Snoopy

 

When I was a kid in the ‘hood, we had a cat – one of the only cats in the ‘hood. He was black as coal, with shiny fur, and lived a hard life. But like us, he was tough and adventurous, taking on all comers – and using up a lot of his lives in the process. And his name was Snoopy.

I don’t know where Snoopy came from, or how he came to live with us. I know he had to have been one of my mother’s acquisitions, for my father hated cats and would shoot the little beasts on sight. But Snoopy, being my mom’s, was immune to such prosecution, and enjoyed favored status. Like most cats, he knew who detested him and would wind himself around that person’s ankles and jump into their lap. Snoopy. That darned ol’ cat.

I won’t say my brother and I weren’t mean to him – we were in all the ways that little boys can be, and then some. As a result of our clever ‘pranks’ (and not just a few ‘experiments’), Snoopy had a tail shaped a bit like an old car crank, and a lot of wary regard for the two heathens he shared his house with. I guess he got twirled by the tail just one time too much. My mom pretty much kept her hold on everyone, beating whoever needed it (or appeared to need it – or might need some in the future) into shape, and as we grew older we fell from our wicked ways and learned to treat Snoopy with a bit more respect, though sharp claws and a warning hiss may have had something to do with that.

Snoopy was more than just a tough old cat – he was a fearless feline, guarding our trashcans from the predations of the garbage men intruders – who, no doubt, in his small mind, were stealing food from the pride. He would lurk on the roof come trash day, waiting for the bravest of them to step forward. Our garbage men, mostly old colored men who had seen more sprightly days, developed a healthy fear of that cat. They would approach the house carefully, eyeing the roof line with a wary and sometimes rhuemy eye before approaching the solitary can standing beneath the eaves. Sometimes you’d hear them cautiously inquiring one another – “You see dat cat?” and then the other – “Naw, I don’ see ‘im.” – and then they would gingerly easing up towards the trashcan as though stalking elusive prey, taking mincing steps – only to find out when they’d reach the can that yes!, indeed, he was still lurking up there, waiting to pounce upon their waiting heads upon hearing the rattle of the lid.

I watched that cat take on a German Shepard ten times his size – and he licked him, too, sending that dog screaming in tail tucked terror back across the road, a black ball blur of hissing fur and razor sharp claws attached to his back. And then the cat dropped, stopped, and sticking his chest out as though extraordinarily proud, came strutting back across the sand road to curl in his customary position in the shade of the cool concrete carport, acting as though nothing had happened. That was one cool cat.

Then one wintry morning it happened. It was the normal morning bustle – getting us kids off to school, my dad headed for work. As us kids getting ready for school, my dad went out to start the car. It was winter; our breaths were frosty cold and he wanted to warm it up. My dad had just stepped out, I was coming out of the bathroom after brushing my teeth, my mom scolding we were going to be late for the bus – and you didn’t want to miss the bus, or else you’d have to walk to school – when my dad opens the screen door. He’s no sooner got the door open than a black blur races past his legs, bee-lining its way through the kitchen down the hallway, and straight as a flash into the bathroom and jumps into the corner between the toilet and the tub.

I guess Snoopy had heard my momma Rule: “No blood in the house!” If you got hurt or started fighting inside, that was the first thing you heard: “Take it outside! I don’t want no blood in my house!” she’d yell. Keep the outside blood outside, and don’t be bringing it in. If you’ve got to bring it in – head to the bathroom. Do not stop to say “I’m hurt”, do not pass Go. She hated a mess in her house! It didn’t matter how badly hurt you were – when my brother got a bayonet in his leg (it went nearly all the way through, separating the junction of an artery and a vein) – she made him sit right there on the porch while she locked up the house and got the car keys to take him to the hospital. And so it is that I guess the cat followed the rules, too, trailing a stream of blood.

My dad came rushing in, face pale despite the morning’s cold (which usually flushed his cheeks red, and his nose even redder). We knew he hated the cat; it would have been just like him to hurt it. But even he wouldn’t risk my mom’s wrath – something else must of happened.

“I ran over the cat!” he bellows, standing in the kitchen. But my mom is way ahead of him, following that blood trail into the bathroom like a blood hound on a scent. There the cat stands, next to the tub, his head cocked to one side, loops of dark red blood drooling from his mouth. I am just standing there staring at him, wondering how he could still be alive. “He was laying on the tire and when I went to back up – it ran over his head!”

I can see it – the lopsidedness of that cat’s head, the eyes no longer in an straight line, the ears sloped to one side. And in her grittiness (and to her credit), my mom grimly picks up the cat – he’s not fighting, he loves her so well – and shoos us boys towards the door.

“Don’t you all worry about it,” she says, herding us boys towards the door, “I’ll take him to the vet. He’ll either make it or he won’t.”

It was a couple days before we got our cat back. The vet said ‘yes’, the skull was cracked – but there was nothing that he could do about it. “Let nature take it’s course.” – which was so often the mantra when it came to injured animals and things. And so we did – us boys treating the cat with special tenderness, and not pulling on his tail anymore.

Within a few weeks it seemed the cat was back up on his feet, ambushing garbage men and keeping the neighborhood dogs out of the yard. His tail was crooked, his head lopsided – but he was fine, albeit he would sometimes walk a bit sideways when he wanted petted. Perhaps, though, that was just part of his nature, and I’d never noticed it until then.

We kept that cat for several more years before we escaped from the ‘hood for a year at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Snoopy disappeared a few days after our arrival there. My mom had warned us that this might happen; that cats sometimes run away after a move, looking for their old home, and despite searching high and low, we couldn’t find him anywhere.

It wasn’t until a few weeks later as I was bicycling through the all-so modern and (to me) strangely civilized environs of this ‘northern’ neighborhood that I spotted a black cat – his tail crooked at odd angles, and his head wide and misshapen – stalking a bird in one of the well manicured front yards. There was a man was washing his car in the (paved!) driveway, so I stopped. There were a few toys scattered in the yard, and I thought I saw a little kid lurking behind the darkness of the screen door of the house.

“Hey, mister,” I asked as the cat, missing his pounce, came to my side. “Where’d you get that cat?”

“Oh, he just showed up a few weeks back,” the man said. He stopped to watch as I got off my bike and knelt down next to the cat, petting it under the guise of examining it.

“Is he happy here?”

“Oh, I guess so,” the guy answered, “we’ve been feeding him – and he’s just sort of stuck around.”

I thought about that for a bit, petting my old cat. Should I tell the man that he was my cat – our cat, my family’s cat? Or just keep my mouth shut and let it go? I was getting sort of used to keeping my mouth shut, real used to keeping secrets – and I had just had to learn to ‘let things go’ when we escaped our old neighborhood, “the ‘hood.” Letting go of all of my friends, most of my toys, my environment, the place I’d called home for almost five years. I looked at Snoopy – he was purring beneath my touch, wending his way around my hand the way he used to do, looking at me with his lopsided face, those canted eyes. He seemed happy with where he was – and thinking about my own family, I made up my mind.

Standing back up, I grabbed my bike and looked at the man.

“He’s a nice cat. I hope he’s happy with you.” I know I was solemn in my speech, for the man looked at me rather strangely, and at the cat brushing himself against my ankles. I believe now the man knew: that this had once been my cat, and I was giving him up in the hopes of a better home – one where he could find happiness. I had to return to mine.

“I’ll take good care of him,” the man said, turning back towards his car as I mounted my bike and turned to go. “He’s got a good home here.”

So I left – left him there with that man, and what I hoped would be Snoopy’s happy new home, and slowly left, pedaling towards my own.

 

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