Cats were my favorite pets when I was a child and there were plenty of them around. I gave all of them names and my attention. In a noticeable number of the pictures that my mother snapped of me with the Kodak, I have a cat dangling from my arms or one is present in the background.
I recently re-read “Mama’s Bank Account,” a book of delightful family stories written by Kathryn Forbes in the 1940s. One story, titled “Uncle Elizabeth,” has led me to share my similar true tale.
We had an old yellow tomcat creatively named Old Yellow, no relation to Old Yeller, the famous dog. He was battle weary, clearly evidenced by the torn edges of his ears, scarred face, unbalanced walk and a scraggly, uneven coat. He was missing teeth and his eyes were cloudy and filled with matter (sorry). We all agreed that he probably had used all of his nine lives, was suffering and needed to be humanely put out of his misery.
In those days, you took care of such things yourself—no vets around. The next time my father went to town he bought a bottle of chloroform at the drugstore for the purpose of sending Old Yellow to cat heaven.
Following combined directions from the druggist and those printed on the label, my father took an old washtub to a secluded place in the work shed and turned it over an open container holding the volatile toxic liquid—and Old Yellow.
I couldn’t bear to watch, although I knew it was for the best. I sought out one of my private places and cried.
After the appropriate number of hours/days had passed—and then some, because my father was busy tending to live animals—he lifted the tub to dispose of the body.
Many times I dug graves inside the garden fence and buried my pets with ceremony and a headstone. This time however, my father took the stiffened body and disposed of it far into the woods to return to nature. Again, that’s the way you did things on the farm back then—be it small animals or a cow.
The image of the sad incident came to the forefront of my thinking right often but soon began to wane as other cats slipped right in to take Old Yellow’s place. Until…..
One late afternoon as my mother was cooking supper, a cat with a loud meow began climbing the kitchen screen door. She looked and could hardly believe what she saw. Old Yellow, well rested and energized and looking remarkably better, had returned to be fed.
She dropped (perhaps literally!) whatever she was doing, assembled a bountiful cat meal and served Old Yellow right there on the back porch. “Any cat with that much stamina deserves to live as long as he wants to,” she said.
Old Yellow blended in with the crowd, fell right back into his former routines and lived out a much longer life.
Never again did we attempt to use chloroform for an easy exit of a painful life but chose more dependable means.