Last week my best friend, Brett, texted me asking if I would be willing to take care of their cats while they were gone. Now, the moment I received the text I knew that they had scraped the bottom of the barrel and exhausted all their normal cat care people. This was obvious because, well…I’m not a cat person. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve know some cool cats in my time and I definitely don’t hate them, but I never want to own one again either.
To my friend’s inquiry I responded, “Please define, ‘take care of’ for me”. This was necessary because Carly had already cost me a screen window when she’d tried to ‘take care of’ their cats after they had moved into their new house. He clarified that he wanted the cats alive and unharmed and that my job involved food and water and that Carly was not allowed into the house. Bummer. Oh well, I grudgingly agreed, but only because Brett and his family are dear friends, that and he buys really good German beer and shares it with me on occasion. Hey, I may not love cats but I can be bribed.
|Carly after she tried to 'take care of' my friends cats.|
I don’t know where the Siamese cat wandered in from. She showed up randomly at times, hanging out for a few days and then departing. Occasionally she had on a collar but never any tags. Now, my dad didn’t care much for having the cat around, but I liked the idea of something keeping the mice out of our saddles. We didn’t have any cat-aggressive dogs at the time so it was perfect. Dad and I went around and around on the issue and then one day dad said he’d taken a shot at the cat but missed.
“You had your chance, so she gets to stay now,” I said, rather pissed that he had shot at the cat. I can understand shooting at a coyote that drew too close to the cattle during calving season or something but a cat? Really? Apparently dad accepted that he had missed his opportunity to rid the world of another cat and for the next several years, Crystal, as I began to call, her given her stunning blue eyes, made her home on the ranch.
In the summer we saw less of Crystal because her hunting grounds expanded dramatically, but in the winter I saw her every time I went out to start the tractor to feed or to plow the road. The block heater of the old John Deere was plugged into an outlet in a ramshackle log cabin, the interior more resembling a chaotic repository for every piece of scrap metal and random item imaginable than something actually livable. Though nearly impassable for human occupancy, the junk piles made a great home for Crystal. During the deep freeze of winter, her hunting grounds included that cabin, the tack shed, and our old barn. It was in the cabin, though, that I always spent time with her.
Almost every day, while layered up in a thick Carhart coverall, I would make my way to the tractor, unplug it, coil up the cord, and hang it in the cabin. As if t on cue, Crystal would meow and make her way toward me, crossing the junk piles. I would pet her for a bit, much to her enjoyment, evidenced by her loud purring. When I would head back out she’d jump onto my shoulders so that she could rub against my head as I checked the oil before starting up the tractor. She would then find the opening of my collar and burrow her way into the coveralls to enjoy warmth for just a few minutes. I quickly learned to hold my arm to my stomach so that she stayed around my chest, otherwise she felt inclined to use her claws to prevent gravity from pulling her downward. With Crystal warm and purring against my chest, I would climb into the tractor. Needing to idle up to operating temps, I would g climb down and go back into the cabin where Crystal would stick her head out of my coveralls and enjoy being petted and talked to. This was my normal routine with Crystal, and I even snuck some cat food or tuna to her on occasion, not daring to tell my dad, then, one day, I saw something I really couldn’t believe.
At the time, Dad drove a diesel pickup truck that needed to be plugged in during winter just like the tractor. He did this over at the tack shed since it was closer to the house. One day I watched dad plug in his truck and remain at the tack shed door for several minutes. As I observed closely, I saw that he was petting Crystal. I later learned that dad had actually bought some cat food and had been leaving a dish of it in the tack shed for her. I hadn’t seen the bowl of food because I hadn’t been in that building all winter. Apparently my dad’s hatred of cats was not as deep-seated as we were all led to believe.
|Crystal and my little brother, Tyler, in the old cabin. Sadly this is the only picture I have of Crystal|
I’m not sure how many years Crystal was at the ranch, but it was at least three as I recall. I only know that one year she was gone, never to return. Perhaps a predator got her, or maybe she succumbed to the harsh environment. It is my hope, though, that she had wandered to a home that invited her in and that she spent her last years in warmth and comfort. Still, I will never forget her beautiful blue eyes and her insistence at warming herself inside my Carharts while I worked on the tractor.
Regarding my friend’s cats that I was asked to care for, well, I did as was asked and all ended well and yes, I’m still on speaking terms with my friend. So, like my dad, my dislike of cats is more bluster than truth. Still, I do prefer my dogs, but I will take care of a cat every now and then, if I have to, I guess.