It’s my first memory. It happened when I wasn’t quite 3 years old, so it’s not a vividly-detailed memory; more like short video clips of a major event in my life at the time. (Okay, 8mm clips as home video wasn’t around then.) It was the time we found our cat, Midnight.
I had been playing in the back yard of our next-door neighbor with my two older brothers and a number of other older neighborhood kids. The property adjacent to that yard was not yet developed, just tall grass and weeds. We were all just strolling along, then I saw the tail and rump of a black cat in the grass. As soon as I saw it, one of the older girls said, “Look, a cat!” We were kids and there was a cute, stray cat amongst the tall grass which could house any number of snakes, fleas, ticks, etc. So, we did the only logical thing kids do in times like that – we went in for the hunt! The troops were deployed with a precision Patton would’ve been proud of; all routes of escape were thoroughly covered. Our quarry had no way out. Even so, I remember only two specific, short events from the capture. At one point I was in a little clearing when the kitten strolled into it. He saw me and darted off in another direction. I don’t remember calling out to the other kids because I was probably to excited to do so. The other memory comes from after finding the kitten. We had set him in a little red wagon (I believe it was ours) and he pooped in it. Yes, as a not-yet-three-year-old I was fascinated by the fact that we found an animal, and by it pooping. Good times.
Over the course of the next few years many of the memories aren’t specific but just part of the routine life of owning our Midnight. I never remembered hearing Dad say before leaving on his business trip shortly after finding Midnight, “When I get back I don’t want that cat in this house.” Needless to say, the cat pretty much owned the house by the time he returned. He’d occasionally have a snarky remark about Midnight over the years, but my Dad is an animal lover (no, not in some sick, illegal way) so he truly loved Midnight and you could see it in the way he’d sometimes hold and pet him. They were buddies.
Midnight was also a pretty good mouser. Living next to a farm we were visited often by the little vermin; but Midnight dispatched them with great efficiency. However, one specific memory occurred during dinner in the kitchen. Mom had just baked some brownies which were cooling on the counter. We were eating at the table when Mom gasped and was clearly upset about something. After about 3 seconds of holding her breath and waving her hands she screamed, “A mouse!” Sure enough, a mouse was nibbling away at the brownies. Now, I think mice are cute, but brownies are just about my favorite dessert. So I wanted the little bastard DEAD! The mouse ran behind the knife block. Someone picked up Midnight and put him on the counter near the knife block. If I read his expression properly he was thinking, “WTF?” He had no idea why he was up there with permission, until little Mickey decided to make a break for it. Had the sink not been in the way I firmly believe Midnight would’ve had his eightieth confirmed kill that night. Instead, as the little rascal escaped, Midnight lost interest and went back to doing what he did best, licking himself. (This memory sticks out as extremely traumatic because the entire tray of brownies were wasted by one little varmint!)
Speaking of licking himself, I got to use that classic joke with two friends of mine one summer. By best friend, Brandon, and I were sitting in the family room with our friend Jason. We were high-school guys joking around and having a good laugh. Midnight participated by proceeding to lick his privates. I think it was Jason who said, “Man, I wish I could do that.” “Go ahead,” I said, “he doesn’t mind!” Laughs galore from a classic joke.
Midnight was also a pretty big cat, well over twenty pounds of lean feline muscle. Okay, he did have a little sag for a short while, but he was really just a big, strong cat. So big and strong that our neighbor Tom called him the kangaroo. This nickname came about from Midnight jumping up and swatting at bugs on the screened-in back porch. The force of his paws caused the screens to rattle loudly. And I think Tom never quite forgot about how intimidating Midnight could be. You see, we went on a vacation once and asked Tom to look in on Midnight and our dog Pepe. Pepe was a poodle, but not a little toy poodle. He was a full-grown poodle a good bit larger than our kangaroo-cat. Tom worked on the farm and was used to animals, not to mention a strong young man. My parents told him if Pepe gave him trouble to just leave because our grandmother could feed them and make sure they’re okay. Well, the dog LOVED Tom; but the cat scared the living crap out of him. All Midnight would do was prowl around behind Tom making very low growling sounds while staring at him with the utmost venom! I find it hilarious that Tom, a teen with farm experience, was so intimidated by our cat, but to be fair Midnight was tough and, having been on the receiving end of some bites, his teeth were nothing to mess with. As for his strength, even when I was a teenager Midnight could push my legs off the bed to give himself more room. Not exactly a harmless little pussycat.
Now, cats are some of the most graceful and athletic creatures God placed on the earth. Midnight’s leaping and twisting ability was a fine example of that. My brother Jeremy and I shared many nights with a wadded up paper towel being tossed back and forth in front of Midnight. It started with his look – like a spectator at a tennis match eying the ball going back and forth. Then, he’d get into a crouch position. Then, leaping and twisting and swatting all at the same time. He had some spectacular highlights. I do believe we would sometimes eat snacks we didn’t really want just to have a wadded up paper towel to play with.
But there were plenty of times when grace and beauty weren’t part of Midnight’s actions. There are two which really stand out. When I was in junior high my mom had returned to the working world and my older brothers were involved with after-school activities. I would just go home and watch cartoons. (Explains my grades and inability to succeed in a decent major in college.) One time Midnight was sitting atop the television. For those of you much younger than I, TVs had more of a cube shape with a slant down the back – not everything was a flatscreen. I think he was sitting there for the warmth. It was at that time when he had just that little extra bit of girth. That aided in gravity playing a nasty little trick on him. He started to slide down the back of the TV. All of a sudden his eyes grew wide with panic; his front paws tried to grab onto anything to maintain his balance, but like a Scooby-doo cartoon they just kind of spun in place. And, he fell. They say cats always land on their feet, but I’m pretty sure he just smacked his butt into the potted plant behind the TV table. The other ungraceful moment came when I was, once again, watching cartoons; DuckTales to be precise. Midnight was on the rips – those moments when your pet inexplicably runs around the house for no apparent reason. When cats do this, it is accompanied by a loud, guttural meow! On his last pass he ran into the room, jumped onto the back of the couch and ran across. Given his expression, he realized at the last minute that he did not properly calculate the appropriate speed for the length of the couch in order to give himself adequate stopping time. Once again, much like a Scooby-doo cartoon, his legs tried to back-pedal to stop. Even though I had yet to take physics, I knew this effort was moot. He proceeded to skid off the couch and into the side of the TV. But, like any self-respecting cat, he shook it off and walked around as if he meant to do exactly that.
Yes, Midnight is part of many great memories I had; lots of them involving pussy. But it was the times I came home from college I remember most of all. My parents, at the time, had a time share at Walt Disney World. They would leave for Florida the morning I left from college. They’d make sure Midnight had plenty of food and water – and a clean tray of kitty litter – until I got home to take care of him. It was just the boys hanging out and living the bachelor life. Me and my cat, Midnight. Until they had to put him down while I was still at college. At the end of that semester, Mom and Dad took their customary trip to WDW and I came home. To an empty house. Upon opening the door from the garage to the family room, I looked down – right where the kitty litter tray was kept – and it was empty. Just like the house. One of my first memories was of my cat pooping in a wagon, and to confirm his departure from my life I had to check the box he pooped in for the next 20 years. Ironic, isn’t it.
Pets touch our hearts in a special way. They help teach us how to love unconditionally, often times better than our fellow man. Because pets love unconditionally. All you have to do is feed them, and they love you – kind of like the relationship my brothers and I had with Mom. So it’s tough to let them go. I still get a little tinge of that haunted feeling I had when I came home to that empty house when I think of Midnight. But it’s nothing compared to the happiness and laughs of the good times. And beyond the lesson of love, pets teach us responsibility, a little bit of sacrifice, and a whole lot about fun. But, perhaps the most important lesson I learned from Midnight is this – if a human tries to lick his balls, he’ll only fall off the couch.