While out running errands today, I couldn’t help overhear other shoppers talking (one more time!) about a big storm headed our way this weekend. A big snow storm. Another one. It’s late March, so the tough and optimistic folks I live around are ready for spring, but the constant comment I heard was “We sure can use the moisture, though.”
Now I promised to myself last summer, when week after week passed with no rain, and while my trees and grass died, and my garden struggled (even though I watered it–a lot) that I would never, ever complain about moisture coming down from the sky. And so I never will. Rain–snow–sleet–it doesn’t matter in what form it comes. If wetness comes down from the sky, I will not complain. It is a blessing. Period.
That said–the next few days of doing chores will probably not be very springlike, with colder-than-normal temperatures and strong winds and up to six inches of snow in the forecast. Every morning I trudge out in my big heavy boots and my chore-doing garb, to care for my fowl and our pets. The dogs meet me every morning, and it doesn’t matter what the weather is doing: they are irritatingly ecstatic to see me.
There could be a tornado swirling right above our heads, or an earthquake splitting the ground under our feet, or we could be dodging hailstones the size of softballs, but the reaction of the dogs would always be the same: they would gaze up at me adoringly, tongues lolling, each one trying to get more of my attention than the other.
I wonder often why our dogs Bea and Ollie are always so happy to see me. Bea is a sharp, quick, clever and smart-alecked Aussie. Ollie is a slow, big, sweet black Lab. You’d think I was their cherished long-gone relative, back from the dead, the way they yip and dance and do their happy turns around me. Every. Stinkin’. Time.
But the truth is–I’m only me, still sleepy and a bit grouchy, and I might go out the back door twenty times during the day, and they execute the same ecstatic foolish routine every time, nearly knocking me over in their frantic, competitive attempts to show me just how much they love me.
Here’s how it goes: Bea: “I love you most, see my tail? See how it wags!”
Ollie: “I love you best, Ma, see my large luminous eyes, how they just shine and glow for you, and please don’t pay attention to my nose nudges since I know that’s a naughty-dog thing?”
Bea: “I can race faster! I can jump higher! Ollie is an oaf! I can turn twirly circles!! Watch me! Watch ME, Mom! See my tail???”
Ollie: “Note how sweet I am, how affectionately I lean on you, even though I know good dogs don’t lean! I love you best, Ma, I really do.”
Bea: “Watch my tail!! Watch my tail!! Watch MY TAIL!! MOM!!”
I wonder at the fact that the ornery, clever animals are the ones whose antics go down in family lore. Not so the sweet, slow ones. I should know. In our extended family, I’m Ollie, the sweet, slow one. My ornery siblings have all the fun stories told about them. It’s true. But that’s another story for another day. (But back to the animals).
Stories about Bea: “Remember the time the neighbor’s cattle were out in our orchard, and we sent Bea out, and she circled ‘round and ‘round and took those cattle right to the edge of our property line, before turning back?” and “Remember the time Bea came home with a hole in her skull—she was grinning and her tail wagging, but there was a hole in her skull and we could see her brain? And we took her to the vet and he said he’d NEVER seen anything like it, but he’d stitch her up and we’d just have to hope for the best . . .?”
Stories about Ollie: “Remember the time Ollie . . . um . . . the time Ollie . . . oh, isn’t Ollie a sweet dog, though? Such warm eyes!”
And that brings me right to my topic du jour, in a rather roundabout way. You were probably wondering when the title of this piece was going to come into play.
Martin was a clever, ornery, big cat of ours who has earned his place in the family lore, on numerous counts.
He was a rather ordinary-looking, grey and brown tiger-striped cat, with white on his underbelly and paws, but his personality more than made up for his ordinariness in the looks department. Martin was friendly and hopelessly gregarious. He loved company. He’ll flop over on his back and wrestle with the dogs. He was more like a dog than a cat, actually.
Bryan brought him home from work one day, when we were living in Iowa. The kids bonded immediately with the fuzzy little ball of fluff, and they named him before his little paws even touched the floor.
Martin settled in to our busy household happily, enjoying all the comings and goings of our large family. Even when he was a big grown-up cat, whenever anybody pulled into our driveway, he would check to see if a car window happened to be open. If he found one, he’d acquaint himself with the contents of the vehicle, find any crumbs or erstwhile bits of food that needed cleaning up, and then settle down for a nap.
More than one visitor tooled off down our road, only to abruptly turn around and drive back down our driveway, in order to bring Martin back. When we lived in Iowa, he used to sneak into our van whenever he could and not show himself until we arrived at our destination, usually ballet lessons, the grocery store, or soccer practice. As soon as we stopped, he’d show himself, meaow loudly with his abrasive voice, and then settle down on the dash to watch whatever activity we were going to.
He liked soccer practice best.
One foggy day I was gazing out the window, tea cup in hand, when I heard Bethie rev up the Suburban to drive it to work. Next, I heard Amalia and Malachi yelling excitedly from the porch, something about Martin and the ‘Burb and Bethie . . . then I saw it, the Suburban zipping down the driveway, through the mist, with Martin sitting squarely on top. The cats regularly sit on the hoods of our vehicles, especially if the vehicle in question has recently been driven and is thus nicely warmed for them. That means that we’ve got the dirtiest vehicles around, not only splattered with mud from our gravel road, salt from the highway, but also muddy cat prints. (It can be embarrassing.)
Amalia and Malachi raced in to me, yelling “Martin’s on the ‘Burb! He’s going to town with Bethie! Does she know he’s up there?” It took only a moment of watching to find out. Bethie did stop at the end of our long driveway and climb out, and gently pull Martin off the top of the vehicle and send him back home.
This wasn’t the first ride Martin had taken down our driveway. In that instance, though, Bryan was heading off to work. The kids and I were sitting on the front porch, so we had a perfect view of the event. As we watched Bryan’s car going down the driveway, Martin sitting up tall on the top, a sense of disbelief washed over me. The cat seemed to be defying gravity; the way he was sitting firmly on top of the car. There’s no top rack on that little car, nothing for Martin to get a foothold on. So how was he staying on?
“Mama, Daddy will stop and let Martin get off, won’t he?” asked one of the kids, getting a little anxious at the sight of this favoured cat going so quickly down the driveway.
“Of course he will, honey,” I said, but I wasn’t so sure. Bryan is not a cat-person, but I didn’t want to admit to our children that their daddy just might be wishing ill-will on the perpetrator of so many vile crimes against his car, in the form of muddy cat prints, scratches, even (gasp!) occasionally bits of leftover regurgitated breakfast left on the hood, etc.
Come to think of it, it was a little surprising that he didn’t have all five cats strapped to the top, (just barely!) with duct tape. And yet . . . I couldn’t imagine that Bryan had not seen Martin sitting on his car before he jumped in—and, more importantly, the sea of little concerned faces peering out the front porch window.
“He’ll stop at the end of the driveway and pull him off, I’m sure . . . he will . . . surely,” I said, weakly, not taking my eyes off the sight. Bryan stopped at the end of the driveway. Phew!
“Martin’s going to jump off now, isn’t he, Mama?”
I couldn’t answer. My heart was in my throat as I watched Bryan stop . . . and then turn slowly, and then zip on down our road accelerating quickly to full-speed. Martin was still sitting on top.
The kids all burst into tears, simultaneously. There was load wailing and moaning and tearing of clothing. Really, at first blush, it didn’t seem like even Martin could survive full-speed top-of-a-car travel—not to mention the eventual tumbling off that doubtlessly would ensue.
“Mom! What can we do? We have to go save Martin! Why would Dad do this? Poor, poor Martin!!!” The kids were all screaming and yelling at once. I rushed into the house and grabbed the phone, and punched Bryan’s cell number into it.
I got his voice mail, and hissed into the receiver “Do you know what you have done?” The kids were still caterwauling piteously in the background, and I held the phone up for him to listen, and then hung up. Then I grabbed the baby and headed for the van, a trail of crying kids in tow.
We were all bawling as we drove down our road, expecting to see a lifeless Martin in a tumbled heap along the shoulder. Really, how could he be in any other state? I tried to prepare the kids for the worst. But, strange—we drove up and down our gravel road for a few minutes, searching the ditches, but found no Martin, tumbled heap or otherwise.
I looked out at the highway. Surely he couldn’t have made it all the way to the highway . . . but there was nothing else to do, but face that possibility. Martin—bless him–deserved that much, at least. Would his poor, dead, mangled body be along the side of the highway, or maybe in the middle? We drove along slowly, the kids all crying loudly, all of us dreading what we were going to find. Finally I spotted it: a big pile of fur, along the right shoulder.
“I think I see him,” I mumbled, sadly. I pulled over and climbed out to look.
It wasn’t Martin. It was difficult to tell what it was, actually. Maybe a big rabbit, or a small coon, or a medium-sized opossum—I don’t know. It was the same color as Martin, but not Martin at all.
We drove all the way to the Interstate, stopping at every suspected road kill (and there were several) but we didn’t find our beloved cat. I looked toward the Interstate, but decided against following Bryan’s route all the way to Lincoln. There was no way Martin could have held on all the way to the Interstate, anyway . . .was there?It was a five-mile drive from our house.
He must have tumbled off and crawled into the ditch to die. We’d probably never know. I dried my tears and tried to comfort the kids, but they were inconsolable. Their beloved, quirky, gregarious cat was gone forever. How could he be otherwise?
We drove slowly home, but there was really no point in trying to lift everybody’s spirits. We sadly filed into the house, numb, and went back out to the front porch. I felt empty. Martin’s last, fatal ride. How he loved to ride in and lately, on a car! Good ole’ Martin!
We sat there glumly, the kids still sniffling quietly, all of us in a bit of a shock, I guess, and then we heard it.
That loud, abrasive meaow.
Martin’s loud, abrasive meaow. The kids jumped up and flew out the door, and ran to greet our travelling cat, our cat only possessing eight lives, now, who was walking cavalierly down the middle of the driveway. He stopped when the kids got to him, and permitted them to gush over him and exclaim and hug and dance, for a few moments, before going his own way, purring loudly.
Bryan had a bit of ‘splainin’ to do when he got home that night. It appears that he just assumed the silly cat would jump off as soon as he started down the driveway. It must be pointed out here and now that he assumed incorrectly.
But Martin never did ‘fess up to how he was able to stay on top of a car going full-speed down the road, or at what point he tumbled or jumped off, and how he survived. He lived out the rest of his life as incorrigible as ever, and as gregarious and sociable as ever, and he continued to sneak into cars at any opportunity, and sit on top of them as long as he could get away with it.
I think Bryan still reflexively checks the top of his car before he takes off in the morning for work, though. Some things you never quite get over.
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