Mama and the cat, installment 5

Published 9:30 am Tuesday, March 5, 2024

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By Lloyd Albritton


Mama took the two youngest children into the house to clean them up while the three oldest boys fetched a long string from a discarded feed sack and tied one end of it around the cat’s neck.  Leaning forward with the opposite end of the string over their shoulders, the three boys trudged down the dirt road that ran by their house, one behind the other, dragging Old Tom’s carcass behind them.  When they had gone a good distance, Ronnie, being the biggest and strongest of the brothers, grabbed the big cat by the tail with both hands and began swinging him round and round over his head, putting all his strength into building momentum for a good toss.  When he finally let go, the cadaver sailed over the fence and deep into the woods, where it would be consumed by decay and wild vultures.

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The boys stood for a moment and gazed into the woods where the body had landed.  “Mama sure did love that old cat,” Phillip reflected, his bottom lip beginning to quiver just a bit.

The second oldest son looked impatiently at his little brother and snapped, “If she loved him so good, what’d she kill him for then, Stupid?”

“He made Mama mad,” Ronnie declared with finality. 

The three boys turned and trudged slowly back up the road to the house, each silently ruminating over the events of the day.

Bud finished his plateful of baby lime beans and biscuits and slid his chair back from the supper table to light a fresh Camel.  Ossie Lee started gathering up the dishes as her kettle of dishwater began to boil on the stove top.  She had fed the boys and put them to bed early to allow time for the conversation she planned to have with her husband.

“I talked to a man today about a real pretty little mule he has for sale,” Bud said.  “I need a steady plow mule for the fall garden.  I know I have Old Mable, but horses just ain’t made for pulling a plow, you know?  Wht I need is a small plow mule.”

Ossie Lee looked harshly at him and pushed the dishes aside.  She sat down and pulled her chair up close so she could talk face to face.  “I need a new washing machine,” she blurted.  “Sears has that new wringer-type washing machine and we could get it on credit.”

“Money don’t grow on trees, Darlin’,” Bud snapped dismissively, taking a final pull on his unfiltered Camel.  He reached across the table to tamp out the butt in the leftover bean soup on his plate. Then, looking closer at his wife’s face as she continued to glare at him, he added, “I know you need a washing machine, Honey, and we’re going to get you one too, pretty soon, just as soon as I . . . “

“I WANT ONE NOW!” Ossie Lee shouted, angrily banging her fist on the table top.  Bud’s face froze in alarm at her unexpectd outburst.  Calming a bit, she took a deep breath and repeated in a calmer, but still quavering voice, “I want one now.  This weekend.  They got’em at Sears and I want one.”

Bud was taken aback by his wife’s uncharacteristic display of defiance.  His first impulse was to stand and point his finger right in her face and let her know that he was the head of this house, that he was the one who worked and brought home the money, and that he would decide when and how it would be spent.  He was the boss around here!  Instead, Bud looked into Ossie Lee’s face for  a moment longer and thought better of it.  Ossie Lee did not blink, but continued to stare straight back into her husband’s eyes until he looked away.

“Okay, Darlin’,” Bud replied slowly.  “Okay.  Okay.  We’ll get you a washing machine.  One of them new wringer-types just like you want. Okay?”

“This weekend,” Ossie Lee reiterated.  “I want it this weekend.”

Bud hesitated only a second before answering.  “Sure Honey.  Sure.  We’ll go to town and get it this weekend.  Okay?”

Ossie Lee pushed back her chair and stood for a moment with her head and eyes down, hugging her shoulders with both arms to calm herself.  She stood that way a moment longer without moving or speaking.  Bud remained seated and silently watched her out the corner of his eye.

“Okay,” she finally replied.  “Okay.”     

She turned without another word and quickly disappeared around the wall that divided the kitchen from the bedroom.

Bud lit another cigarette and sat smoking for a few minutes more as he considered his wife’s odd behavior.  Ossie Lee was the sweetheart of his youth.  He loved her dearly, but he would never understand her, he thought to himself.  Yes, he would get her that new washing machine.  Just the kind she wanted.  But still, what strange behavior!

Bud cleared the supper table and washed the dishes for his wife, something he rarely did.  He raked the supper scraps onto a single plate for the cat, like Ossie Lee always did, then walked out the back door into the moonlit yard.

“Kitty!  Kitty!  Kitty!” he called into the darkness.  “Where are you, Tom?”

“Well, I’ll be damned!” Bud finally declared when Old Tom did not show up.  “I wonder where that old cat got aoff to.


Thanks to all of you who stuck with this serial to the end.  This is a true story that happened in my family many years ago.  I was the second oldest child in the story.  My brothers and I shared the story and laughed about it at family gatherings for many years on account of Mama behaving so “out of character.”  In 1985, I determined to write the story, so I paid a visit to my mother to get “the straight ot from her own mouth.”  “Why did you kill the cat that day?” I asked her.  Mama told me the story as she remembered it and I wrote it.  I asked Daddy whatever happened to Old Tom and he said,, “Well, that old cat just disappeard one day.  Go figure!”  I was, of course, unable to get Old Tom’s side of the story, so I remain completely sympathetic to Mama’s side of things.