Saturday, June 12, 2010

Kitty Cat Stone: Champaign 1995

When we first moved into the little rented house on Miller Street there was an old man who lived in the house directly behind us. As I did yard work and as a couple of years passed, I talked to him a bit but never really got to know him. He lived alone and kept to himself, as best I could tell. I did notice that he had a cat. This was a big Tom cat, orange and long-haired. The cat--like the old man--kept to himself. It wasn't a mean cat or a nice cat, it was your classic independent cat.
Well, while in that house, we had our first child and then added another and we went about our business as a young family. We had two cats--M.R. and Jack--and then Jack got run over by a car on Church Street and then we had one cat who was low on the totem pole of attention because Fru and I had our baby daughters. But later on I did notice that I didn't see much of the old man anymore. I still saw his cat, but not him. Then, from our next door neighbors (who'd been there forever) I found out that the man had fallen ill and had been taken to live with his daughter in Ohio (or maybe Indiana). I believe that he then died--but am not sure. Yet, his cat was still around. No one had come to take him.
So, being who I was and still am, I started leaving food out for him. He appreciated that and got over his fear of me and would let me pet him and would come to see me when I was out in the back yard. And then winter came. The big Tom was still living outside and seemed to have someplace to sleep and keep from being frozen and I continued to feed him. But then the hard part of winter came--a big snow, below zero temps--and I thought, okay, I better get that cat inside somewhere, maybe my garage.
By then he trusted me enough to let me pick him up. So, after feeding him in the evening, I did just that. No problem. But when I went to take him inside our house, he didn't want to. He didn't scratch or bite, he just struggled a bit and showed his fear and displeasure, but I took him in anyway. I put him in the garage. He did not like this at all. I can't recall if I kept him there all night or what, but the cat felt that he had been captured and so I let him go, go out into the snow and frozen world and he appreciated that. And so for that winter and all the rest of our winters in Champaign, that was the arrangement: he was an outdoor cat no matter what.
Because we had little kids and because we had glass French Doors that opened up to our back yard and the big Tom would come up to those doors and sit there and look in and wait to be fed, we had to name him. So, I named him Kitty Cat Stone. The girls called him Kitty Cat Stone and we even had a song about him which I'm going to sing for you right now . . . (Joking--we had songs for everything back then, dumb little ditties that the girls loved). Anyway, I did end up building this gawd-ugly cat house for him so he at least had some shelter to sit in in the winter as he waited for me to feed him, but he was living somewhere--under a house or in a shed--that kept him alive in the winter. It was not unusual to wake up on a cold-bitter-cold snowy morning and turn on the light and see Kitty Cat Stone standing there at the window with ice sickles all around him. (Sort of like that.)
The thing was, we also had a squirrel that came to the back door to be fed. Her name was Lula and she would eat from your hand. The squirrel was not afraid of the cat and sometimes both of them would sit right next to each other and look into the house. Both were hungry. I don't know why Kitty Cat Stone left Lula alone--he was much bigger than her--but such is the nature of free food. I also recall that, being a cat, sometimes he would vomit up his food and it would freeze there on the porch and then, then, the starlings would find it and have a feeding frenzy over his frozen vomit. Yum!
When we left Champaign I informed both next door neighbors about Kitty Cat Stone. I gave the woman next to us what cat food I had and the gawd-ugly cat house. She said she'd feed him, as did our other next door neighbors, the Christians (or something like that). And then we moved away, down to South Florida where there was no snow.
It was a few years later when Fru's sister--who lived in the same neighborhood in Champaign by then--sent us a clipping from the local paper, the News-Gazette. It was a photo and the photo was of a big orange cat on a porch in the snow, taken just down the block from our old house.
Of course it was Kitty Cat Stone. He was still alive. He was still living his independent life in the snow.

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