Friday, March 31, 2006

Tom Garner

I was driving down Cesar Chavez Street on the way home today and my attention was snagged by a cozy front porch scene. It wasn't anything special - just a glider covered with a quilt, inviting you to lounge the afternoon away.

I'm not sure why, but my thoughts sprang immediately back to my grandparents' house in Gladewater. Not the house where they spent their retirement years, but the house where they lived when I was a child. It wasn't the porch but the general architectural style of the house that prodded my memory.

The house was just a simple frame bungalow style. Nothing outstanding and I don't remember much about the interior. I remember things about the yard. There was a storm cellar in the backyard, a thing that was unheard of in the part of the state where we lived. I don't think they ever had to use it for the purpose for which it was intended. It was usually opened and I would sometimes explore the cool, dark recesses where my grandmother stored jars of preserves.

I remember the railroad tracks that ran behind the house. There was a steep incline at the back of the property and you would see the top of the trains as they passed. A fence ran along the back of the yard, protecting you from a sudden tumble down the bank onto the tracks. At one corner of that fence was an old animal cage where Rascal lived. Rascal was a black and white cat of incredibly bad disposition. I think he was about 110 years old. He was one of the few cats of my life that I was never able to charm. I can remember him visiting with my grandfather, but the rest of the world could go hang as far as he was concerned. I remember that Rascal was still around when they moved, but he was a mighty old cat at the time and died soon afterwards.

There was a second cat in residence, a calico named Rainbow. She was friendlier than Rascal, but not by much. She had the attitude that she was better than everyone else and expected everyone to treat her like royalty. Which my grandmother generally did, serving her chicken necks on demand and waiting on her hand and foot.

I've always had a fondness for cats and it was hard to accept that those two just didn't give a flip whether I liked them or not. They sure didn't like me. I've written before about the long period I spent with my grandparents one summer. It was a lonesome few weeks and I craved a playmate, but those two cats were having none of it.

Next door lived an older couple, about my grandparents' ages, and Mae and my grandmother were good friends. She was a sweet lady and she always welcomed me when I wandered over to their yard looking for something to do. When I discovered that she was feeding a stray kitten, I became a frequent visitor and the kitten and I became fast friends. He was a little gray striped alley cat with a personality that wouldn't quit. We played together and it wasn't long before I was in love with the nameless kitten.

When it came time to go home, I couldn't stand the thought of leaving the kitten. My parents were willing to let me adopt him, but the problem was that Mae loved him as much as I did and she didn't want to let him go. Bless her heart, she finally caved in to the sad little face I was wearing and told me to give him a good home.

The task of naming him was difficult. Nothing seemed to fit. Finally, it was suggested that we call him the traditional "Tom". I agreed, but for some reason, we decided that if he were going to be named Tom, then he should be named for Mae's husband, Tom Garner.

I wrote Mae a thank you note and told her the kitten had been christened Tom Garner. She told my grandmother that she was so tickled about that that she almost had an "accident" right there on the porch as she read the letter.

Tom Garner was my first experience with a pet that was truly mine. He loved the whole family, but he was my cat. We had a great time together and he stuck to me like glue. He was one of the all-time great cats. Mother even fell under his spell and kept liver on hand to feed him, even though it was expensive cat food.

Unfortunately his time with us was short. He ran afoul of a neighbor's dog when he was only about two years' old. It was a devastating loss for the entire family. I didn't think I would ever love another cat like I loved Tom Garner.

Those special, one of a kind cats come along once in a blue moon. I've been lucky to know a few of them. Tom Garner. Tinker. Zonker. You learn to treasure them for the brief time you have them in your life. And mourn them forever when they're gone. And pray that you will be lucky enough to find another one to love and to have love you back.


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