By Joan Clayton
We awakened one morning hearing pitiful “meows” of a hungry, frightened baby kitten. Three eager little boys rushed to the door and swooped him up.
“Can we keep him mommy, can we keep him?”
“Just until we can find a good home,” I answered firmly.
We never looked for a home but in the back of my mind I kept telling myself, “This kitten is only going to be here temporarily.” Tom stayed “temporarily” 15 years.
The boys invented ways to tease and aggravate Tom. They tried paper boots, my clean dish towels on his back, cardboard boxes with little peep holes and endless hours with long strings of yarn.
One day Tom looked sick. “Mommy, his nose is dry. Let’s get him to the vet.” My husband didn’t want to pay a vet bill on a sickly cat we weren’t going to keep anyway. My mother, after hearing so many prayers for Tom from our youngest son, sneaked Tom to the vet. She didn’t want Lane’s faith shaken if the cat died.
“He has a bad case of pneumonia, but we can clear it up in a few days,” the vet assured the men of my household. Even my husband, Emmitt, thought he must be a great fighter to bounce back from that. “He’s a great fighter all right. Did you see him chase the neighbor’s dog away?”
Oh no! I thought. I’m beginning to like Tom, too.
Lane wrote an essay in junior high, “101 Ways to Tease a Cat.” He made an “A.” Many wee hours of the morning Tom “meowed” under our window until Emmitt talked to him. “Oh yes Tom. I see your mouse. What a fine cat you are. You’re some cat all right.”
“Do you know what time it is?” I protested. “Get back in bed!” I’m sure the neighbors wondered more than once about a grown man talking to his cat through the bedroom window at 3 a.m.
One by one, the boys grew up and left home. By the time our last son left, our hearts were heavy, but we still had Tom.
After being so tough with the boys all those years, Tom became loving with us. Any time we sat down Tom came to our laps for an extra measure of love.
Tom’s nine lives began to weaken. I remembered how we had to handle a fighting, meowing, scratching tomcat in the vet’s office years before, but the last visit holds a memory I will never forget.
As I put Tom on the cold steel table he purred and rubbed my arm. When I let go he tried his best to fight the vet. When I touched him and rubbed his thinning white coat he became calm and serene again. He felt the touch of my hand and that was enough. Through tears I thought, “I want the touch of my master’s hand.”
Just before Tom died he tried to rub against my arm and purr. It was his last good-bye.
I will always remember the scene that crisp, cold winter morning. Emmitt leaned on the shovel over Tom’s grave. I think he was remembering the shrieks of laughter as three lively boys ran after a scrawny little white kitten and yes, I think he was praying, thanking God for all his creatures.
I still miss Tom. I miss his sunning in the yard and watching me work. I miss the mockingbirds chiding him. Yes, I even miss the 3 a.m. calls to show off his mice.
More than anything, I’m thankful for the lesson Tom taught me. Love is a simple thing but such a wondrous thing.
If love can tame an animal, what can it do for people?
Joan Clayton is a retired teacher, writer and religion columnist living in Portales.