I remember it almost as if it was yesterday, so clear is the imagery of that day eighteen years ago when Smokey and Bonnie came into our lives.
We had purchased a home to live in when Jim was stationed in Bremerton, Washington. We figured it would be a good investment to put money into equity rather than rent while we were there. That decision turned out to be a good one, as it turned out. But as landlords we had certain responsibilities to our tenants, and one of those was a roof that did not leak. Before that started happening, we hired a guy to put a new roof on the place.
We had more than one mission on our trip to the West Coast from our new location in Missouri. When we moved out there, we had decided that it would be easier to drive the passenger car as a team, and left our pickup truck parked at our in-laws’ place. We planned to retrieve the truck the following spring. So in addition to checking on the conditions of our home in Bremerton and paying the roofer for the job, we also planned a leisurely and relaxing drive back to Missouri in the truck, making a stop to visit Jim’s brother at his home in Wyoming.
With only a few mishaps, we drove to Washington, looked at our house, approved the roofing job, and went over to the roofer’s house to pay the bill. He went upstairs to get his receipt book while we waited down in his wife’s workroom. She was a dog groomer, and over in the corner there were a few cages where her clients could await their owners after they were all clean and brushed. One of these large cages was occupied by a pair of rather darling kittens, who noticed they had company and became truly desperate to exit their boring environment and bond with us. They told us all about it while the roofer was away on his mission. When he returned with our receipt, we asked him about the babies.
“Oh, my wife found them abandoned in the woods a couple of days ago when she was out running,” he explained. “You want them? We’ve been trying to find someone to take them and we’re probably going to take them to the humane society soon.”
We declined his offer, even though they were terribly cute. The idea of traveling across country with a pair of kittens did not seem either smart or convenient, and we went off to find some Dungeness crab, sourdough bread, good cheese and wine for our dinner, forgetting all about the kitties.
It is surprising what an evening of frivolity in a motel room will do to your attitudes. Somewhere in the middle of the bottle of wine we were consuming, the barriers to a journey with tiny kittehs seemed to evaporate. In fact, we managed to convince ourselves that it would be easy and that Cio Cio (my calico Manx) would like having some young companions. We called the guy and asked him if they still had the kittens confined in the doggy jail, and he told us he did. We arranged to pick them up in the morning, being in no condition to drive at the moment, and that is exactly what we did.
Of course there was no question of forcing those tiny babies to the ride in the back of the pickup even though it did have a shell on it. Our compassion for their potential fear and trauma was too great. They rode in front with us. It only took me about fifteen minutes to manufacture a kitten toy by the simple expedient of removing the shoe laces from a pair of sneakers I had with me and tying a complicated knot in the end of them. This toy was the Best Thing that the two young cats had ever had happen to them, judging from their reaction. The long miles across country were beguiled by the constant playing of the two babes: up and over and across the back of the bench seat of the truck, under the seat, popping out to grab the toy, wrassling with each other and any human hand that made itself available. The only place they were not allowed was under the driver’s feet, and they learned that lesson soon enough. It was all just Fun, Fun, Fun as far as they were concerned.
After we had been on the road a few hours, I thought they might need a rest stop, and so we pulled over along side the highway, deep in the Cascade Mountains, and I proceeded to take the babies out towards the woods where I thought they might wish to avail themselves of the facilities. BAD IDEA. The crying, the fear, the absolutely hysterical reaction to being carried out into the woods made me turn right around and get back into the truck. Apparently, they had not forgotten what it was like to be abandoned in the woods. They were happy to wait for a Real Cat Box in a Real Room.
One of the subjects of conversation along the way was what these animals should be named. The girl was easy. She was a very charming tortoise shell, short hair, and as pretty as the day is long. I decided she would be called Bonnie. The other one was tougher. We tossed around a lot of names, one of our favorites was “Frank” (after Frank Sinatra), which was inspired by his beautiful blue eyes. However, the young cat did not have a very good singing voice, and after a while we decided to name him for the markings that smudged his nose and feet and back, which made him look for all the world like he had been investigating ashes and smoke. Forever after, this cat was named Smokey.
Ah, the fun we had sneaking the kittens into hotel rooms. They were very small and were easy to hide under our coats. Having them with us in the rooms ensured that we would not ever miss dawn on the road, since their habit once ensconced in a room was to use the cat box, eat a hearty meal, and then crash like dead things for six or seven hours. Invariably, around four or five o’clock in the morning, they would rise from the dead and become flying things. You might be surprised to know just how many items there are in a sterile hotel room that a kitten can find to play with, not the least of which is the other kitten. After being the landing strip for a pair of flying kittens alternating with being used as the deceleration zone for a drag strip, the idea of sleeping in was far from our minds. Generally we snuck them back out of the hotel before the poor desk clerk could rise from the early morning zombies, grabbed some coffee and hit the road bright and early.
When we arrived back in Missouri with our pair of new friends, Cio Cio was Not Amused. Not only had we been gone for weeks but we brought back Those Little Brats to boot. She did eventually get over her snit, but not before enforcing the rule that the Only Cat who got to sit on laps was Herself, no little BratCats allowed on pain of a sound thrashing.
That is how Smokey came to be our companion for the latter one third of our lives.
(I know someone is going to ask, so I will just divulge that Bonnie was also our companion until about 5 years ago, when her penchant for hunting late at night resulted in the predator becoming the prey. She was always afraid of the ceiling fan in our bedroom, and we believe (without being able to prove it) that she always had a premonition of her death by owl.)
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