I was born, thanks to the careful preparation of my dear mother, on a warm bed of straw in a red barn just outside the town of Dillon, Montana. Though chilly, the old barn, filled with its earthy smells, was a wonderful place for me, my three brothers, and two sisters to climb, hunt, and play which we did frequently to the point of exhaustion. It was also there that I enjoyed my first warm experiences with human-kind in the person of White-haired Grandma. A female of the species, she'd often visit us in the barn, bring food and drink, and hold us close to her heart.
When I was approximately 4 months old, Judy, who often came to talk and nuzzle with White-haired Grandma, put me and two of my brothers in her car and together we roared north through the vast odorific spaces to a barn she had outside Kalispell in Flathead County. It was Judy who first started calling me Jimmy. My brothers, for appropriate reasons I'm told, came to be known as Pop Corn and Chuck Norris. Judy was kind and generous like White-haired Grandma and with hardly no prodding at all, perhaps just one or two casual meows, she would pick me up -- I do so love being held -- and carry me around the house with her until we found ourselves in the kitchen. "Snack time," she'd say, then she'd get something for herself and, of course, something for me. And Judy had many friends -- Barbara, Helen, Willa, Kari -- all of whom were easily induced to give me those requisite shots of lovin' with cat cookie chasers.
But Judy was young and always had somewhere to run to and something to do, so I never really had a sense that she was destined to become my "new mother," so to speak. Still, it was a sad day when I learned I was leaving her and my unruly brothers, though, in retrospect, it was clearly the best thing that could have happened.
Even before our neighbor, Ron, who's always putting a filthy spin on things, told us the answer to our problem was a "ball-bearing" mousetrap, which I, of course, at first took to mean the latest in mouse trapping paraphernalia available at any Cardinal True Value, I had been thinking about the possibility of getting a cat because one of the girls I worked with at the adult care-center had suggested it when I brought up the subject of gophers and what they were doing to our newly planted yard.
Only thing was, Jay hated cats, or, for that matter, any and all animals. He said it went back to his mother, who lived her whole life in fear of one thing or another, and his uneasy imprisonment in her womb.
So, when this girl at work, I think her name was Judy, yes, Judy, told us she had to get rid of her cats because she was moving into town and her landlord didn't allow pets, I asked the pertinent questions, like were they indoor or outdoor cats, were they fixed, had they had their shots, and could they catch gophers.
This is how she described them. The white one, Popcorn, liked to roam and often stayed away from home for two or three days at a time. He probably wouldn't do much to solve our local gopher problem, she admitted, not unless he bumped into one of the rodents when he was coming or going. Chuck Norris, a yellow "tiger cat", she called him, had gained his reputation by busting through window screens when he decided it was time to come back into the house. "No, thank you," was all I said regarding him.
"Then," she said, with a woeful, apologetic look on her face, "there's Jimmie. He's kind of different."
"How different?" I asked.
"Well, he's part Siamese which is why he kinda talks a lot."
"And he likes to eat," she added. "And he likes to be held. My one girlfriend really loves him but she can't have a cat because her mother's allergic."
"What about mice?" I inquired.
"I don't know," puzzled Judy. "She's probably allergic to them, too."
"I mean Jimmy! Does he like to hunt?"
"Oh, yes!" she declared. "Jimmy's an excellent mouser. My gramma said he learned from his mom."
And that was all there was to it. She brought Jimmy into work with her next day and I took him home. I remember thinking she was right about him being a yakker because he never shut up once during our 15 mile ride out to the house. In time, I would learn that even more than he disliked cars, he hated being trapped in cardboard boxes.
I should say that, though I had mentioned in passing the subject of us getting a cat, I hadn't said anything to Jay about Jimmie in particular. As luck would have it, next day was his birthday, so I decided to pass off our ball-bearing visitor as a very practical surprise gift.
I was held captive, once --sweat was pourin' down my face and my lungs were only half working -- in a narrow stairway that led to a second story apartment in one of those converted upstairs-downstairs two-family houses that are pretty common in neighborhoods dropping in class, by an ugly little bitch of a dog sicced on me by the nasty old bag who owned the house and lived downstairs and let the yelpin' terror out into the hall when she heard me pass on the way up to collect a telephone as was my duty since I was working for the phone company at the time and trying to execute a disconnect order which back in those days meant you had to unhook the line at the pole and reclaim the phone which was considered the property of Ma Bell. My phone company van was parked at the curb so there really couldn't be any doubt as to the nature of my business and, since the door that led outside was closed, it obviously wasn't simply a matter of the lady letting out her dog to "do it's business," as they say, or "take a dump," or "kill a tree." No, the lady's only intention was to have her terrier terrorize me.
I should add that I had a history with this lady, her family, and her dogs, which is why I almost suspect she recognized me and unleashed the mutt deliberately. For one thing, as a kid, her house being a block and a half from the house where I did most of my growing up, I had often walked by the place on my way up and down the hill which led downtown where most of the local action was. Back then she had a mean and motley looking gray Chihuahua named Rags that almost choked itself to death whenever I walked by the house because she had it on this rope that stretched clear out to the edge of the sidewalk and, though it often pretended not to be interested, it would always wind up charging full bore, yelpin' like a banshee, and scaring me half to death. (In case you're wondering, as I often do, how I could allow myself to be ambushed time after time and why I persisted in taking that same path past Rags when I could have walked on the other side of the street or taken other routes downtown, I can only say it goes beyond having a lousy memory. Being what my father liked to call "a queer duck," I had, early on, evolved into an extremely introverted and self-absorbed kind of kid, less conscious of the outside world than I should have been, especially when on foot and alone and headed downtown. Besides, as unpleasant as the encounters were, it just never occurred to me that it might be possible to eliminate them.)
The other place where our lives, the old lady's and mine, crossed involved a grandson of hers, Billy Van Arlen, who, along with Bobby Peyton, a friend of his, who eventually became a cop and who was about ten years older than me, interceded in a fight I was having with another of their shit-kicking relations, a cousin, I think, Calvin Lipton Jones, III, who everybody called Chipper, who happened to be in my grade at school, and who I was playing football with when we got into this fight over who knows what and I was boxing the shit out of when Van Arlen and Peyton butted in, pushing me to the ground and holding me there until Skippy could get his legs around my belly in a scissors hold. I coulda kicked Chipper's ass that day and still could, probably, and for the longest time I hated Van Arlen and Peyton for interfering. But then Peyton was officially declared an asshole and got kicked off the force and Billy Van Arlen died from brain cancer leaving behind a young wife and kids who apparently thought a lot of him so I went on with my own business and tried to let the grudge die too. Besides, I'd done a lot of things in my day I'd rather not be remembered for.
Anyway, I'm at the top of the narrow stairway, sweating wet and breathing fast and shallow, with this vile, ugly, brown and white bitchin' terrier of a dog barking and running and hopping around and barking and charging up three or four steps then dropping back down, charging up, backing down, always with its eyes on me and always barking like it hated me for living, something it got from the old lady, no doubt, who probably didn't care much for Italians or any people for that matter who had leapfrogged her clan on the social ladder.
Of course, shaking like a mother with an invisible boot pressing against my chest and sweat running everywhere, down my neck and back and into my eyes, I wasn't thinking much about incidentals. You'd have thought I was facing a grizzly sow instead of a puny little shit of a dog. If it was, as people are always saying, possible to have the "living shit" scared out of you, shit would've been sliding down those stairs like Vesuvius and my attacker would've been thoroughly dead and eliminated by the flow. But, unfortunately, it isn't, at least not to that degree.
I had knocked on the upstairs door and yelled "Telephone man," enough times to be pretty sure no one was home, but there was no question at all of leaving, not with that dog down there barking and bouncing around, so I kept on knocking and calling out, "Telephone man," hoping the old bitty would eventually remember the appropriate bible passage and cut me a break and bring in her frigging dog before I turned into a shitty streak.
I might not have escaped except for the fact that my fear of the dog was eventually overpowered by my anger toward the old woman, not to mention a considerable amount of embarrassment, so I yelled as loud as I could, "You better get your dog out of here, lady, before I kick the living shit out of it." And I really think I would have but she opened her door almost immediately and let the little demon back in.
That should give you an idea of how I used to be with animals. I'm not quite as bad now when it comes to dogs. Or cats either.
So, I'm in a box in a car heading God knows where with this lady I've known all of five minutes who's trying to comfort me, answering my cries of protest with, "I know, I know," me thinking, "If you know so much, why don't you let me out of this darn box and give me some breathing room?"
Naturally, I continued to squawk and she continues trying to be nice, saying, "Oh, I know, I know -- you don't like riding in cars, do ya?"
Which was true enough, but something I'd been doing a lot of lately and was semi-used to.
"It's the box, lady," I was trying to explain, sticking my paw through one of the crude air holes she had made and clawing the cardboard for emphasis.
"No, no, no," she scolded, slapping me as she did.
Finally, we get to her place. She brings me in and introduces me to "Jay" who lets out a horrified yelp and complains that I'm "too big" whereas I was only 7 months old and little more than half grown at the time. (Hard to believe that this same man would one day gather me up in his arms and hold me close to his heart and call me his "little baby boy." Hard to believe.) Then they give me a plate of food, for which I was grateful, and lock me in their garage, for which I wasn't. Welcome to your new home.
It took me three or four hours of continuous effort and most of the fur on my brow to finally nudge the garage door up enough to escape. Thank God for the two Siamese who lived next door! They sort of adopted me, kept me company, and showed me around the neighborhood.
When morning came, I was safely nestled in the woods across the road and laid low there even though my two abductors came around several times calling my name, "Jimmy. Jimmy. Here, Jimmy."
Of course, I didn't respond. Nothing personal, but I hadn't been all that impressed with the welcome they had given me, and wasn't sure I would be giving them another chance. I debated the question for three days but, alas, camping gets tired after a while, especially out in the country where there are all kinds of wild things you have to dodge, and, besides, I longed to take a nice long nap in a crib of my own.
They both were ridiculous. I mean really, at least to me they were. Like Jimmy wanting to go everywhere Jay went, even the bathroom, and raising a stink meow-meow-meowing if he couldn't because the door was closed and staying there, refusing to budge, until Jay finished doing whatever it is he does in there and finally came out. And it was just as bad when he went outside, Jimmy had to follow, and when Jay was working in the garden, there Jimmy was, "Fertilizing," or "Peeing in the peas," as Jay liked to say.
At night when we were watching TV Jimmy would curl up on Jay's lap which wasn't unusual as far as cat behavior goes but the way Jay would sit there motionless refusing to get up for hours on end because he didn't want to disturb his "buddy" was for me a little extreme. Of course, he didn't mind disturbing me, asking me jump up a thousand times to get this or get that. It was Jimmy's peace alone that had to maintained at all costs. The way Jay explained it was that he considered it a great honor to have Jimmy choose his lap to nap on, sort of like having a butterfly light on your shoulder, and you should prolong the magic moment as long as possible.
Then, there were our mornings. Most nights Jimmy chose to stay out, though Jay usually stayed up past midnight, keeping a lookout just in case he reversed himself and decided to come back in. When Jim finished prowling , he would come home and slip under the garage door, which was always kept open ten inches or so for that purpose, and then jump up onto the pickup and from there up into the rafters and the plywood platform complete with sleeping bag Jay had made up there for him. He'd normally stay there the rest of the night until he either heard the first groans from the bedroom or thought it was time for us to get up and going. Then he would jump down onto the pickup with a loud thump that worked as well as any alarm we'd ever had and let us know the master of the house was ready and waiting. Of course, yours truly was usually the first to actually get out of bed, so it was I who opened the door for him and gave him his scoop of tuna with some dry. But, before digging in, he'd march down the hall and into the bedroom and onto the bed and onto Jay's chest and meow and paw Jay, giving him just the slightest taste of claw, and keep that up until Jay got out of bed. And he wouldn't take no for an answer -- no way.
One time, and I really felt bad about this because it was my idea to get Katie from the shelter and that's how the whole mess started, Jimmy ran away. It wasn't something we did out of the blue, we had thought about it a while because we thought it would be nice for Jimmy to have a companion, especially when he was home alone. And from what we had read, it seemed that he would be more likely to get along with a female than another male, so that's what we got and named her Katie. Well, we were wrong, way wrong, and Jimmie was so unhappy about the addition that Jay came this close to bringing Katie back to the shelter, but he didn't. It was during the initial period of maladjustment that Jimmy went out one morning and didn't return all day which, for Jimmy, was very, very unusual because he was fixed and never disappeared for even a day, plus he so looked forward to his daily shots of tuna.
Well, of course, we were both very concerned. Jay whistled, which usually was all it took to get Jimmy home, and called, and walked through Harold Small's field where Jimmy liked to hunt, and even into Harold Small's woods another of Jimmy's favorite haunts. Whistling, calling, whistling, calling, but no Jimmy. At the time, Jay was putting a roof on our new shed, and I can remember him stopping every so often and looking out and calling and waiting and worrying, then working some more, and so on. Finally, he stopped working and told me he was going to give the woods another try. I didn't go with him but the way he tells it, he called and called and was about ready to give up when he thought he heard something, so he followed the sound which kept getting louder and more meow-like, and finally, there he was, not caught in a trap, or up a tree, or injured in any way, there he was, just squatting right in the middle of a path, answering every call of Jay's with a meow of his own. Jay says he picked him up, hugged him, then scolded him good, and told him never to do anything like that again and Jimmy followed him home, jaunting happily, like he had put us to the test and we had passed.
As for Jimmy, he kept his end of the bargain and never ran off again.
It's no mystery why people say, "Dogs are man's best friend." Regardless of what crappy feeling you happen to be mired in on a particular day, you can always count on your tail-wagging, tongue-lapping, unwaveringly faithful pooch being there to love, cherish, and obey you when you finally drag yourself back to the ol' hacienda.
Well, though a lot of people don't realize it, cats are capable of the same kind of devotion. My Jimmy Boy was. He loved me -- I mean really loved me -- and for almost ten years, he was the best friend I had in the world.
I know, people always exaggerate about how extraordinary their pets are, and, like doting grandparents, they thrill in the telling and retelling of those delicious anecdotes that are guaranteed to make even the kindest audience puke on their biscuits. But, my little buddy boy, my Jimmy, truly was special and truly was my best pal. People have trouble believing that, I guess, because the two of us couldn't have been more different -- him being an in-the-now extrovert; me, a ruminating intro.
I don't know exactly how he used to recognize our pickup, by sound, or sight, maybe, but back when we were living in Lake Blaine Jimmy always could tell when it was us driving up the lane toward our house. Sometimes, he'd intercept us at the head of our driveway, hopping into the lane from the woods across the way where he liked to wait, then, he'd lead us down the driveway, home. I can still see him -- marching, his head held high and bobbing in rhythm with his jaunty and unmistakably joyous gait. Though I would have to slow way down to keep from overrunning him, the delay never bothered me. It was comforting to know I was part of his happy cat world.
My world was different. Bruised by circumstance and intensely lonely, early on my focus had turned inward in about as un-cat-like a twist of consciousness a mind can take. In other words, I became a diehard brooder, spending untold hours... brooding... about a lot of things -- things that happened or didn't happen, things I did or didn't do. Things. Somehow, Jimmy understood instinctively that this kind of ruminating self-torture was bad, so he more or less made it his life's mission to call me back to the present whenever he sensed my mind was wandering through those dark mazes. Did I mention that he was an incessant yakker? A real blabbermouth, always meow-meow-meowing? I came to view his intruding chatter like the eye-opening slap across the kisser a Zen master dealt his student in a story I once read.
Not that he didn't lick my face when I held him in my arms. He did that, too, plus rub his head against my cheek, then he'd go limp and purr, and drool. Like I say, my Jimmy really loved me.
Then one day, he came into the living room gingerly holding up his right paw. Maggie checked to see if he had something stuck there, but he didn't. I figured he might have strained a tendon or broke something jumping and needed a bandage or something, so we took him to the vet. X-rays showed nothing wrong, which, unfortunately, wasn't good news, the vet explained, since it could mean something neurological was going on. "A lot of times it starts in the front and goes to the back," she said. She gave us some medicine, an antibiotic I think, which Jimmy drank up. He was pretty good about taking medicine. And he'd never snap at you even if he was in pain.
He got no better.
Following day, he withdrew, spending most of the day in a crouch with a watery faraway look in his eye, maybe, I figured, reacting to the medication. I had to pick him up to get him on my lap.
By the next morning, he had lost the use of his rear legs. With heart-wrenching horror, I spotted my once magnificent leaper climbing out of the litter box with his back end flat and legs dragging.
We tried not to think the worse, or speak it, and gathered ourselves enough to call the vet who had us bring Jimmy in right away. She rolled him onto his back and worked his legs. He screamed. Wincing, we begged her to stop.
Bloodwork. More antibiotics. No promises or guarantees.
She kept him overnight.
In the morning, the call came.
"Worse, I'm afraid. There's no circulation at all to the back legs. There's no pulse and they're cold."
"There must be something you can do?"
I could visualize her head gently shaking, her lips drawn tight, her eyes choked with regret, as she formed that awful word. "No."
"I'm very sorry."
The humane thing, by all means, he deserved that and more, my Buddy Boy, my precious little Jimmy Boy. Did I mention he killed a weasel once?
"No no no! We want to see him first! We've got to see him first!"
Can you imagine! To think, after all our strolls together around the yard and through the alfalfa, all our trips to the garden to weed, to fertilize, to pee on the peas, all his leaps from the rafters and all those wake-up thuds, all those wonderful, precious mornings being awakened by the pressure of his nose pressed against mine, all those vigorous towelings he liked so well (he was always getting caught out in the darn rain), all those nights of waiting up and watching by the door, all those hours curled up on my lap, and all those millions of meows -- to think after all that, and more, we could simply let him go without even saying good-bye. What was that woman thinking of?
"We've got to say good-bye. We'll be right there."
Maggie, in tears, held him first and kissed him, then, "Come to Daddy," she set him in my arms. He knew it was us, poor guy. He even spoke to us a little. And purred. We reminisced a while. It wasn't easy. Then the vet took over.
"We love you, Jimmy Boy. We'll always love you."
Jimmy's been gone a year now. We still think about him every single day. Sometimes we talk about him... and sometimes we can't.