Friday, February 08, 2008
Start me up, Sniffy the Kitty
Humans don't own cats I'm told. It's the other way around. So, here's the story of the last cat that owned me, Sniffy the Kitty. Saying it so makes it even more appropriate because Sniffy was a very naughty kitty and much like his auntie, Spitty, who lived in the fiberglass under the trailer house where I was raised. The High Plains of Southeastern Colorado is a pretty barren place, some would even say God Forsaken, and it's probably true since it was literally East of the mountainous Eden one would visualize upon hearing the word - Colorado. Others would describe the blue grama-buffalo grass prairie as being just about beautiful. The truth is always in the middle, you know, so my cynically bitter with just a twinge of happiness autobiography should probably then be, "Little Doublewide on the Prairie".
My stepfather, Dick, was a farmer. Farming more than 160 acres of land earned an enterprising soul a deferment from the Draft because, as it turns out, both are equal forms of involuntary servitude and slavery. We raised wheat, Milo, cattle and pigs on the farm. We always had a dog. Our first one was a German Shepherd and a tramp, so all of the succeeding generations were part Coyote. There were other wild visitors who came to eat things we raised on the farm like rabbits, antelope, deer ... and kangaroo rats ... and the Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes that ate them.
My mother had always wanted a porch and wouldn't stop until she got one. So my stepfather built one for her. He used a bunch of cinder blocks for it, unintentionally creating the only spot warmed by the sun for miles around. It turns out that the cold blooded Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes really cherish those sorts of structures, so every summer day we had a buzzing welcoming committee at the front door. It was Hell on the traveling salesmen, but since our nearest neighbor was just a few miles away, it didn't dampen our socializing much at all. For some reason, my stepfather was deathly afraid of snakes with their flickering tongues and strange, scaly bodies. He was also afraid of chickens with their three-toed feet, savage gumption and feathers ... but I digress. When he saw two of the pigs in the pen fighting over the corpse of a snake that they had killed, he let all of the pigs loose to live in the yard. They were hard on the buffalo grass and liked to eat the garden hose. My stepfather fed the pigs in the pens but during the cold Colorado winters, they preferred to live right there under our happy little doublewide.
My stepfather wasn't much of a plumber, so when he cross connected the hot and cold water lines, it made for several unnaturally warm spots under the trailer and the pigs congregated there. It had some upsides too, don't get me wrong. Since the cold water line to the toilet now was filled with hot water, your backside was always nice and cozy during that morning constitutional no matter how stupidly cold it was outside. The downside was that since the wheels of the doublewide went flat and the trailer wasn't mounted on blocks, we lost a little elevation over the years. It would seem that the trailer was about three inches shorter than the average standing height of healthy Poland-China sow. So that morning walk to the toasty warm commode was done by stepping over the humps that the pigs backs had raised in the fiberboard floor of the Little Doublewide on the Prairie. Sometimes the humps were still in the process of being raised, and you'd hear a pig down there squealing "get offa my back you heartless monkey bastard."
Connectedness. Consequence. Cause and Effect.
Pigs "taste test" their environment. That environment included the cats, so that's why Spitty the Kitty lived in a hidey-hole bungalow in the fiberglass under the Little Doublewide on the Prairie. Spitty would scratch at just about anything that passed by. Over the years, the fiberglass got into her respiratory system and she developed a rattling wheeze meow. One Spring day, my stepfather called a plumber out to finally dis-cross connect the hot and cold water lines under the trailer. The plumber was fat, bold and brave. He told me that he wasn't afraid of rattlesnakes because he had developed a slide move technique in the Army and that talent got him where he needed to be under trailer houses like mine without disturbing any of the wildlife. The plumber laid on his back and inchwormed his way under the trailer toward THE spot where God himself had banished Satan into a little plumbing Hell. Unfortunately plumbing Hell was just north of Spitty the Kitty's hidey-hole bungalow. Spitty gave her rattling wheeze warning, and the plumber kept a coming. No, he didn't stop until she reached out and sank her claws into his fish white belly. Then he came out of there like a shot. He never came back to post a bill for his labor. In fact, no plumber ever came back, and we had toasty warm backsides until the day we moved.
When we moved, it was downhill to Kansas. About a thousand feet in elevation downhill to be exact, but it was much closer to my stepfather's mother's place. My step-grandmother Blanche was the first Earth Mother type I'd ever known and just about the most wonderful woman ever to grace the short grass prairie of the American West. She made filled cookies that were absolutely to-die-for good. She was also the only person I'd ever known to have a wax fruit display. She liked them so much that there were wax apples in nearly every room. She told us that they couldn't be eaten, and one of my brothers took that for a by God challenge, as he was apt to do, only to lose a wobbly tooth in proving her right.
Sniffy the Kitty was born a poor black kitty, a runt that no one wanted. My stepfather felt sorry for him and brought him home. Young Sniff was nursed into health and soon grew into a strong and prosperous cat. When it was time, Sniffy lost his testicles, as all pets should be either spayed or neutered to prevent overpopulation. My stepfather personalized the surgery for some reason and thought that such a loss would prove psychologically unbearable for Proud Sniff, so he asked the vet to replace the missing nards with some kind of substitute. This being Kansas and all, there just not were enough nards to go around. So he looked around the shop for something of equal value as a replacement. All he could find were two little pink plastic baby Jesus figures and a canine "prosthesis". My stepfather couldn't go for having the tiny pink and welcoming arms our Savior forever adorning the back of Young Sniff even though it would have been at a substantial discount. Instead, he chose the dog-sized faux-nards and instantly made Proud Sniff the vainest kitty in Stevens County, Kansas.
Sniffy had some bad habits. He loved to eat human food from the trash. He would dive right in, wallow and eat to his fill. Then he had to go outside and de-stink. One day, my stepmother (yes, I didn't finish with the same parents as I started with - through no fault of my own - it's a story I don't care to tell, so don't ask.) prepared a filet of beef, you know, the kind where it is important to tie it with string so the whole thing cooks more evenly. It was a delicious meal indeed, especially so for Sniffy the Kitty. He discovered the chunks of fat, drippings of gravy and all that meat-flavored string. A day or so later, Proud Sniff had a little white nub hanging out of his midnight black backside. One of my brothers, always attentive to details like that, asked my stepmother was it was. She said that it was just the string from the roast and not to worry because it would pass "naturally". My brother decided he couldn't wait for that and he just had to pick that nit offa Sniffy the Kitty. He grabbed the string and immediately had Sniffy undivided attention. He pulled on it. The string came out a little and Angry Sniff growled like a wildcat. My brother pulled a little harder on the string and Sniffy tensed up, digging his little kitty claws into the carpet. Now my brother had worked with string before. He was something of an expert really. He had a stubborn baby tooth that wouldn't come out, and he asked me to pull it for him. I am the oldest of six, so that sort of thing was apparently my responsibility. I wiggled on the tooth and my brother cried like a schoolgirl, so I told him that he had to pull it himself and that the easiest way was to tie one end of a string around the tooth and other end to a doorknob. Then you just slam the door and presto out comes the tooth. Wouldn't you know that he popped that old tooth out on the first try. That recollection gave my brother an idea. Maybe he just oughtta yank that string out of Sniffy the Kitty just like he was pulling out a tooth. My brother pulled the string taught and Nervous Sniff clenched that carpet as hard as he could. Then in one smooth motion my brother yanked that knotted string like he was pull starting the lawn mover. Sniffy the Kitty got power from all four churning legs, and the angry fist-knotted string popped right out Sniffy's butt. He was out of the house like a rocket. He climbed a tree and didn't come down for about three days.
Now I've read on the internet that there are some people who like that sort of thing, but from Sniffy the Kitty's reaction, I can't imagine why.