following the tractor and catching mice. And besides, I’ve been shooting at those coyotes, and I think they’ve moved on.” Sure enough, he came back a day or so later (not very hungry and not much worse for the wear).
Chapter 2: The Disappearing Act, in which Good Neighbor to the Right Responds
Kitty stayed around for two days before disappearing again. This time there were no clues. On Sunday, Betty told Good Neighbor to the Right about Kitty’s Disappearance. Good Neighbor to the Right went to work as usual the next day. That morning her co-worker came in to work complaining about the five cats on her doorstep who wanted feeding — a mother cat, three kittens, and Henry. “What does Henry look like?” Good Neighbor to the Right wondered. After she listened to the co-worker describe Kitty, she called Betty. “You can probably go get him right now,” she told Betty. They just fed him and he’s likely still on the porch.
Chapter 3 : The Rescue, in which the Poor, Hungry, Homeless Cat is Saved from Certain Starvation
Betty drove over to get Kitty (down two roads, across the main highway, and about two miles away) and talked to the people who had just fed him. “Oh yes,” they said. “We call him Henry. We’ve been feeding him for about a year and a half, but he never stays around very long.” Henry was stretched out on their porch, being his own loving self. Betty told them about his latest adventure at the animal hospital, packed him in the car, and drove him home. “Henry is his name,” she mused to herself. “I always just called him Kitty…”
(Yes, so did we … as well as Phineas, Elmo, George, and Moe. It’s no wonder none of those names stuck!)
“Before a cat will condescend / To treat you as a trusted friend, / Some little token of esteem / Is needed, like a dish of cream; / … A Cat’s entitled to expect / These evidences of respect. / And so in time you reach your aim, / And finally call him by his NAME.” —T.S. Eliot (from The Ad-Dressing of Cats)
Chapter 4 : The Disappearance, in which Henry’s Fourth Home is Never Discovered
Yes, he left again. There were no more neighbors to call, so Betty just waited. And sure enough, he came back on Friday morning, the day we came home. Sitting together on her front porch, we wondered where he had been this time. Perhaps somewhere in between our houses and the house two miles down the road? Was it his fourth home? Did he just go from house to house, sharing his love, and acting the part of the starved, homeless cat? Henry isn’t telling.
The cat goes out, / the cat comes in, / and never will tell us / where he has been… *
Chapter 5 : The Trip, in which Henry Rides to the City in a Truck
On Sunday evening we loaded the truck, as we do every weekend–suitcases, food, tools–while Henry watched. We had already conferred with Betty, and she approved. The people who named him and fed him for a year and a half have also approved. (Next weekend, I think we will go introduce ourselves.) I climbed into the truck, put his blanket on my knees, and Michael handed me Henry. He was solidly in my lap, with the door shut, before Michael started the engine. The lap cat watched out the window with interest, especially as we rode along the interstate. He did curl up a few times but never fully relaxed. The two tunnels caused him the most distress. I’m not sure who was most relieved when we pulled into our city driveway–Michael the driver, Carol the wrangler, or Henry, the big-time traveler cat.
Chapter Six: The New Life, in which Henry Becomes a City Cat
There aren’t any mice to chase, but there aren’t any coyotes in the backyard either. The first two days he followed us from room to room, but now he disappears and when we go searching, he is just sleeping on the couch in the library. There is always food in his bowl, and he no longer devours it as if he were starving. He’s putting on a belly. He sleeps on his blanket at the foot of the bed and snores. The real test will be when we return to Apple Hill this weekend. Then we will see if Henry the Traveling Cat has really been domesticated, and if one home will be enough for a former four-family feline.
They are my willing slaves : / I have them by the fur. / When He’s off duty, I / just call for Her. / And yet, I sometimes feel / A vague unease. / It is dangerous to dwell / with such as These. — Jan Struther from “Cat”.
*This is a verse of a little poem that I’m thinking belongs to someone who wrote small poems for kids, but I can’t find it in any of my poetry books. I was thinking David McCord, or Valerie Worth… but I can’t find it. I’m picturing pen and ink drawings that go with the poem…Does anyone know it?
Favorite Cat Books:
Three Stories you Can Read to Your Cat by Sara Swan Miller
Catwings series by Ursula K. LeGuin
Henry the Sailor Cat by Mary Calhoun
Mr. Putter and Tabby Bake the Cake by Cynthia Rylant
The Cats in Krasinsky Square by Karen Hesse
Hate that Cat by Sharon Creech
Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag
Socks by Beverly Cleary
Three Terrible Trins by Dick King-Smith, and of course,
Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot.