Watching a Calico Cat while eating a bowl of tomato soup

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “An Odd Trio.”

The world of my childhood had two kinds of cats – house cats and barn cats. House belonged to the people who lived in town and pampered them. Our cats lived in the barn and hunted mice that got into the chicken feed. George was the most famous of our barn cats.

The house where I grew up, home of memories.
The house where I grew up, home of memories.

One summer day in the mid 1950s, at the age of 10 or 11, I was eating lunch on ourthree-season porch because it was slightly cooler than the rest of the house. We usually ate together as a family, but today my Mom just fixed a meal of of Campbell’s tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. Noon was normally our big meal of the day, every farm wife called it ‘dinner’ but today we had soup and a sandwich because I was going to town for swimming lessons in Lake Elysian. Mom thought a light meal would prevent stomach cramps that caused drownings. I sat on my chair in a swim suit and T-shirt with a beach towel – well, really a bath towel – over the back of my chair. I as ate, I watched our barn cat named George come limping into the yard.

George , a calico cat of tan, white and gray, was missing the lower part of one front foot. I never learned why my parents her George but, beyond this mystery, I do know she was the best mouser on the place. Despite losing her front paw and ankle, perhaps to some kind of steel trap, she had learned to move easily with a rhythmic limp. Even at a distance, I spotted her by her up-down, up-down gait.

George, the three-legged calico cat.
George, the three-legged calico cat.

And, could she catch mice! She was so stealthy I never saw her catch a mouse, so I don’t know how she did it with only the claws of one paw, but many times I saw her trot into the barn carrying a mouse. We had no ‘tom cats’ on the farm but that didn’t prevent George from finding them – or they, her – and getting laid. She was a fine mother and, over a number of years, birthed, fed, and cared from many litters of kittens.

What to do with a litter of barn kittens? Getting rid of them – humanely – is difficult. I know some people who put them in a weighted sack and dropped them off the steel bridge over the LeSueur River. That was cruel and we didn’t do that. We gave them away – most of them. Year in and year out, we tried to keep our feline population to roughly four cats, either females or neutered males.

One of George’s many offspring was a big, black male cat – a tom – whom we neutered. After ‘Tom’ lost his ‘family jewels’ – as we said back then – he was no longer a Tom cat but a Tim-kitty – a pussy. Regardless of this, ‘Tim’ inherited his mother’s gift for mouseing.

The barn where mice ran freely - until George.
The barn where mice ran freely – until George.

Feeding chickens and collecting eggs was my major chore as a boy. I saw Tim-kitty’s prowess one morning when I fed chickens before I got on the school bus. We fed our chickens oats and ground feed from barrels we kept in a small egg room inside the barn. Mice are good are finding their way to food, nothing we did kept them out entirely, and we locked ‘Tim’ inside the egg room as a deterrent each night.

Opening the door one morning, I didn’t see Tim-kitty anywhere. Then I heard a scrabbling sound in one of the nearly empty feed barrels. Looking down, I saw Tim-kitty at the bottom and he seemed perplexed. The cat had a mouse trapped under each foot, and one in his mouth and clearly didn’t know what to do next. In the end, we got rid of the mice. George died a year or two later but I don’t recall the date or circumstances.

Did this really happen? Memories can be so fickle and change abruptly, like Midwestern weather. As years pass, certain memories fossilize into established stories filed under a formidable heading I call “Truth.” Fragments of past experiences, covered with the emotional fingerprints of events, endure because they are useful to me. I use these memories like nails to anchor the past in place so I don’t lose it and my place in it. Unfortunately, my sister doesn’t necessarily remember the same events I do. So, am I nailing my memory, my “truth” to something as plastic a peanut butter?

No. George will live forever in my mind and memories, so will Tim-kitty, along with the fact I learned to swim that summer in Lake Elysian, even if the water was murky and the bottom was spongy. Tomato soup still isn’t one of my favorite soups, and I still don’t own a beach towel, but I can still see George limping along with the tail of a mouse dangling from her jaws.