"Curiosity killed the cat" is an old adage. For those of us who own cats, we know that that appears to be true; they are a curious lot, and many really need those nine lives. For this next story, however, it appears that sometimes there isn't even a choice on the path to curiosity! Many thanks again to Jesse Taylor for his delightful contributions to our website!
"My Daddy, Willard, came to Ohio to be a bridge builder. He didn't own the company, but he loved working outside and never could stand looking at the same scenery for too very long. You can see how the job would appeal to someone like that.
As well, he didn't like the notion of slaving away 52 weeks out of a whole year. When you work construction in a cold region, you tend to lay off during the winter. Cold temperatures make it difficult to pour concrete. Plus, freezingrain and snow makes an already hazardous job almost impossible to perform with any acceptable degree of safety. Cold, uncomfortable workers find it hard to keep their minds on the business at hand, even if they do take the precautionof fortifying themselves with enough blackberry brandy to keep the blood warmed.
This situation enables one to sign up for "rocking chair pay", as Daddy called it, and move back south to ride out the harshest part of the season. It's like getting paid for escaping to a sunnier climate.
Usually, this pilgrimage took place as soon as the last job of the year could be wrapped up. This depends upon the dictates of Ohio weather, of course. Putting the finishing touches on a project might be delayed by the early arrival of ice and rain. In that case, the men had to wait for a favorable break in the weather so they could carry on. Our story takes place during one of these little cold snaps.
It was shortly before Christmas and the bridge crew was laid off for a short stretch. During these times, there wasn't much money to be had, not that there was all that much to begin with. The point is that there wasn't a surplusto spend for entertainment purposes. Any Unemployment Compensation wouldn't kick in for a while. As you never knew when you would be returning to the job, you had to meter your funds and try to make them last.
During these times, about the only affordable entertainment was driving up and down the roads and drinking beer. This was, primarily, a participation sport. It had a strange scoring system. The individual participants awardedthemselves mental points, never sharing the score with anyone, based upon the number of country stop signs ran, the number of miles over the speed limit achieved and, of course, the number of obstacles avoided. Oddly enough, successful completion of one's chosen course was never discussed. It was only the odd happenstance that drew any post game analysis. The greater the risk and/or damage to property or person, the greater the discussion and the larger and longer the appreciative laughter. These feats of daring-do would be retold and appreciated for years to come, with the last liar...er...um...I mean, survivor, waxing nostalgic about the "good ol' days", much to the admiration of the Grandchildren, who, in these modern times of radar and cell phones, find the concept difficult to grasp...we hope.
So it was that my Father and one of his buddies, a fellow laborer, found themselves driving through the cold, late, December evening. Right here I should introduce my Dad's pal. His name was Russel Wilde, but everybody just called him Red, for obvious reasons. Russel had bright red hair and an "afro" style hairdo, naturally curly. His beard, which would've done Grizzly Adams proud, was equally bright red and naturally curly as well.
>While Russel was a good worker, he lived as poor as a church mouse. That's because he tended to keep all his money "drunk up". He had a wife and three daughters. I went to school with the daughters and remember them well. There wasKathy, Lootie, and Vondretta.
They rented an old farm house for $35 a month. It was heated with an old pot bellied stove and his wife cooked on an old wood burning kitchen stove, both of which had came with the house.
Every once in awhile, Russel's wife would pack up the girls and run off to her mother's, leaving Russel to fend for himself. This didn't worry him any too much. What with love being blind, as he well knew, she would come back. I guessbeing a devoted housewife has its perils. While I may question her taste in men, I admire her commitment to keep her family together.
To pick back up on the action, Dad and Russel had been driving and drinking well into the wee hours of the morning when Russel suggested they go back to his house, wake up the wife and warm themselves beside the old stove while she friedup some 'taters for breakfast.
The house was dark and cold when they arrived. There wasn't any fire in the stove because there wasn't anyone around to keep one going. As Russel said, "Looks like the old lady has run off to her mother's again. Oh well, sit downthere and I'll get this old stove going. We can cook our own 'taters right on top of it."
Now, Russel didn't have much in the way of home furnishings. He did have a large sofa, but you didn't dare sit on it. You see, Russel loved cats and he had about 20 of them running around in the house. To sit on his old sofa meant that you're liable to get back up looking like a fur ball. Knowing this, Dad pulled up an old "ladder back chair" and sat down.
Now, my Dad was a real thin man...tall and thin. He was limber, too. He would cross his legs just like any woman would do. Most men just throw their boot across their knee and call that crossing their legs, but Daddy didn't have large thighs. This allowed him to stack one knee right on top of the other and sit for great lengths of time, while nervously bouncing his foot. That was the position he took in front of that old stove.
Meanwhile, Russel had busied himself stacking logs in the old stove, followed by a generous can full of kerosene. No sense wasting kindling wood. You had to chop that stuff. He had twisted some newspaper into a formation resembling a torch and was now trying to get a spark out of his old Zippocigarette lighter.
Unbeknownst to either of the men, Russel’s favorite cat, a white, long-haired, "Angora", had been attracted by the activity. Seeing Dad's bouncing foot, it was positioning itself to pounce.
The attack took Dad completely by surprise and he kicked out with that foot. The cat sailed neatly through the door of the stove, just as Russel came around with that flaming torch, which sailed into the stove right behind thecat. Russel banged the door shut and stood there slapping his hands and rubbing them together as if he expected instant heat. Dad, while leaning towards the stove, said, "Russel...I thank I kicked ye cat in the far!"
Red said, "You done what?"
About that time they heard "scritch-scritch-scritch" as the cat made its way up the stove pipe, working the handle on the damper as it went through. Red's eyes were wide as saucers as they followed the cat's scratching through the elbow and on into the chimney. Red gave a big jump and started bounding for the door with Dad in hot pursuit.
Outside, the snow was falling again and it was over a foot deep on the ground. There stood Red, looking straight up at the chimney of the two-story house. There wasn't any smoke coming out. Then, poof, the black smoke rolled asthe cat jumped out and proceeded to smoke its way across the peak to the gable end, where it sat down and began licking itself.
Dad was on his knees, laughing. Red was not amused. Dad said he had just picked himself up and was dusting the snow off when Red shot a quick glance at him and remarked, "Well, G** D**n it!! I hope he's got enough spit left to puthimself out!!" Daddy hit the ground again!"
- Jesse Taylor
Well we are very relieved to see that the cat lived to tell the tale, but it definitely used a good portion of its nine lives that night! Would this be a cat that would live out the rest of its days in front of a wood-burning stove? Not this one! I fear that the cat developed post traumatic stress syndrome a strong phobia for wood stoves, kerosene and stove pipes!