Thursday, November 5, 2015

Tennessee Tuxedo

Tennessee Tuxedo
photo by Pam Williams

Amid the sounds of the crickets and peepers, plaintive meows wafted in the windows on the warm summer breeze. Looking out, I watched a large, black cat serenade his way through our yard. With distinguished white markings on his chest and face, he looked like he was wearing elegant evening wear. I named him "Tennessee Tuxedo”, after an old, similarly “dressed”, cartoon character.

Arrogant and brawny, Tennessee patrolled the woods and farmland that bordered our home, challenging any other cats that happened across his territory. He slept wherever he grew tired and hunted when necessary.

Tennessee claimed no owner and none claimed him. Aloof and independent, he kept his distance, disappearing into the woods in a flash if he saw or heard people coming.

I began putting out tempting morsels in the hopes of befriending him. Eventually, he condescended to come up on our porch to eat—but only if we were inside the house with the door shut.

Tennessee would have preferred that we leave scraps at the edge of the yard. However raccoon, opossum and red fox inhabited the abandoned apple orchard bordering our property, and whoever got there first fiercely defended their right to the meal. After a while Tennessee began arriving early and would disappear into the trees just long enough for me to put out the food.

Over the years, I noticed telltale signs of combat—an ear with a ragged tear, a scratch across Tennessee’s nose, or a missing patch of fur. Though I wanted to take him for treatment, regretfully, he was too wary to even approach a trap.

As Tennessee aged, the old cat could be seen hunched up in the leaves about ten feet into the woods, paws tucked under and eyes closed. In winter, he spent time in an old shed on our property, so I put food and water there.

I enjoyed watching this eccentric character. Though he still kept his distance, I sensed he now knew someone cared for him. His casual, aloof attitude only thinly veiled a lonely, fearful old cat that had never trusted anyone.

One spring evening, Tennessee didn't show up at supper time. I wasn’t too concerned at first—he occasionally roamed away to parts unknown for a couple of days. He usually came back from these crusades with a few new scrapes and bruises. After a week, however, I asked around if anyone had seen him, but true to his illusive character, my lonely, stand-offish friend simply vanished.

A few weeks later a stray mother cat chose our shed to birth her kittens. In Tennessee’s former digs, nestled among a marmalade, a tortoise, and a calico, lay a miniature likeness of the black and white feline. The old fellow may have disappeared, but he had left a gift—a tiny tuxedo-ed legacy.


Excepted from Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Cat's Life, "King of the Wild", ©2012 Pamela D. Williams