A woman's lifelong battle against generations of feral cats. Written in my native dialect.
I guess I must have been about nine years old that one particular summer when Grandma Sary Holloway came to visit. Grandma smelled like spearmint. I always liked that smell, and me and Grandma got along just fine. She had her a cane she used to walk with, all bright and shiny, and made of hickory wood. Grandma had herself a sense of humor a boy such as myself liked mighty fine.
I remember one day Daddy told me to go down to John D. Taylor's store and carry back Grandma a couple of twists of Shoe Peg. Now, the fact is, I was uneducated concerning the twists and turns of an old woman's habits. I didn't know me a thing about Shoe Peg.
I went on down to Taylor's store, and directly Ol' John D. Taylor handed me what looked like a couple of dried up, giant pretzels, all stretched out and kind of twisted off their axis just a little bit. I worried over that stuff all the way home. It smelled like a mixed up jumble of old spider webs and licorice sticks. After a while, I reckoned it was some kind of medicine. I was a skipping, and a jumping, and a singing me a song when I hove in sight of the house. There on the front porch sat Grandma, in that old, cane-backed rocking chair we were in the possession of. A sweet, little, old, white bonnet was a sitting on her head, and she was a singing, The Old Rugged Cross.
She spied me in another step or two, and hailed me.
"Come on over here, Jamie honey. I reckon you got my Shoe Peg, didn't you?"
"I shore did, Grandma."
"Be quick, boy. I reckon you want this stick of horehound candy I have here in my hand, don't you?"
I put me a little extra perk in my steps right about then, and directly I was a handing that Shoe Peg to Grandma."
"Come a little closer, boy," she said.
I come up right agin her, and she squeezed my hand and hugged me for a minute or two as she slipped several pieces of horehound candy into my hand. I watched then, as Grandma put one of them twists of Shoe Peg into her mouth and started in a worrying it this a way and that, till a right good sized chunk of it came off into her mouth. Then she said, "Wanna chaw, boy?"
She put the rest of that twist, and the other one into the deep pockets of her dress. She smiled at me as she started in a chewing on that stuff, and I was a hoping she wasn't gonna repeat her offer. I was to learn in a speck of time that Grandma had her another, much better use for that Shoe Peg.
Down under the wooden planked floor of that porch Mama's one-eared, calico cat was in the midst of serving tea to two gentlemen callers. Grandma frowned on such as that something awful. Directly, them two gentlemen set in to a fighting and a clawing and a sending an unholy rhapsody of emotional yowls a wafting up through the cracks in the porch floor. As they did so, Grandma's mouth worked that Shoe Peg faster and faster, and a sudden gleam came in her pretty, blue eyes.
"Aint nary one of them cats yourn is they, son?"
"They's strays, grandma.
"Them cats just ain't no good, son. They don't belong to nobody, just come around a messing in a old woman's business. Seems they come around a flaunting their nastiness right in front of me, cause they know I am old and can't be a chasing them, nor a protecting my property from their foul dispositions."
"Sometime or another, I expect they are gonna collect their comeuppance. Don't get me wrong son. I'm right tolerable of cats as a species. Some of them are downright pretty, but a woman has got to protect herself agin a passel of cats that move right in on her property without an invitation, a befouling everything in sight, and a making a general nuisance of themselves."
"I recollect one early Tuesday morning when I was sitting at the breakfast table eating some homemade gravy with sausage mixed in. I was enjoying the new morning sun a warming my bones when I heard a noise on the front porch. Well, I get up and run out there to see what I could see, but nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary. Perturbed, I went back to the kitchen to finish my breakfast. Not a thing untoward happened for the first few minutes, but as I was forking the last bite of sausage toward my mouth, things seemed to get a little fuzzy in my vision, and I realized I was fixing to start in a chewing on a feline hairball."
"I declared me a war agin cats right at that moment son."
"Reason I come out here on the porch, Jamie boy, was to rock a little bit in this chair, and to say me a prayer or two, but them cats been agitating me ever since I first set down here. I seen them go under the porch. One of them is a big, old, black cat of no particular persuasion and that othern, he's almost white. Peers to me, I oughta know what kind of cat that almost whiten is. I 'spect it'll come to me afore long."
Well, them two cats I was a calling gentlemen just a little while ago, can't rightly say they were. I formed me a second opinion on that matter right quick when they came a swarming and a thumping and a clawing out little batches of fur from each other . . . come right out from under that porch and up the steps, twisted up together tighter than one of them Shoe Peg things Grandma had in her pocket, a interrupting my conversation with Grandma. They spit and clawed and jumped, a fighting like tomorrow was yesterday afore they settled down right there on the porch between Grandma's feet, purely to catch a holt of their breaths, I reckon.
Grandma looked at me, and I looked at her, and presently a grin I would have paid twelve dollars just to see one time come to birth on Grandma's face. She worked herself out of that rocker and stood up, all the while a fixing a premeditated glare on that almost white cat.
"Seems it done come to me, son." Grandma said. "Ain't many of them almost white cats around this country anymore, but I reckon I've laid eyes on a few of them, time and agin."
That almost white cat was almost pure white, 'cept a little, light brown colored pattern right there between his eyes. He was down there a licking his hurt feelings, staring innocently up at me and Grandma.
"Take yourself a right good look at that almost white cat, son. It's most likely the only one you will ever see in your lifetime. Them no-account things just can't seem to thrive in my vicinity. Fact is, I don't think them almost white cats like Shoe Peg tobacco, son. That'n is the first one of them I ever seen around these parts."
"Come a time, they was a batch of them over on Chloe Creek, but one after the othern, ever one of them almost white cats received a baptism and skedaddled, a hightailing it for Mingo County, West Virginia. That'n you're a looking at, son . . . Seems I have seen that same unchristian like expression on his face afore this. I suspect I might have baptized him a time or two, but none of them ever took root and thrived. That almost white cat you're a looking at son, has took water from the Lord and has slunk under that porch a thinking Missus Sarah Holloway would not recognize the fact that he's a backslider.
Grandma let loose of a right spectacular grin right about then, as if she had her a secret she was a keeping. I could see myself the birth pangs of a cackle in her eyes, a wiggling itself this a way and that, a trying to get itself out to the light of day, but Grandma was a holding it back. Grandma was up to something, I could tell.
"Son," said Grandma directly, "I know your Mama is a pure D fine Hellfire Baptist of the Old Regular Baptist affiliation, and I love her like my own daughter, but a boy like you ort to have got himself a sense of humor from his grandma. Reckon you could keep it a secret from her was I to take me a notion to baptize that almost white cat?"
Right about then Grandma reached her hand into her dress pocket as she said, "Have another stick of this here horehound candy, son."
"Grandma," I said, as I started in a licking on that horehound, "I wouldn't say me a word ifen you was to baptize every almost white cat on Turkey Creek and half of the ones over to Williamson, West Virginia. Me and cats been allergic to one another ever since God showed them how to hide their tae in the dirt right where a boy like me might be a playing cars and trucks and place his hand in it. Grandma, when an uncalled for event like that happens to a feller, he'll be a puking and a gagging all day long. The only reason I tolerate that calico cat down yonder under the porch is because she belongs to my Mama. Don't let on, but I got myself a pile of throwing rocks under this porch a carrying the names of every cat on Turkey Creek."
Grandma looked at me real solemn like, and commenced a talking.
"Let's pray a little bit son, while I'm a getting the water ready for that almost white cat."
"Dear Lord, we ask you to forgive us, me and this boy here, for our thoughts, and for what we are fixing to do. Lord, I reckon it is plain to you that neither one of us is particularly partial to cats, 'specially this boy here. And you know in your heart that I can not tolerate a bunch of almost white cats a follering me around, a burying their poop in my tomato patch, and a coughing up their befoulments in the seat of my rocking chair."
Grandma looked as if she was a getting ready to have her some kind of fit there for a minute, then she let loose of that laugh she had been a holding back afore. That cackle worked its way out of her eyes and was born again into a full-fledged laugh as it took in a bouncing along ever curve on Cold Fork Holler, a sounding to me sweeter than a dogwood fiddle. I waited as Grandma finished a saying her I'm sorrys, and started in a praying agin.
"I know, Lord, it ain't a fitten thing to be a asking for forgiveness afore the deed is done, then a going right along and committing the sin, but Lord, that almost white cat is lying there almost begging to be made a Christian. Lord, ifen it ain't in your heart to be a laughing right along with the both of us when the moment comes, I hope you'll find it in your heart to understand why me and this boy here is a laughing. Amen."
Directly, Grandma gave a final chew on that Shoe Peg tobacco and turned so she was a facing that almost white cat. Afore that moment that cat was a looking unperturbed, but a slow expression of apprehension was beginning to cast its shadow acrost its face as it and Grandma looked at each other.
Grandma made an almost imperceptible sound deep down in her throat and I seen her cheeks puff out just a little bit, that almost white cat seen it too, and started in a getting to its feet. A dreadful look became stuck on that almost white cat's face as it was rising from the porch. I think Grandma's cheeks puffing out had jogged its memory, and it realized it was in imminent danger of suffering its second baptism.
That almost white cat was fast. Yes sir, quickest cat I ever heared tell of. But Grandma surprised me, she was faster.
While that cat was only thinking of whirling around in its tracks and a getting out of Grandma's church, Grandma jumped straight up in the air, and while she was still airborne, she hawked out a blue ribbon winning gob of Shoe Peg tobacco juice and spat out a long string of that foul concoction, which proceeded to fling itself through the silence in slow motion, till directly it affixed itself into a tremendous splat straight atwixt that almost white cat's eyeballs.
It was thigh high pandemonium when that gob scattered itself into a thousand little droplets of Shoe Peg tobacco juice and made its initial contact with that almost white cat's eyeballs. When that vicious gob went in for a landing, that almost white cat went into a set of the most peculiar convulsions a feller ever did see, and started in a letting out what sounded to me like a string of glory hallelujahs, then he went screeching and caterwauling down that road a wobbling and a spitting on his way to join his brethren in Mingo County, West Virginia. Ever now and agin, as that bewildered cat's feet carried him pell-mell away from the proximity of Grandma, he would pause in his journey to throw a curse over his shoulder at his antagonist.
Come to think of it, maybe it was meowelujahs that almost white cat was letting go of . . .
"Grandma," I said. "Thank you, that was the best baptism I ever saw."
Grandma just smiled and said, "I think I was partaking of either Brown Mule or Union Workman when I baptized that cat afore, neither one of them two won't settle and take root permanently on a almost white cat like Shoe Peg will. I reckon that almost white cat will stay baptized this time."
"Grandma," I said. "That almost white cat ain't almost white no more, now he's just mostly white."
"Reckon so." Grandma said as she handed me a stick of horehound candy.
Copyright Jasen Holloway