by Patricia Rose Ballard Coffie
My cousin, Kenny, lived with my Aunt and Uncle on their family farm. It was one of those general all-purpose farms down in southern Iowa. To find their place, you follow the freeway till it becomes four lane highway, then two lanes, then the concrete turns to blacktop and the blacktop to gravel and the gravel to dirt. You turn just beyond the bridge the county does not maintain anymore and head south half a mile up the lane to the house.
You’ll see the house and the outbuildings--a chicken house, barn, hog house, corn crib, shed or two, and Kenny’s machine shed and machine shop. You’ll see some chickens, ducks, geese, dogs, cats, pigs, cows, maybe a horse, and some sheep. On that drive in, you’ll pass about 20 acres in soybeans here and another 20 or so in corn there unless it’s the odd year and then the soybeans will be there and the corn here. You’ll drive past some virgin timberland where they run cattle and the deer and wildcats run themselves. Out beyond the barn, you’ll see what Kenny calls his cash crop. It’s about 20 acres sown in just about any part you might need to fix a car or truck or tractor or even that county road maintainer.
Some folks call that a junk yard but Uncle Kenny doesn’t care. He just pats that top pocket on his overalls and grins all the way to the bank. You won’t see Killer, the barn cat, or the fierce junk yard dogs unless you are where you should not be.
Now along with all the buildings and such, you’ll find my Aunt and Uncle and their 6 kids, my cousins. Uncle Kenny and my cousin, Kenny, would have been confusing except that we called them Big Kenny and Little Kenny. I’ll call them Uncle and Aunt and Kenny for this story.
When Kenny was about 12, he asked if he could have a pet of his own—not an animal for 4H but one he could call his own and keep forever. He wanted one to keep him company and even sleep on his bed.He said he would be responsible for his pet’s care.
Big Kenny said “If that pet ever threatens our livelihood here on the farm, you’ll have to be responsible and take care of that.”Little Kenny said “Yes, Sir.”Aunt Helen said “In my house? That pet will have to be well behaved and you will have to clean up any mess.”
Little Kenny said “Yes, Ma’am.”
They settled on a kitten from the next litter Killer had. Little Kenny took the kitten andraised it. He took care of the shots and costs for food and all. He house-trained the catand keep that litter box out on the porch.His kitty slept on his bed at night and could ride around in his jacket pocket as he did his
chores. He was left outside when Kenny went to school.. The cat was fed well withKitty food, fresh milk, cat food, table scraps secretly under the table, and soon squirrels, rats, mice, song birds and any other critters to come around the house. The cat pretty well stayed away from Killer, the Barn Cat; the junk yard dogs, the sow, that fierce gander, and Aunt Helen’s chickens.
Before long that cat weighed 43 pounds. He no longer fit in a jacket pocket but followed Kenny as he did his chores. One beautiful October day, Aunt Helen did her Fall cleaning. She washed the bedding and the drapes. She hung them out to dry instead of using that dryer Uncle Kenny had insisted on getting for her. She loved the smell of sunshine. She didn’t let the drapes dry completely but brought them in and hung them in the front room, so they would dry nicely in place. She left the windows open for the evening breeze.
Supper that night was liver and onions and broccoli. The cat sat under the table at Kenny’s knee. Kenny hated that meal but knew he was expected to take some of each food and clean his plate. He did that artful rearrangement thing and managed to slide most of the food off bit by bit to the cat. The cat ate everything offered—even the broccoli.
When Aunt Helen brought in the chocolate cake, the cat walked off to explore. He knew Kenny would not be sharing anything that smelled like that. When the cat reached the front room, he saw the drapes blowing softly in the breeze and true to his nature, crouched down to watch. Then he pounced on the drapes, dug in with all his claws and shredded those drapes right down to the floor. Now the strips caught in the breeze were even more enticing and so he climbed up on Uncle Kenny’s recliner and launched himself again at those drapes. Well those shreds could not hold him what with being 43 pounds and all so he hit the floor with a big thump!
Everyone ran in to see what had happened.Kenny grabbed the cat immediately and began to apologize and promise to make things right by buying with his own money any new drapes Aunt Helen wanted.Helen said “You bet. And that cat never comes into my house again!”
Kenny knew better than to argue. He fixed a bed for the cat on the screened-in back porch. He took a soft blanket and food, lots of food, and a water bowl. He explained about the changes and then went in and to his own bed.The first night went well. On the second day, on his way to the barn for the evening milking, Kenny heard that sow and her piglets screeching and roaring and saw a blur as that cat went shooting by. Kenny figured there was nothing he could say about staying away from those little pigs that the sow hadn’t already said loud and clear.
That night, he put more food out on the porch, had a good conversation with the cat and went to bed. Next morning, before the milking or breakfast, there was commotion and squawking and screeching coming from Helen’s chicken house. They all saw the cat come out of the hen house carrying a dead chicken. Inside they found the rooster and another hen dead. Nests were torn up, eggs were broken.
Kenny found the torn screen on the porch where the cat had escaped. No excuses were offered nor would they have been accepted. Uncle Kenny said “Remember your promise about taking responsibility if that cat threatened our livelihood?”Kenny said “Yes, Sir.” He knew the importance of keeping your word.He shut the cat up in the shed. He went to school. He came home and gathered what he needed—the rifle, ammunition, a shovel and that cat.
With a heavy heart, he led the way up the path to the top of the bluff overlooking the river. He dug a deep hole, shot the cat, buried the cat. Picked up the shell casing, rifle, and shovel and walked back down the path home. He put things away.Uncle Kenny said “Is the job done?”
Kenny said “Yes.”Kenny felt so bad he was excused from supper on Friday. He didn’t sleep well but knew the next morning that he needed to get up, eat something and do his chores.Helen could see he was hurting so she set about fixing all his favorite things for lunch. Uncle Kenny could see that too so he put him to work harvesting Chevy tire rims from that 20 acres and lining them up along the fence. He worked hard all day stopping only long enough for that dinner Helen fixed of fried chicken and potato salad then supper of steak, baked potato, sweet corn and chocolate cake.He was worn out and went to bed early. He slept hard.
It seemed that on the third day, he could begin to think that at least he had kept his word to his folks. As he made his way to the barn, he saw that cat, coming down off the bluff. He was looking a little rough and maybe a little thinner but there he was.Kenny could hardly believe his eyes but immediately thought there must be something to that old saying that cats have nine lives. He smoothed the cat’s fur and gave him a big bowl of water and one of cat food. Then he called Uncle Kenny and Aunt Helen and asked please please could they all give the cat one more chance? After all being shot and buried ought to have taught him something.Uncle Kenny said “You know the agreement about our family’s livelihood and your responsibility?”
Aunt Helen said “That cat never comes into my house or my chicken house again!” Kenny said “I know. I promise.”That evening, on the porch, he talked to that cat for a long time about nine lives and responsibilities and keeping his word and all.
Kenny said what with the run in with the junk yard dogs, that sow, that time under the tractor, the rooster, being shot and buried and all—maybe there weren’t that many lives left and the cat had best begin to use some caution. Then he fed him extra well, said goodnight and went on in to bed.
There were four perfectly good days. Come Friday morning, before Kenny’s feet hit the floor, he heard shouting out by the barn. When he ran through the porch—the cat was gone.Uncle Kenny had been up first and checked on the cows and the 4H lambs in that back pasture. There was that 43 pound cat, stalking one of the lambs.
The problem would have to be solved permanently this time. Kenny shut the cat in the shed and went to school. When he was back home, he gathered the rifle, 9 shells, the shovel, a Bowie knife, 9 big old burlap sacks, and 9 pieces of twine. He called that cat and went up the bluff.He dug a deep hole. He shot that cat 9 times (8 for the rest of the 9 lives and one forgood measure) then took that knife and cut and chopped and hacked till he had that head off the body.
He threw the body in the hole and covered it up. He put that head in one ofthose burlap sacks with a big rock and then tied that with a granny knot; he did the same with a second sack, rock, knot till that head was inside 9 sacks with 9 rocks, and tied up with 9 knots then he dragged that down to the bridge and threw it into the river.
He cleaned off the knife and the shovel. He picked up the rifle, the shell casings, the knife and the shovel and he walked back down the path home.For the rest of that day he felt so bad, he went straight to bed and pulled the covers up over his head.
On the second day, Uncle Kenny set him out to harvest Ford tire rims and Aunt Helen set out to feed him well. She baked him his very own double chocolate cake with double chocolate frosting. Once again he went to bed worn out.The third day he got up early and headed for the barn to do the milking.
Before he reached the barn here come that cat up the path from the river and this time the cat was carrying his head in his mouth.