Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Cat's Out of the Bag

The next couple of posts will be about a very important someone who entered my life during those turbulent middle-school years. He was very brave, exceedingly loyal, and incredibly funny. He led one of the most exciting lives ever and his love warms my heart to this day. He was Bumpkin, the cat who lived each of his nine lives like it was his last.

My Daddy's mother, Mommy Ola, owned a small farm in rural, northeast Alabama. She had a bunch of dogs and cats and chickens and usually had a calf or a hog that she was fattening up for future meal-time yumminess. It was indeed a small farm by farming standards, but the garden produced more than enough produce for her and whomever else she chose to share the bounty. Anyway, I usually adopted an animal to call my own during my summer visits and told them goodbye every August. But the summer I was 12, I fell in love with a scrawny, ratty, runt of a black-as-soot kitten. I named him Bumpkin. He was different than any other kitten. He just seemed... special. If you ever had your very own pet as a child, you probably know exactly what I mean.

Mommy Ola and me, 1982-ish
I only visited my Mommy Ola a few weekends in the summer. I lived in Florida with my Mom and (step)Dad, and my Daddy lived in the Birmingham area with my stepmother and stepsister. I spent my summers with my Daddy and absolutely loved the times that he and I would drive the 90-minutes or so northeast, past Albertville, and way out into the country, at the end of Martling Road (Now, the corner of Burgess and Poplar Springs). We'd head out early in the morning and get to Mommy Ola's house while she was still out in the garden. Visits there involved a lunch of fried chicken, fried potatoes, garden-fresh tomatoes and cucumber, and oh-so-yummy homemade buttermilk biscuits. Mid-afternoon, I'd get to walk across the road to the little country store and get (I kid you not) an ice-cold RC cola in a glass bottle and a Moon Pie. Mommy Ola made the best ever fresh lemonade and we'd sit on her wide front porch in old rockers or metal gliders, sipping lemonade from mismatched glasses, and visit with the neighbors who stopped by. We'd enjoy the sweet breeze, the earthy scent of the abundant farmland, and the buzzing of bees that gorged on the unplanned, yet perfectly-placed flowers surrounding the house. At twilight I'd catch lightning bugs and walk out to her pump house to choose a few home-canned fruits, vegetables, and my favorite vegetable soup to take home. Time slowed down and took on a golden glow while I was at Mommy Ola's house. Every visit was a step back in time to a friendlier and gentler era. My heart aches with missing those summer days.

I loved Bumpkin so very much and decided to take him back home with me. To Florida. Which from northeast Alabama, is about a 14-16 hour drive via Panama City Beach. Which also meant I had to get my Daddy on board with it. And even more importantly, and far less likely, I had to get my Mom and (step)Dad on board with the kitten idea. My Daddy was easy. He was probably relishing the anticipated negative reaction from Florida. I'm sure he was disappointed, because my (step)Dad said yes, much to the astonishment and chagrin of my Mom. Instead of my usual (every year, four times a year, from age six through age 12) unaccompanied flight from Birmingham to Tampa, my Daddy and my Mom and Dad decided to meet half-way so that I could take that mangy, little kitten home to Florida with me. You'd think it would have been a simple task, but not so with adventuresome Bumpkin!

He did the first part of the trip just fine, stayed close to me, all that cute and cuddly kitten stuff. I introduced him to the beach at Panama City. He liked the people, especially the little kids. He liked the water, especially when it was moving away from him. He did a lot of sniffing at the beach; the wind, the sand, the grass, the seagulls, the water... which did not go so well. Pretty sure salt water up a cat's nose is equally as horrible as it is up a human's nose. And I am also pretty sure that a 6- or 8-week kitten looks rather like dinner to a flock of hungry seagulls. (Mine! Mine! Mine! -Finding Nemo) There were, however, no mishaps on the first part of the trip back to Florida, but the second part of the trip? 

Bumpkin was introduced to Tiki. Tiki was, well, a Maltese. He was more than a little put off by Bumpkin's overly excited greeting. Tiki acted like one of the guards at Buckingham Palace and Bumpkin like the typical, obnoxious American. The two would soon become friends, but only at Bumpkin's absolute and unending insistence. But we'll get to that part of the story later...

Bumpkin, in later years
Bumpkin began to have tummy troubles and we had to stop several times for potty breaks. Maybe because of his tummy rumblings, or maybe because it was his second day in a vehicle, but he kept hiding from me in my Mom's full-sized van. I could easily coax him back out with my shoelace though, for what feline can resist a slithering shoelace? Then, the worst 30 minutes or so of my life (up to that point): We suspected Bumpkin had been thrown out with the lunch trash. We stopped at McDonald's for lunch and ate on the road. My Dad had a bad habit back then of just throwing trash out the window along the highway. (Please tell me he wasn't the only parent who did that!) Well, the McDonald's trash was all gathered up into the bag and Dad tossed it out the window. While going about 70 miles an hour. A few minutes later, I began to look for Bumpkin. He was nowhere to be found. I couldn't find him. Now, keep in mind, we were on the highway and there weren't many places he could hide. But I couldn't find him. Dad said something along the lines of, "Sh*t. You don't think he could have been in that McDonald's bag, do you?" 

I'm pretty sure I went from casually looking for sweet Bumpkin to hysterically, tearfully, frantically searching for that tiny, black, ball of fur. Dad, sweet and kind-hearted as he can sometimes (often) be, decided to turn around and go back to where he thought he tossed the trash. Several miles later and north again, with me still moving luggage and stuff around and searching under and in and through everything, Dad found the spot where the trash was and pulled over. He jumped out and ran over to the trash and picked it up. And I heard a sweet and plaintive meow. From just behind me in the van. There stood Bumpkin, yawning and stretching from an obviously very cozy nap somewhere in that van. And all that was in that bag of trash, was trash. Which Mom made Dad put back in the van to put in a trash can at our next stop.

Ahhh... Bumpkin. Never a dull moment with that cat.

To be continued...

I know this is different from my normal writing, but I was reminded of Bumpkin this week by my favorite morning radio show, The Wally Show. They asked on the FB page, "What is the worst excuse you ever used for being late?" and I was reminded of Bumpkin. But we'll get to that particular story later. :)

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