My Dad, having been laid off by the Johnstown, Pennsylvania
Steel mill, moved us to Cleveland, Ohio in 1957. Unwittingly, we moved into an
apartment building right next to a Stockyard. Must have been really cheap. We
settled in and started school and then one night, we went out on the back porch
of our apartment and sitting there was the biggest gray striped cat we had ever
seen. His nose was all chopped up and scarred and he was missing half an ear.
Obviously, he worked in the stockyards. We went inside and got a slice of
bologna and he happily ate it up, and then, surprisingly, hopped up on the
porch swing and sat between us, purring and appreciating little girl cuddles.
My father always said a house wasn’t a home without a gray
striped cat and promptly gave him the name “Tommy”, which he named ALL of our
cats because he thought there was no other appropriate name. Now, Tommy, being
at least 15 pounds, was the king of the stockyards. In those days, cats went
out at night and we would hear huge, yawling, hissing battles and the other
cats would come running out of the dark at high speed with Tommy walking behind
them with a slow, quiet John Wayne strut. And let’s just say, all the kittens
born in the neighborhood were gray striped. But he adored we two little girls
enough to let us put the baby doll dresses on him and roll him around in a tiny
baby buggy if that’s what we wanted. He was the coolest cat alive.
In 1958, we moved to a small, one story tract house on 122nd
Street. Tommy still went out at night…always returning in the morning to come
inside the house and sleep: leaving huge piles of dead rats and birds on the
back porch, to thank us for the bologna and Purina. We would wait for him to
fall asleep and then Dad would bury our gifts. Dad and Tommy did fight a lot as
Dad didn’t like him getting into the unfinished crawl space and inviting
friends in for a little moaning cat fight club. Dad would scoot into the crawl
space on his stomach and two minutes later, cats would come flying out the
window, hurled by Dad.
Once, Tommy got an infected leg and Dad lanced it himself with
a razor blade and it actually did cure him. But Tommy remembered the pain and
made sure he peed on Dad’s leg whenever he walked by. Still, he was our kitty
and we would not let Dad get rid of the big boy.
He was getting to be around 12 or 13 years old and slowing
down. He still went out at night but needed more sleep. But one day, he came
out of the woods with another cat at his side. A small, adoring long-haired
kitty with gray fur who was a female of about only one or two years old. My Dad
named her “Sadie” after Sadie Thompson as she seemed to be Tommy’s hot young
thing. Tommy must have saved her from some peril because she refused to leave
However, Sadie was terrified of people and wouldn’t let us
near her to touch her and she would not come indoors. So, Tommy took to
sleeping on the back porch and she would happily start licking him clean from
head to toe every night. Needless to say, he loved this and we’d look outside
and she would be sleeping against his stomach with those huge paws around her,
keeping her safe. When winter came, they went into the relative warmth of the
unfinished crawl space and now, Tommy brought the tastiest birds and mice to
Sadie to keep her fed.
Sadie must have been infertile, because in the two years she
was with him, she never had kittens and I don’t think she minded. She just
adored Tommy, who was getting very, very old. A true outdoor cat did not want
to die at the home of the people who fed him and will go off to die. Tommy went
off to die and Sadie went with him.
We never saw them again and don’t know what happened, but I
like to think it was like “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, with the large and
delicate skeletons side-by-side in death. That Sadie might have pined away
without her big old man would not have surprised me at all. Of all the love
stories I’ve read or wrote, this was probably the greatest.