I don’t know why my daddy decided he wanted a cat. It wasn’t like he ever admitted liking animals as pets, although I think we all saw through his bluff. But we had a dog – a miniature dachschund named Ginger – and I don’t recall any of us kids asking for a cat. So I guess Smoky was Daddy’s idea. I do remember going with him to get Smokey, at te house of someone who worked with him. He was a beautiful gray cat, a Russian Blue. I don’t remember much of the early days – I was maybe 12 – but I do remember how Ginger, even though she was smaller than Smoky (who must have been fully grown when we got him), completely dominated that cat. She would shove her way between Smoky and his food bowl, and Smoky just took it. He wasn’t afraid of dogs – more than once I saw him face down much larger dogs, including a boxer that thought he had cornered him on the porch one day. But he never stood up to a 10-pound dachschund. Smoky did tangle regularly with other neighborhood cats, however, having some memorable fights. I have a vivid memory of an early Sunday morning brouhaha with a large tabby from down the street, which took place over our front yard and two neighbor’s front yards, with my mother following them with a rolled-up newspaper which she would throw at them, while yelling “SMOKY, YOU’RE GOING TO WAKE UP THE NEIGHBORHOOD!”. The Railsbacks, across the street, particularly loved that one, although Mrs. Railsback was terrified of Smoky. She would come to visit, and Smoky would sometimes run into the house – he was an outside cat, but was always trying to get in, especially after he got in unnoticed one day and found a German chocolate cake cooling on the kitchen table. So when he would run in, my mother would chase him down and grab him, and throw him back outside. He would hiss and spit and “rowrrrrrrrrrrrrrr” loudly when this happened, but never tried to scratch or bite. Nonetheless, Mrs. Railsback was deathly afraid of that cat.
So it was a little ironic that Smoky died in her garage. Smoky’s one unvanquishable foe was a large Siamese that lived a block away. They would fight, and the Siamese, being bigger, always won. Smoky would often end up with an infected, swollen tail. I remember that we took him to the vet twice for the swollen wound to be lanced. The third, Daddy decided he could do it himself. So he took an old army rucksack, and put Smoky in head first, with only his tail sticking out. He told me to hold the sack, then he grabbed his tail and popped it with a lance. We did this in the kitchen. That was when I discovered that an Army rucksack, made of canvas, will not hold a cat that really wants to be out. Smoky tore the seams apart, and when I saw both front paws and the head coming out, I dropped the sack. Daddy started yelling at me, but I was more concerned with getting the hell out of the kitchen, preferably by a different door than Smoky. I turned over one chair, Smoky turned over another chair, and daddy came running out of the kitchen with the sack trying to catch Smoky and get him back in the sack. I think he’d have had a better chance of finding the Pope in that sack than ever finding Smoky in there again. But back to Mrs. Railsback’s garage – Daddy was out of town, and I think Smoky had another fight with the Siamese. I just remember he had a swollen tail, and was slinking around the house for a couple of days, obviously not feeling well. One night, he didn’t show up for supper. The next morning, Mrs. Railsback called my mother to say he was in her garage dead. My little brother and I were both at school, and Daddy was still out of town, so my mother got Smoky and buried him in the back yard, so we kids wouldn’t have to see him dead. Now, this was in the spring, at a time when we get heavy rains and the clay soils will swell. One of those fronts came though that dropped several inches of rain over the course of a couple of days. Daddy had gotten back, and was out in the back yard looking at his flowerbeds when he noticed a strange sight – what appeared to be four legs of an animal sticking up from the ground. Smoky had returned, in a fashion. Daddy dug him up and reburied him, much deeper. He didn’t tell my mother for years. Neither of them told us for quite a while. They just let us think Smoky had wandered away, although I figured out the basics of what had happened. It was at least ten years later, after I was out of high school and college, before Daddy told me the story of the legs sticking out of the ground.
I thought about this because of a story I read at Dew On The Kudzu, about the much nobler burial of Kudzu the dog. That’s a story worth reading, even if all of Kudzu’s body parts stayed buried.