Why did Mama shoot the cat?

Published 7:37 am Monday, July 21, 2003

By By Lloyd Albritton
It was a summer day in fifty five
When last we saw old Tom alive.
That was the day the cat was bad,
And came to an end that was very bad,
For that was the day that Mama got mad!
Her five little boys watched that day
As Mama put the cat away.
"Mama gone crazy!" said the little lad.
"She just might be," agreed the Dad.
That's what happens when Mama gets mad!
"Crack!" spat the .22 caliber single-shot rifle, followed by the thump of Old Tom's lifeless body as it slid from its hiding place against the floor joist onto the dusty crawlspace floor. It was the summer of 1955, and curiosity did not kill the cat that year. Mama did!
"ME-E-E-O-W-W-W!" screamed the big yellow cat as he sailed out the back door, barely touching the rickety wooden steps. Old Tom scampered across the back yard toward the chicken house, almost falling over himself in his haste as we heard Mama's enraged scream from inside the darkened door. "Dadburnit, I'm gonna kill 'at cat!"
The cat slid to a stop at the corner of the chicken house and stood there in plain sight with terror in his eyes as he watched the door. Mama followed close behind, almost tripping on the steps as she ran out the door with Daddy's rifle in one hand and a box of bullets in the other. She knelt on the grass, dumped the entire box of bullets on the ground, then scooped up a handful and dropped them into her apron. Inserting a single round into the rifle chamber and slamming the bolt home, she looked up toward where the old cat sat watching her. "Now where's 'at blasted cat?" she snarled. "I'm gonna blow his brains out!"
"Right yonder Mama," her oldest son quickly pointed and yelled, anxious to be helpful.
"Git them young'uns back over yonder out of the way," Mama ordered him, as she took aim at Old Tom and fired. The bullet missed, but stirred the dust at Tom's feet. He quickly sped around the chicken house and took refuge inside the filled corn crib. Mama reloaded, ran to the corn crib, and flung the door open. The flooring was high off the ground with no steps, so Mama had to jump up into the opening onto her stomach. She got to her feet and searched the dusty darkness inside until she spotted Old Tom's incandescent eyes watching her. She took careful aim right between those gleaming spots with her left leg forward for bracing. One step too many! Mama slipped on the big pile of unshucked corn and tumbled forward onto her face as her shot slammed wildly into the wall, a wide miss. Old Tom bolted toward the door, scrambling right over Mama's back as she wallowed about in the loose corn trying to find her footing. He leaped through the door and scooted back across the yard and underneath the house.
Mama literally rolled out the crib door behind him and dropped to the ground on her feet, her face covered with dust and tears of frustration and anger. She quickly reloaded and lifted the rifle to the port position. "Where'd he go?" she hollered.
"Under the house Mama," we all pointed, now caught up in the excitement of the chase. Mama ran to the edge of the house, dropped to her stomach and started crawling underneath with the rifle across her arms like a combat soldier. We children hurried to the edge of the crawlspace and peered into the dusty darkness as Mama inched her way toward Old Tom, now perched atop a floor joist. She made her way to within a few feet of him, but this time the old cat did not run. He sat perfectly still and waited as Mama shouldered the rifle in the prone position and took a slow and careful aim. The two of them stared at each other for what seemed an eternity. Finally, Mama pulled the trigger and Old Tom slumped lifeless to the ground, a tiny hole between his eyes. My brothers and I crawled underneath the house afterward and tied a string around Old Tom's neck, dragged him down the dirt road apiece, and slung him over the fence into the woods.
"Mama loved that old cat," one of my brothers mused to himself, as he stared across the fence into the woods.
"If she loved him so good, why'd she kill'im for then stupid?" the older brother chided.
The four-year-old rolled his eyes and blurted the question that came to his mind: "Is Mama gon' shoot us too?"
My brothers and I laughed over the telling of this story at family gatherings many times in the ensuing years, for it seemed so totally out-of-character for our normally demure and gentle mother, but we never really understood it. I asked Mama about the incident just a year before she died in 1986, at the age of 57, and she explained as best she could her bizarre behavior on that memorable day.
It is true that Mama loved cats and I never knew her to be without a cat for a companion. She spoke many times of her youth as an only child and the pure pleasure she derived from sitting quietly in front of the fireplace on a wintry day with her cat in her lap, crackling and purring as she caressed it. Yes, Mama loved cats and I believe she loved the one she killed no less than any other she ever had.
In those days, southern men often killed dogs and cats for violating household rules, but this was a typical "man thing" to do. One rarely heard of a woman doing it, and there was nothing in my mother's personality or character that would have predicted her to commit such a violent act. Yet, when I sat with Mama in her living room thirty years later for a long afternoon of intimate conversation, I understood, and I did not laugh. There were many things in her life which had brought her to the brink of insanity, but just one unforgivable act which pushed her over the edge.
Unfortunately, my editor does not afford me enough space in this single column to share that part of the story with you. But, since God offered to spare Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of ten righteous citizens, I will tell you the rest of this story in a follow-up column for the sake of only 10 readers whose curiosity is piqued enough to write or call me and ask for it.
Lloyd Albritton is an independent columnist for the Atmore Advance. He may be contacted by e-mail at LloydAlbritton@aol.com or by telephone at (850)995-1194.

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