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by Thomas Givens

I was born and raised in Sunflower and Bolivar counties in the great Mississippi Delta. We didn't know a thing about cats. We saw lions and tigers in the Tarzan movies, but a cat for a pet? I can't recall any of my myriad friends or relatives owning one as a pet. Dogs. That was it. I had a dog for company all through my childhood and early adulthood. Cats were useless, they couldn't hunt, except for themselves, and as far as pet material, they were too independent for me.

My first true experience with cats occurred when I was somewhere in my early or middle teens. An old black, itinerate tomcat would drop in, visit with us, enjoy our hospitality and food, and after a few days he'd move on. Funny thing about it, he came about the same time each year, in the spring.

Back in the '40s and '50s, farmers planted oats and wheat as a cover crop, and these were harvested in the spring. We had one of those combines that was not self-propelled. We pulled it with a tractor, and it had a small engine on it to operate the various mechanisms to process the oats or wheat. Well, after setting up all winter, Daddy and I would have to get it conditioned for the spring harvest.

This particular spring we serviced the engine on the combine, cleaned and greased and cranked it up to clean out the inner workings. Well, out came the itinerate tom, along with the straw and residue from the last harvest. He had been in there feasting on the mice which were in there doing the same on the leftover grain. We were sort of upset, mainly because when he came out, he was about three feet long, threshed real good.

After that I never had any contact with cats until I married my most recent wife.

When we moved into a new home, a beautiful calico cat started showing up on our doorstep. Well, my wife Deb bonded with the cat, and they'd sit out on the deck together while Deb had her morning coffee.

Not knowing the cat's true status, we also fed her. After a while, two kids showed up, apparently having noticed what was going on. They lived about a block over. They said the animal was their cat and her name was Lacie. We said fine, we would quit feeding her, knowing she had a home.

But Lacie didn't give up. She kept dropping in. When we went off on trips and were gone for a few days, when we drove up in our driveway, here would come Lacie, racing to see us. It was touching.

Then one weekend we went off on a trip. When we came back there was no Lacie. Then, while walking in the yard, Deb happened on her remains. We had a lot of racoons in the area and figured she tangled with one of them.

But now Deb was hooked. She had to have a cat.

Unlike me, she had grown up having cats as pets. Since she controlled 50% of the income and 100% of the sex in my life, I gave in. We went down to the humane society. God, what a din. Dogs were barking (as they do with the slightest provocation) and the smell was terrible.

We were ushered into the cat section. This was a private society and they did not euthanize their animals, so these cats had been there for a while in their cages. We looked at the cats, and the attendants advised us of their various eccentricities. Deb came to a cage where this scraggly looking cat was -- he was pitiful looking, but he had a pretty face with bright eyes. His name was Oberon.

Deb stood there looking at him, and Oberon reached out through the cage and touched her face with his paw. I said, "That's your cat." He was -- but as it turned out, he was really ours.

Through Oberon, I got to know cats. We shortened his name to Obie, and that is what he answered to. He was a love and so smart. He was found by someone in a trailer park in Millington, Tennessee, and delivered to the humane society. That rescuer recognized what we came to realize: Obie was special.

He was more like a dog than a cat, although he retained his independence. When we adopted him, we had to pledge to make him a house cat. Keeping that pledge, we made every effort to keep him inside because, being a free spirit, he wanted out.

One day, I was working in the yard. In our home we went downstairs to the family room out into the garage. I'd leave the door from the den to the garage ajar, but close the door to the upstairs to keep Obie in. I did all this, and the next thing I knew, Obie was outside with me. We had door handles, not knobs -- he stood on the stairs, flipped the handle and got out. We gave up and let him loose. He never wandered, stayed in his home territory.

When we got Obie, he was a sorry sight -- hair a mess, sores from fights, eyes all matted up -- but we knew he'd be a loving cat. When we got him, the shelter folks estimated his age to be about 2; we kept him 12 years. He fluffed up into a beautiful black and white, long haired domestic. Those 12 years were a joy. He was such good company, and our neighbors loved him too. He'd go visit and sit with them by their fireplace. Guess you would have to call him a people cat; he didn't know a stranger.

We went down to Biloxi for my birthday about 3 years ago, stayed at the Beau Rivage. Got back and Obie was acting strange; he would start meowing like he was hurting, turn in circles and wet. It finally dawned on us he was having seizures, and after going through all the options with our vet, we had to put him down. I have written about my dog Jack, his loss is one I'll never get over. Obie is about the same. Thought I would have to put Deb in the ground with him.

Well, after saying we would never get another cat, we gave in and adopted one. He is fat, like Garfield, but beautiful, black and white long hair like Obie, but prettier. He has the same personality, and we are lucky to have found him.

I've come to realize that cats are more interesting than dogs -- if you bother to get to know them.


Judge Tom Givens is a native Mississippi Deltan who now hangs his hat in Tennessee.
His memoirs are favorites at USADEEPSOUTH. Here are a few:

The Halfway Store
The Delta Theater
Memphis and the Delta
Whiskey, Chickens and Cherry Bombs

Write Tom at DeltaJudge2


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