June 5, 2007

We had a fat Siamese cat named Winky. Winky was, I guess, what they call a chocolate point. Mom pointed out that he had a kinked tail, which was supposed to be a mark of pure breeding, as well as crossed eyes, which I understand is not deliberately bred into cats anymore because it is thought to be cruel. Winky was short for Winchester, after the song “Winchester Cathedral.”

Winky was a manly cat. He liked to fish, hunt, and sleep. He was very sociable and liked to take walks with us around the property. Once he followed me through the path to the woods nearly to the park, a walk that was probably about a mile, but when we were nearly there, he started yawling because he was tired and I had to carry him all the way back home.

I was a teenager during much of the time Winky lived with us, and I had moved up into the attic of our house which had been “finished,” if you use the term loosely. Before we had central air conditioning installed, there had been a giant attic fan on the other side of the attic, and though we didn’t use the fan any longer the louvers were still there. Winky, being the enterprising cat he was, figured out how to climb the mimosa tree, walk along the branch over the carport roof, jump down and then, if it was daytime, scamper quickly across the hot tin roof to slide in between the louvers that, after many years of doing this, were custom bent to fit his shape. If it was nighttime, he could take a more leisurely stroll across the cooler roof.

I was a paranoid kid, and always locked my bedroom door at night with the cheap hardware hook and eye that were installed for that purpose. But sometimes at night I could hear some crunching noises and in the morning when I came out the door there would be a little pile of bird feathers that Winky had left after having a late night snack.

The fashionable author, Winky as a youngster, and a dog, Tinker, who took up residence with us for only a short time. Winky is even here longingly looking out toward the lake. My mother’s container gardening skills are shown in the pot to my right.

Winky also loved to fish, and when the lake was high, only a few inches away from the deck of the short pier Daddy had built, Winky would sit out at the end of it, motionless, with his head bowed and looking straight down into the water. We used to feed the fish off this pier and so they were trained that if they came up there then they might get a treat. When a hapless fish came near the surface to check things out when Winky was there, he’d swipe at it with his paw and flip it up on the pier where he’d grab it in his mouth. The ambience of the lake was not suitable for dining, however, and Winky would trot up to the house, grinning, with this fish crosswise in his mouth, and then look for one of us so that he could set it down where we could admire it. Sometimes he had to put his paw on it to keep it from flopping around too much, but he did not fish for fishing sake. This was his dinner.

Over time, Winky refined his late night snacks which he liked to bring to the outside of my attic door. He learned to catch bullfrogs, and he would drag them up the mimosa tree, over the roof, and through the louver. It was bad enough to wake up in the morning to a pile of bird feathers, it was worse to wake up and find the body only of an enormous bullfrog, the slimy remains of which were the size of a kitchen plate, with all the legs chewed off. It seems Winky had the culinary foresight to understand that the legs of these animals are the tastiest.

One year Daddy had worse-than-usual problems with rats getting into the grain in the barn. The rats saw feedbags, whether cotton or burlap, as no obstacle at all for chowing down on Daddy’s expensive feed. A big wooden bin that Daddy built was of no use, either. They chewed a hole through it in only a couple of days. During an aha! moment, Daddy bought a big tin garbage can and put the feed in there. Rats are clever rodents, and figured out how to pry the top of it and climb in and gorge. One day Daddy came up to the house and got Winky and told me to come along. The three of us went back to the barn and, holding Winky by the scruff of the neck, Daddy sneaked up to the garbage can, whisked off the top, tossed Winky in, and then slammed the top shut again. We heard this gawd-awful squeaking and tumbling-around noise and the garbage can shook and rocked like Elvis’ hips. Suddenly it was deathly quiet. Daddy opened the lid. After a moment to compose himself, Winky jumped out with no less than a dozen mice stuffed in his cheeks and mouth and with tails and tiny ears and noses and other appendages sticking out at various angles around his teeth.

I don’t know if this fixed Daddy’s rat problem, but he must have felt at least temporarily vindicated.

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