The Ballad of Pumpkin

The Ballad of Pumpkin

I reckon when folks hear the word cat owners today they think about single, lonely, middle-aged woman, or man who like to wear onesies to bed, but back when I was a youngin cats were considered just this side of feral. Even today, most cats keep a wild streak deep down inside them. Felines don’t believe they need to cotton to anybody. If you call a cat it’s just as likely to walk away from you as it is to walk to you. The cats I grew up around spent their days killin’ birds, killin’ mice, or harassin’ the dog. I even knew a few cats that hung out in barns and could take out a snake or rat.

That’s why, when I got older, I promised myself I would own a cat. Unfortunately, my spouse Darla has always considered cats sort of a disposable animal, to put it politely. Needless to say, I was surprised when she let me get a yellow tomcat for a family pet. He was a right smart lookin’ animal and reminded me of one of the cats I grew up with.

Darla only had one condition with me gettin’ that kitten. I had to let our kids name it. Now, I figured there weren’t any harm in doing that. After all, kids love animals and can come up with the cutest names. I was expectin’ somethin’ like Fluffy, Cotton Ball, Sir Purr, or even perhaps Needles (on account of his claws.) You can imagine my surprise when my two boys strolled up and proudly announced the name of the cat was Pumpkin.

My boys thought that was a right smart name. After all, pumpkin was a yellow cat with a bit of white fur on his stomach and a little on his face. Really, he was mostly orange, but I pictured him as a tiger, not a jack-o-lantern.

I must admit, I was fit to be tied. I cajoled, begged, and pleaded for anything but that name. Of course, the boys’ mama thought the name was perfect, and that was all the encouragement they needed. I knew right then and there that cat’s life was headed for trouble. He grew into a real ornery puss. I am positive, to this day, it was that stupid name that turned that animal almost completely feral.

Even though the boys were about as good to that pussycat as any kids could be, Pumpkin still hated them for some reason. I’ve seen some mean animals in my day, but Pumpkin pretty much led the pack. If you told him no, he would go over and claw the furniture. If you’d squirt him with water, or swat his hind in with a small newspaper, he’d just run to the other side of the room and claw another piece of furniture. And I won’t even get into the issues with him sprayin’.

The battle to domesticate that animal came to a head one day when our two-year-old son was walking across the room. He wasn’t doin’ anything but mindin’ his own business, not that two-year-old youngins have much business to mind. I reckon that cat felt like he was big enough to express the disapproval of his name. I watched Pumpkin run across the room, jump up in the air, and drag his claw down my son’s face. That crazy cat drew blood all the way down my boy’s forehead.

Now I know at this point some of you readin’ this are thinking I should have taken that cat to the pound or used him for target practice. I will say that you have a point, and Darla was of the same mind set, but I have to be honest with you, I have a hard time harmin’ anythin’. I really do. I have killed a few creatures like spiders, a snake, mice, deer, and coyotes, but I took no joy in it. I love life, and I love all of God’s creation. Even if some of it don’t love me back.

That old cat had me in a bind though. He broke the cardinal rule, he had hurt one of my sons. Darla was right to want to put him away, but I knew the minute Pumpkin went to the shelter he was a dead tom walkin’. Nobody wants to adopt an animal that’s attacked a child. Darla said option two was to remove his claws. Even back in those days that was considered extreme, but versus killin’ the animal it seemed merciful. We also had him fixed to hopefully mellow out his attitude, and his sprayin’.

Well, we got old Pumpkin home, and he was one mellow pussycat during his recovery. I reckon even the most rambunctious animal is bound to relax with enough drugs in him. We all had a quiet couple of days, and even Darla softened towards him, what with his front claws all bandaged up and such. Unfortunately, that didn’t last too long.

The moment that cat felt better, up he went runnin’ around the house like a demon had possessed him. He made laps around the livin’ room and laps down the hall. Then he’d stop and try and claw the furniture. Of course, that stupid cat didn’t seem to understand he didn’t have any claws. He’d paw at the base of the couch which made us all laugh at him. I swear to you as surely as I write this, that cat glared at us, and if he could speak English, he would surely have been cursin’ at us.

I guess by this point Pumpkin thought it was time to make a bolder statement. He took a running lap around the room and jumped on the back of our old vinyl couch. I believe he intended to stick his claws in and leave scratches and holes all along the top. However, he didn’t have any claws. So instead, he went shootin’ across that vinyl couch like an egg through a hen. His front legs started to back-peddle but he wasn’t slowin’ down a lick.

Fortunately, he is still a cat. So, when he came shootin’ off the end of the couch he landed on his feet. Well, he might have rolled a few times after that, but he was okay. Now most smart critters, like ants, spiders, opossums, squirrels, they would have realized somethin’ was amiss. Not Pumpkin. The darn cat never could figure out his claws were missin’ He spent most of his life tryin’ to claw up the furniture, or occasionally one of the youngins, and he never understood why he couldn’t make a scratch.

Unfortunately, life’s circumstances made Pumpkin’s trials and tribulations even harder. We used to live in the city when we were raisin’ our kids. In those early years we rented more than a couple places. One day we were movin’ from the north side of Charlotte, NC to a nearby town called Matthews. We had friends and co-workers helping us haul our belongings across the city. Finally, the time came to load the kids and the cat in the minivan and say goodbye to the place we’d called home for the last year.

We got everything loaded and I went inside the house and picked up Pumpkin. I reckoned at the time I had a smart plan. I would put the cat in the van, close the door right quick, and then be on our way. I eased the cat on in towards the back row of seats in the minivan, and then closed the door as fast as I could. Unfortunately, old Pumpkin was just as fast. Instead of that door latchin’ in place, it sort of bounced out of my hand, and I was convince I’d just cut my cat in half.

Fortunately, I did not catch Pumpkin in the midsection, but I did manage to catch him in the head. I have to be honest at this point. I don’t remember the cat runnin’ off, but I do remember holdin’ him and prayin’ I hadn’t killed him. He was lookin’ up at me in my arms, his eyes all dazed and glassy and the end of his tongue stickin’ out of the front of this mouth. Almost like that old cartoon, “Bill the Cat.” He blinked and was breathin’ okay. Thanking God for reviving my cat, I put him back inside the van and he walked on into the rear, far away from that door.

That poor fella was never the same after that. Don’t get me wrong, he was still one of the meanest cats I have ever had the pleasure of being around. He just didn’t seem to know what sort of cat he wanted to be after that. Maybe he became bi-polar. Pumpkin just seemed to be a loving domestic animal one minute, and the next the most bitter feline on four legs.

At the new homestead we rented he used to try and harass the neighbor’s dogs. These weren’t no little dogs either. One place had a German Shepherd. Another place had a Golden Retriever. Not the sort of canines that fear cats. At first, I wasn’t sure what was goin’ on. That cat would disappear, and a few days later come draggin’ on home with bite marks and blood, lookin’ like he’d had the fight of his life. We’d clean him up, and he’d stay around home for a month or two, and then do it all over again.

Then one day I saw him walkin’ across the street towards the house with the German Sheperd and I figured things out. However, when I went to get the cat he shot off across that street and out of sight. It took three days before he came back beat up again. I reckon between his brain damage, and never havin’ the sense to know he didn’t have claws, that poor tom spent most of his free time receiving butt wuppin’s from the neighborhood canines.

Fortunately, for Pumpkin, we only lived there a couple of years before we could finally afford to build our own little homestead. By then Pumpkin was approachin’ middle age in cat years and finally calmin’ down a might. Of course, his tongue still stuck out of his head, but he was mostly content to lay around the house. At least until we got our Basset Hounds. Now everyone knows that Bassets are the most loveable and smelliest dogs God ever put on this earth. They love people, they love children, and the breed has a weak bite, despite their ferociously deep bark.

That breed was perfect for our three youngins with another on the way. When Pumpkin first met up with them he’d swat at them with his paw when they got too curious, and those puppies would run away cryin’. At first, they were like Pumpkin and assumed the critter still had his claws. However, the day came with those dogs figured it out. That was the day I learned somethin’ about basset hounds. They love to put things in their mouths. That poor cat had more doggy drool on him than an old tennis shoe. If you think a hound dog stinks in the summer, you should try being a cat and havin’ ‘em slobber on your body sometime.

Now don’t get me wrong, those two hound dogs loved that old cat, but the feelin’ was most certainly not mutual. After that, Pumpkin spent most of his days out front, or inside the house. He didn’t have any use for the backyard with the two long eared, smelly breathed canines. Of course, being Pumpkin, he would forget on occasion, they’d slobber him up proper, and he’d leave in humiliation until the next time.

I realize it may sound like Pumpkin was treated poorly, but that was never the case. The animal had a good life indoors and out. Pumpkin just had a propensity for making poor life choices. Whether it was attackin’ toddlers, attackin’ furniture, attackin’ big dogs, or tryin’ to outrun a closing door. He just never seemed capable of figurin’ out cause and effect. To be honest, I have some distant relatives that have a lot in common with Pumpkin.

That poor cat met his untimely demise in true Pumpkin style. He used to love to lay on the cool concrete in the garage in the summer time. He’d wait until the car was just entering to garage to hop up and move out of the way. Well, I reckon he was having one of his mental breakdowns the day Darla drove in the garage from the grocery store. He decided he would take on that minivan wheel instead of moving out of its way. Darla came in the house cryin’ that she’d hit the cat.

I found old Pumpkin at the front door of the house lookin’ for me. His poor back was broken and he was draggin’ his rear legs. He gave me a woeful meow all the way to the vet. Fortunately, the vet said his broken back stopped him from feelin’ any pain where he was injured. There was nothing they could do and we had to put him down. I was so broken hearted. He was an ornery puss, but he loved me, and I loved him.

They covered him in formaldahyde, wrapped him in a blue tarp, and let me bring him home to bury. I took my grief out on the ground. Unfortunately, our property has what is known as hardpan, or white clay. You can’t get any kind of blade through it when it’s dry. So, I used a pick and dug for all I was worth.

After going non-stop for a good two hours I had me a hole at least eighteen to twenty inches deep. We laid Pumpkin in his final resting place and covered him up. Since the hole was too shallow for a proper size plant we placed a stepping stone to mark his grave instead. I suppose he’s still laying there in peace. Unless, the people living there now moved that stepping stone and tried to plant somethin’. If they did, I sure hope old Pumpkin didn’t forget he’s dead and his bones go walkin’ off.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.