In Woodstock ( New York, long before the rock concert) I acquired "Midnight", a black female (cat) which learned to growl like a watch-dog. She did it spontaneously the first time she heard a strange step at my door; whereupon I praised and rewarded her, while stressing the word "growl." After a few repetitions, she would sound off on command ( or voluntarily), to the delight of an artist of amorous reputation, who often called on me and spent the evening petting the watch-cat.
"I don't like cats!" insisted Mac; except this one!"
Back in the days when an order for "ten cents worth of liver for the cat" wouldn't rattle the butcher, my otherwise sympathetic mother was somewhat skeptical whenever I brought home sick or injured felines, insisting they had followed me. They had. At any rate, mother always cared for the invalids and usually healed them.
One evening, however, I rescued a cat which had apparently been fatally injured. Next morning, after taking the animal to the Staten Island (Richmond Borough of Greater New York) S.P.C.A. Shelter, I arrived late for morning prayers at parochial school. For that grave offense, I expected appropriate punishment, but the nun who was my teacher proved surprisingly liberal. Utilizing my excuse to impress the English lesson on the class, she quoted at embarrassed me from "The Ancient Mariner":
"He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small
For the dear God who loveth us
He made and loveth all."
The first erudite cat of my acquaintance apparently learned to tell time, in spite of being encumbered with the name "Bucil Boney", (spelled phonetically) a corruption of a pet term used for me by a doting aunt. ( Possibly Helena Lyons or Elizabeth Rogers). Bucey was allowed to go upstairs a few mornings when I was called for school. Then he volunteered as a waker-upper, using the step saving method of scaling a front bay window to my room; sitting on the sill, he would rattle the sash by pushing against it until I let him in.
Mother was puzzled about his means of entry until people who passed by regularly on their way to work started ringing the bell to report the precarious (?) position of the animal. Soon afterward the passersby began to smilingly check their watches when they saw the cat performing his morning chore.
A few years later, when I started to commute via the Staten Island Ferry to a Manhattan office, the same cat found out when I was due in the evening and met me, always on time, between the ferry terminal and our home.
This canny one was instrumental in shaping the literary career of Paul Gallico (*), then a reporter on a New York newspaper, who has since written many short stories and novels; including "The Snow Goose" and the recent best-seller "Thomasina" (The Cat Who Thought She was God).
In those days, my brother was a newspaper camera man and often brought fellow workers home to dinner. On each first visit of a member of the press, he was initiated through a trick the cat had learned. At my whispered command Bucey would jump or climb to the sideboard, from which he would stretch his fore paws until they rested on the guest's shoulder, as he vigorously applied his rough tongue to the nape of the visitor's neck.
As the sensation can be compared only to sandpapering, the stooge's hair usually stood on end--and literally--while our photographer, convulsed with mirth, was likely to fall off his chair.
When the then-unknown writer was initiated, however, my brother missed his belly laugh because, instead of being startled, the young man was pleased and flattered by the caress. As he fondled my pet he aroused my sympathy by telling me he had never had a cat, though he loved them.
"Some day," he predicted, "I'll have all kinds of cats and write stories about them."
(*) NOTE TO EDITOR: I have Mr. Gallico's written permission. ( I would have loved to have seen a copy of it Grandma.)
|Bucey the cat with Grandma's usually sympathetic mother.|