A story about a boy, a cat, and their rivalry.
In my adolescent years, my mother worked two jobs to provide for my younger brother and me. My Granma lived two blocks away. My brother and I spent many hours at Granma’s house, which I thought was the greatest place in the world to be. Granma was a youthful, nurturing, loving and caring person. She made everyone around her feel good. Mom, on the other hand, a single, head of household, seemed to be angry and tired most of the time. In my mind all she did was work, go to church, and fuss. If I had a choice, which I did not, I would rather have lived with Granma.
Everyone in South Philadelphia called Granma “Able Mabel.” I didn’t know where her nickname came from until I did a little investigating. I was surprised to learn how it was that Granma lived so well. She owned a big, three-story, five bedroom house, with no mortgage. She never held a regular job like everyone else in the family. I learned she had been close to “Bumpy” Johnson when she and Mom lived in New York City. “Bumpy” set her up in the “Numbers” business in South Philadelphia. She expanded her entrepreneurial activities with weekend “rent” parties twice a month.
I remember those weekend “rent” parties with remarkable clarity. All day on Fridays she cleaned and prepared chitterlings – ungh - along with collard greens and potato salad. Saturday mornings the neighborhood came alive with the aroma of her Southern-fried chicken teasing the palates of anyone passing. A hand-drawn sign on the front stoop invited folks to come back for dinner and to party. Come Saturday afternoon into the wee hours of Sunday, foot traffic through Granma’s was endless. I had chores to perform. In addition to taking out the trash, the three third-floor bedrooms, rented by the hour, came with room service – me, to fetch two-dollar pictures of liquor, food or cigarettes, as requested. I always kept the change. Come Monday, I was on my way to becoming a “rich” kid on the way to my first million.
One summer evening a stray cat showed up at the kitchen backdoor, which Granma kept open to let folks exit after picking up their five-dollar dinners. It was a young, semi-feral and filthy creature with an unpleasant used motor-oil aroma. The animal sported numerous blood spots from her flea companions. She was as frail as a rail. Granma swooped her up, took her downstairs to the basement bathroom with some milk, chitterlings and fried chicken crammed into a bowl. She closed the door to keep the cat from being trampled by folks down there partying.
By the time I came downstairs the next morning, last night's filthy feline had been thoroughly cleaned, groomed and fed more chitterlings and chicken. She was lying full flat across Granma’s lap, with a smile on her face. She appeared to be at peace with the world. “That’s my spot,” I said out loud. She growled at me. I reached to move the snowy white Persian cat from my Favorite nesting place. The little monster retaliated with quick swipes of a newly manicured paw across my forearm. I reacted with a “bad” word. Able Mabel laughed. So did that darn cat.
I named Granma’s self-appointed Guardian “Billie the Kid”. She was fast on the draw, and accurate. To this day, my forearm scars are living proof of Billie’s quickness and her role as Granma’s guardian. My spot on Granma’s lap had been stolen, lost to me forever. My inability to outdraw“ Billie the Kid” and my dislike of her, robbed me of my weekend income. It was all for the best. I would have been a terrible “Numbers Czar”.
© L. Michael Black, 7/2015, Pasadena, CA