By Fred Wickert
“Hey, what is that over there against the wall?” Dad called to me from the milking stool. He was milking the cows and was half way through with them. I was feeding young stock and came to look where he had indicated.
“It’s a cat,” I said. The animal blended in with the shadow at the bottom of the stone wall. “It has a mouse in its mouth. I never saw that cat before.”
The cat was gray in color, full grown in size. It was very wary of us, watching carefully every motion we made. Any effort to come close met with a rapid departure to some other location, always hiding as much as possible.
The light was poor as there was no electricity in the barn and we did chores by the light of kerosene lanterns. Milking was done by hand. It was in winter and the barn was warm. A natural place for a stray cat looking for a home. A cow barn always had a supply of mice, and there was the added bonus of a friendly farmer providing a shallow pan of warm fresh milk twice a day.
The entire family - Mom, Dad, three sisters and myself were all aware of the newest resident to our farm, and all attempted to gain the trust of the gray cat. No one could get close.
Gradually, the cat began to trust Helen, my oldest sister and eventually allowed her to touch, and then pet it. In a few weeks Helen was able to pick up, hold and pet the animal. The cat continued to run from the rest of us.
Eventually, Mom suggested that Helen bring the cat into the house, believing that it might help to tame the animal more. The family police dog had not been taken into consideration when this decision was made, and the dog, King, took exception. It was necessary to keep the dog as far away from the cat as possible.
About two weeks later as Mom was standing near her grand piano, the cat went under the piano behind the pedals. King lunged for the cat. Mom went to pull the dog away. The frightened cat bit Mom and severed about three quarters of an inch of her finger. Blood was flowing from the stump of the finger and the severed portion was still dangling by a thread of skin. It looked really strange hanging there.
I grabbed the dog by the back of his collar and hung on. The cat of course, ran away from the scene. Mom began cooing to the cat. “Come on you poor dear,” she said. “Poor baby, it’s all right, it wasn’t your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong.”
Mom continued talking to the cat in this manner while she found something with which to bind her finger. When the bleeding was stopped, it was decided she would have to go straight to the doctor.
A few hours later she returned home with the severed end of the finger reattached and covered in a bandage. It was of considerable concern because Mom was an accomplished pianist and pipe organist. She had a job-playing organ for a big church, and it helped augment much needed income for the family. The doctor said it should be good as new in a few weeks.
After returning home, her first concern was for the cat, and she inquired as to the whereabouts of the cat and assured herself that no one had taken any reprisals against her. Somehow, the cat understood what had taken place and from that day forth, was attached to Mom. Mom named her Smokey, and they became best friends for life. There was never any doubt that Smokey was Mom’s cat. She came to accept the rest of us, but Mom was her true love.
Smokey lived with us for many years. She was always a great hunter and did her share in reducing the mouse population. She occasionally came home dragging a pheasant or a rabbit as big as she was. We never had to buy her any cat food. She fed herself.
Smokey always made it a point to never make a mess in the house. She always asked to go outside before throwing up or doing her business. A hairball was unknown in our house while she was there. She went to extreme lengths to avoid doing anything that might make a mess. She was often spoken of as the cleanest cat anyone ever saw.
Smokey always sat on the doorstep and cleaned herself before asking to be let in the house. She refused to come in the house if she had dirty feet or if she had any thing on her at all. If she had any substance stuck to her hair that she could not wash off, she yanked out the hair that had the offending substance on it.
Over the years, Smokey endeared herself to all members of the family and even became very good friends with the dog. Always friendly, and never a nuisance, Smokey became loved by us all, but she was always Mom’s cat first.
We never knew just how old Smokey was. Only that she was an adult cat when she came to us. She lived a long time, outliving the dog. Finally, in her old age she began to slow down and became a little lame. She took longer naps, moved slower and hunted less.
One day, Smokey arose from a nap and went to the door, asking to go outside. Her wish was granted. She slowly made her way to a pile of leaves beside the garage. She went to the middle of the pile of leaves, lay down and closed her eyes. In a few moments, she was still. She had passed away. Staying true to her cleanliness, she had even gone outside to die.