[July 24, 2023] From the earliest days of my young life! My Granddaddy Smith owned a large, mangy, ugly, tough, mean-as-heck tomcat. His name? “Tom.” More kittens were born because of his virility than any cat in that town. His harem of female cats was huge, but they all served a valuable function on Granddaddy’s property by keeping the rat population down. Never since have I seen so many kittens, and I learned how to help a female cat keep track of her newborns.
Tom was a cat you did not mess around with. Granddaddy told us kids to steer clear of him, or we might regret our encounter. I know I was afraid of that cat. “Holy cow, that’s one mean cat,” my father said one day while we played in the yard. If we played outside, look out for “Tom.” And never, ever, ever try to pick him up, or you would be wearing your claw marks for a long time. We would watch “Tom” walk slowly and confidently across the yard because his reputation was unmistakable and widely known. If he looked at us, we would run away screaming.
I wondered what happened to Tom. Years later, I asked Granddaddy where he had gone. “To cat heaven, of course,” Granddaddy said without hesitation, being a religious man himself. That ugly, mean male cat was gone one day, but his legacy remained. He must have sired hundreds of healthy little kittens, but none could replace Tom, and that was not unexpected. Only once in a hundred years does a cat or man come along that makes such an impact on those around him.
One day before Bigmama passed away, I asked her about Tom. She told me that he was Granddaddy’s cat, and no one even fed him or took him to a veterinary clinic for a checkup or shots. Maybe he died of rabies, a common ailment among small animals in those days. My cousin, who lived nearby my grandparents, said he was happy that the “stupid cat was dead.” On several occasions, my cousin got crosswise with Tom and has the scars to show for it. Everyone, it seemed, hated Tom.
I respected that big cat. Tom did what he wanted, and that was that. Looking back on those years, it’s easy to laugh off this ugly cat’s temper and strength. Sometimes size matters. Tom was massive; to me, he looked almost half the size of a human kid but was meaner than a half-starved hound dog. My mother asked Bigmama (her mother) what fascinated Granddaddy’s infatuation with that crazy cat. She did not know.
Granddaddy told a secret of his. He said he kept Tom around, not because that male cat was good at chasing mama cats or catching rats, but because he enjoyed having that ugly cat. He told me how important it is to enjoy the good things in life because one day, bad things will come knocking on your door, and the more good things you have in your life, the better you can withstand the bad times. Tom helped Granddaddy be the good man he was.
NOTE: For all Letters to My Granddaughter, go to this link here.
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