This past holiday season, Keith and I tried some new recipes – herbed lamb roast with yogurt and cucumber, pot roast with creamy mushroom grits and a root vegetable medley – and trotted out the old favorites – turkey with bread stuffing, mince pie and Christmas cookies. In the drawer where I keep the, I confess, seldom-used shifter, I spied a ceramic trivet: “Ole Tom” 1977, made by my mother commemorating our family cat.
Tom was the sole male in Momma cat’s only living litter, born about 1960. The three females, two solid grays and a calico like her mother, went to neighbors, but Tom stayed with us. Momma cat doted on her only son, nursing and grooming him well beyond weaning and, for as long as she lived, hunting and calling to him, her mouth full of mouse. We three girls spoiled him, too, letting him in our bedroom window at night whenever he yowled – we were sure our parents never knew. Tom took everything in stride, that is, he took his comforts for granted.
An orange and white tabby, Tom was originally named Butterscotch. Three syllables proved difficult for calling, “Here, Butterscotch, Butterscotch, Butterscotch,” so we shortened it to Butch. Somehow Butch didn’t quite fit.
I don’t remember exactly when or why we changed his name to Tom. Maybe my two sisters and I had already seen the 1964 Disney movie “The Three Lives of Thomasina,” in which a little girl’s orange cat, left for dead by her veterinarian father, a widower played by Patrick McGoohan, survives thanks to the ministrations of beautiful Susan Hampshire. Thomasina returns to the little girl and all come together as a family to live happily ever after.
Ole Tom had a similar near-death experience. One summer evening, he didn’t come home. He was neutered so we knew he wasn’t out chasing the ladies. We called and called and called, “Here kitty, here kitty, kitty, kitty.” The next two days, we searched all his haunts but found no sign of him. The third day after his disappearance, our parents delivered their speeches.
“Cats and dogs sometimes get sick and go off by themselves to die,” Daddy the pediatrician said.
“And cats aren’t really domesticated animals like dogs – cats do their best but sometimes they just go back to the wild,” Mother added. My sisters and I couldn’t imagine our momma’s boy leaving his mother or us, let alone going feral. Something was wrong.
“Can we look for him one more time after supper, please?” we asked.
We hurried through the meal and raced out the breezeway door. Even with daylight savings, little time remained before dark. All five of us walked the yard outside the house, calling and listening, and then down the hill to the stream, across the big lawn and up to the barn that had served Round Hill Farm. A long shot, we thought, and the end of the line.
“It’s time to go home,” Mother and Daddy said.
“No, please, just a little longer, just along the stonewall here – we think we hear something.”
A faint, hoarse cry rose from inside the stonewall. Daddy lifted a big rock off the top of the wall, and there was Tom, dirty, dehydrated, stiff and alive.
“He must have been chasing a critter, and a rock knocked loose and fell down on him. Poor fella,” Daddy said. “He doesn’t seem to be hurt, just lame from being trapped in close quarters for a long time. Let’s take him home and get him some water and a little food.”
Too tired even to purr that night, Tom let Momma cat clean him up, and we girls doted him, as he expected. So Tom returned to our family and lived happily ever after for a long, long time.
What stories do your trivets tell?