The Cat, The Car, and The Cousins
© Copyright 2018 by Douglas Courtney
Now dogs I get. My wife likes dogs too. Of course, she likes all animals. That could explain her attraction to me. Still, I like dogs. There is no malice in a dog unless you give it reason. They are open, friendly, no treachery, and they like you just because, well because you are you. They greet you at the door, lick your face and love to have their bellies rubbed. Even in the worst of times they love you. How can you not like a dog?
I mention this because, well I want you to know my position on the events that just unfolded. It involves cats, a car that was purchased by and for a female, and a group of female cousins. There are no dogs in this story. Given my predisposition to cats, and their proclivity to resemble women’s habits this doesn’t go well, at least for me.
To begin I recently joined my lovely wife for a much-delayed trip to her hometown and a visit with her aunt and uncle. Truly remarkable people that are just down to earth. ‘Down to earth’ is one of those southern sayings I’ve learned over time dealing with my wife, a North Carolina native raised in southern traditions. Loosely translated it means good and steady people, people you can depend on. That saying is in sharp contrast to the oft mentioned ‘bless his heart’ I have heard on more than one occasion. A simple, yet genteel, saying accepted in polite society that simply means that boy is an idiot. As I said, I have heard it on more than one occasion.
The trip also involved a much-delayed side trip to spread the ashes of my late father-in-law. He was a good man that died over two decades ago. For various reasons his ashes had not met their final resting place. For the last couple of years they resided in a box in the drawer of one of our bedroom chests. Not an unpleasant experience, but at times tended to make me feel Dad was watching us at some more delicate moments. I was looking forward to putting him and me at rest.
Now as a treat and to fortify my confidence before meeting the folks, my wife encouraged me to take a brief side trip to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. As a big history buff and former pilot this was a treat beyond equal. I actually got to tread where man learned to fly. While I couldn’t drag myself up all the hills and dunes of this well-kept historic site as my hiking days left me about 100 pounds ago, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I even poised for a picture. Something I usually avoid with practiced efforts.
Very tired after an exciting day and a long trip to her hometown of Winston-Salem I remembered parking the car next to the lobby with the hood facing a stand of grass. I then went to check in and fall down in the embrace of a hotel bed. I learned long ago to get two queen sized beds when we travel and it proved prudent this time as well. Let’s just say the little lady takes more than a few minutes to ready for bed and I have been known to saw logs very loudly after a long day. Plus, we have found that no matter the effort put into the picking and choosing of mattresses in hotel rooms, they all lack the capacity to allow one to completely enjoy a night’s comfort.
This night proved no different. Between the commercially laundered sheets, the mattresses discomfort, the intermittent air conditioning and the symphony of sounds we both woke in superb condition for the events of the upcoming day. In translation, we both crawled out of bed, stretched, cracked, creaked and generally stumbled to a sense of an ability to function in public. Grabbing a quick breakfast from the complimentary service, red-eyed and determined, we headed out to the car to partake of the planned agenda of the day.
We strapped in, enjoyed the lumbar support of finely designed Detroit engineering, and started the car. Now this is not just any car. This is the first and only car my lovely wife has ever chosen for herself. She bought it brand new in a bright shade of red. It is a simple, low riding, compact of a car. It has just enough height from the ground to give it good handling and great gas mileage. It is not in any way shape or form a monster car. It is the type of car chosen to park in shopping malls, yet carry a large load of merchandise back home. A perfect car for a speed demon with a shopping attitude.
Just as the rays of a hot southern summer day began to hit our vehicle we headed down the road. This was a trip of discovery. We were searching for remnants of my wife’s childhood some five decades in the rearview mirror. We set out to find a high school, some old homes, a park and various other memories with no clue as to place, distance or availability.
Since we knew of a high school in close proximity to our lodgings we decided to begin the search there. Sounds simple but the roads in this metropolitan area were not as explicitly marked as expected. Plus, the early and rain soaked spring had covered many of the signs with vegetation not yet cleared by the local department of transportation. We had GPS of course, but on more than one occasion the directions insisted on a turn that was not obvious until we had a passed the intersection. Let’s just say I got used to the term ‘make a U-turn at the next intersection’. I have to say the girl on the GPS can be quite the nag when she wants to be.
The explanations as to the trials of the trip of discovery are to give a complete description, defense and wonderment of the events beginning to unfold. We had been safely driving for more than forty-five minutes with naught but admonishments from the GPS and the wife when I heard a ‘mew, mew, mew, mew’ coming from somewhere in the car. That was it, a simple mew, mew, mew, mew. It wasn’t a derivative of the word mew. It sounded like one would spell it. Mew.
I looked over to my wife and asked if she had heard it. She ceased her protestations long enough to ask “What?”. I asked if she heard a cat’s mew. She was shaking her head no when the mew, mew, mew, mew repeated. Now we were going down a Winston-Salem back road at about 40 mph, air conditioning running, conversation happening, and the GPS telling me I was wrong once again. But we distinctly heard a mew, mew, mew, mew. Four mews in rhythm and in perfect time and pitch. It was so perfect we believed it had to have come from one of the apps on our phones.
Of course I believed the GPS lady was getting so frustrated that she was beginning to just spit at me or use some other method to get me to listen to her. But the wife decided to pull out our phones to see if the ring tones were set to the sound of a cat. An odd possibility on my part considering my predilection towards cats, but nonetheless a good response. But no. Not one of the phones had rung or changed ringtones. We didn’t hear the mewing again so we just went on our way for another five minutes.
Then it happened again. Mew, mew, mew, mew. We both heard it. It was loud and it was on my side of the car. I pulled over and told the wife that there had to be a cat in the engine. She looked at me in disbelief but waited patiently while I popped the hood and looked inside. Nothing. Not hair nor beast. Nothing. No sound. No mew. Nothing. So, I slammed the lid down started up the car and headed out.
In a few minutes it came back. Mew, mew, mew, mew. It was now on my wife’s side of the car and she heard it loud and clear. Then all quiet. Nothing. We checked our phones, the gauges on the car, looked through our carry on and found nothing. Then it began again. Mew, mew, mew, mew. I drove determined to drive away from whatever beast or practical joke was being played on us.
But the sound didn’t stop. Every few minutes now mew, mew, mew, mew. I had to find the source of the sound. It was driving me crazy and getting the wife very upset that some cat could be in trouble. I looked ahead and an empty parking lot loomed ahead. Being a Sunday morning on Memorial Day weekend it was not hard to find empty store parking lots in North Carolina.
I pulled in and popped the hood once again. This time the mewing continued just enough to determine that some cat had actually taken refuge inside the compartment of our engine. Just to review. This engine is in a compact car. It sits sideways and leaves little to no room to any repairs. In fact, anything less than a slim females hand couldn’t fit between the engine and the grill. Men generally pulled the whole engine out of the car just to change the darn oil. As I said it is a car bought by a female for a female.
On top of it all, because the engine is so compact it is damned hot inside the engine compartment. I couldn’t even conceive of any animal living in there for a few minutes let alone the over forty-five minutes we had already driven. Yet the darn cat was mewing at me!
As I scratched my head over the situation my wife got out of the car to take a look. At that point I knew we weren’t going anywhere until the ‘little kitty’ was safe. I had lost again and it hadn’t even taken a moment. So, I looked at our surroundings.
To our immediate right was a large grassy field. I mean large. The trees at the edge were better than fifty feet away. We were sitting at the edge of a large asphalt parking lot with the sun beating down on our heads at a balmy 89 degrees Fahrenheit. Up to the left about another 25 feet away sat a lone building and to our left rear sat a gas station convenience store about 35 feet away. Basically, we were in the middle of nowhere on Memorial Day weekend with a stowaway cat in the engine.
At this point I was beginning to wonder how bad dead cat smelled and for how long. I thought I could handle it for a while. It was the barbecuing on the engine I believed would be the deal breaker for me though. My wife had other ideas.
She was contemplating having me get out the wheel jack and lifting the car just enough for me to crawl under and get the kitty out. Now to say I am on the wrong end of 300 plus pounds is to put it kindly. It takes two men and a jack to get me up from a kneeling position but my wife is willing to risk it for a darn cat. That and perching this one-ton car on the very spindly wheel jack that comes with from the automaker.
I informed her that, no, I wouldn’t be doing that. Then I had to inform her why and then tell her firmly, but kindly, no again. She then suggested that she get under the car. Again, no. She is not mechanically inclined and her physical condition at some points are worse than mine. Still she persisted and I firmly insisted on no.
This was not going well at all. When I began to look around for assistance. I noticed the building at the end of the lot was an Animal Care Center. It said so on the sign. I was beginning to wonder if all of this was some omen or practical joke. It just couldn’t be I pulled into the one parking lot in all of Winston-Salem that had an animal care center in it. But to fuel suspicions even more just as I looked at the building an attendant walked out. A female attendant.
I hesitated a moment as I was already losing this battle to my wife. The addition of another female to our predicament meant complete capitulation. I looked at my wife’s lovely eyes and the agony they expressed for the ‘kitty’ and called out. Sure, enough the lady came over and inquired as to our needs. I explained the kitten in the car and she immediately went to digging around in the front engine with her female hands made for working on compact cars. My wife joined in the search.
At this point I was baggage. Hot baggage. We couldn’t turn on the car because there were hands in the engine and a cat that had to be saved. The temperature was unrelenting and not a cloud was in sight. The ladies were aware of my limitations but this did not stop them from dismissing me as a useless man incapable of creating a solution. Currently I was no longer a white knight at the top of the pedestal and I was quite aware of my position.
As the minutes passed they did discover that there was indeed a cat in the car. It was a dark black kitten with dark eyes. Apparently recently born. They found it lodged in a small space between the driver’s side fender and under the headlights. It was resting on the plastic undercarriage that covered the engine and protected it from road damage.
These two ladies put their hands in that hot engine. They coaxed the cat with ‘kitty, kitty, kitty’ sounds. They called out in their most comforting voices and when they weren’t coaxing they were asking me how to dismantle the front end! Really. They wanted to know if I or they could reach under the car and pull the engine cover off! All for a kitten that I was beginning to believe was a bane on my comfort and existence. I really did not care for cats at that moment.
In an effort to use some other means to coax the cat my erstwhile wife hoofed it over to the convenience station. There she met another woman that was immediately invested in saving the kitten. Any hopes I had of driving off were dashed against the rocks at that point. Cat food was supplied and a plastic stick for climbing was proffered. My wife hurriedly returned and efforts began anew. Five minutes passed, then ten. Just as I was about to offer for the 10th time to drive the car to a dealership the lady from the Care center popped her hand out of the car with kitten in tow. Success!!!!
I looked at the Animal Care Center and the large grassy field. Both, to my belief, were excellent places to ditch a tiny scrawny black kitten with white socks. I did until my wife took the kitten from the lady and held it to her chest. I barely heard the ‘I shouldn’ts and we can’ts’. I had seen the look in her eyes and the beginning of a few tears. My conditions were quickly sorted if we were going to keep the cat, a box to carry it in and my wife had to look after it. I’ll be damned if the lady from the Care center didn’t have an extra cat carrier and a blanket. I cursed the little bugger as they handed it to me so they could fetch the carrier.
It was then I discovered this cat’s penchant for cars. No sooner had the ladies turned their backs this wisp of an animal jumped off my lap on onto the floor of the car. It bobbed and weaved my efforts to contain it and weaseled its way up and under my dashboard! Oh, hell no! I lumbered my way out of the car got on my knees and felt up under the dash. I found a tail and grabbed it. I pulled and finally out popped this raggedy black kitten with a look that said, “What?” I gave it to the wife right then and there. She popped it in the carrier and I started the car. Cool air was once again my friend.
I looked over to thank the lady from the Animal Care Center but she was gone. She had hopped in her truck and sped away without nary a thankyou or reward. The wife meanwhile was putting cold water, a blanket and food into the carrier while fixing it up for its new occupant. She was all smiles and worry, but happy.
We began our journey anew with cat in tow. Frequent stops to check on the critter didn’t interfere with trips down memory lane. In fact, they seemed to enhance it. But by the end of our day we had to return to the hotel. A hotel that doesn’t allow pets. But not to worry. Ninety percent of the staff were women. They made sure that the cat could stay in the car and the wife would have what she needed to care for it. No questions were asked about the towels and washcloths used to comfort the cat. The wife meanwhile made more than a few trips to the car to comfort the baby until she could keep her eyes open no more.
While she was out on one of her trips I texted her female cousin Donna to let her know that my wife, Rhonda had a new pet. A cat from the engine. Well she thought this was a good story to be told and heard and looked forward to seeing us and the cat the next day. I told her the cat would be with us and I would see her tomorrow.
We woke up late the next day. Time and circumstances had just worn us out. But the heat of the day had turned to grey skies and rain. It made keeping the cat in the car much easier during the day as it would not face the issues of a hot car interior. Another omen? I decided to dismiss it.
Now I want to remind you that this was a kitten. It was in a car all night. I also want to remind you that kittens crap, kittens pee and kittens fart. This kitten did all three all night. Let’s just say it was ripe in that car. After an hour of cleaning, fussing and fixing the wife had the cat back in a clean cage and the car and the cat ready for the ride to another community of the past. The place where she hoped to spread her father’s ashes.
To say it was emotional was a bit of an understatement. Add the grey and the rain and it wasn’t a cheery trip to the past. We found the graveyard but after an hour in the rain couldn’t find a spot to spread the ashes. So, we went looking for links to her Papa and Granny. It didn’t take long and we took some pictures and soon found it was time to head to her aunt and uncles place. All the while the kitten just waited and watched. It was like it knew this was important.
But when we got to the aunt’s and uncle’s place, Donna was the first to greet us. A few warm hugs and a couple of handshakes later and the cousin wanted to meet the cat. At the direction of the uncle we moved the cat into the garage and let it sit in the carrier. It was comfortable. It was warm and it was fed. Donna peered through the screen, poked a finger through to pet it and then moved us all into the house to meet the aunt and regale them of the story of the cat in the engine.
But that wasn’t to be the end of the story. Diane, another of Rhonda’s cousins and her husband Brian showed up as well. Rhonda, Diane and Donna were known for causing a bit of trouble when they were younger. I don’t know if you would call ‘em rotten, because they all back each other up. Essentially, the full stories never get told. Still they are known for more than their share of mischief. Today was no different.
Engine, as the cat was now being called, was safely ensconced in its carrier. But Rhonda decided Engine’s carrier needed cleaning and the cousins didn’t disagree. So, the little rascal was removed from the cage. The cage set inside a garage. A garage where two cars were currently parked. In no apparent surprise to anyone but the cousins, soon after its release from the carrier Engine found itself on the floor. In a flash Engine had left the loving arms holding it and crawled into the undercarriage of the jeep. In an even less surprising revelation the cousins had to admit they couldn’t find it.
Now Aunt Faye and Uncle Arnold are good people, but they don’t want a cat. Leaving it in the jeep wouldn’t do. We had to get it out before Rhonda and I left. In essence I was stuck in North Carolina until Engine was no longer an issue for the aunt and uncle. My wife found me and told me about the problem with Engine. I turned and walked back into the living room shaking my head. I grabbed a coke and let events unfold as I expected and sure enough they did.
Brian a fireman crawled under and through that jeep. The cousins surrounded it calling out ‘kitty, kitty, kitty,’ and Uncle Arnold found a spritzer to spray the cat with water to force him out. I, however, chatted with Aunt Faye. After a good forty minutes Uncle Arnold came back and sat on the sofa. No cat in hand. Donna and Diane left the garage as well and so did Brian. All three bereft of any cat. Only my wife remained behind. At this point I was duty bound to go out to help.
I asked her to turn off the fans and electrical equipment and leave the garage. Only me and the cat remained. Feeling like a damn fool I meowed. Four meows just like I heard in the car the day before. Nothing. I meowed again. Then in response Engine meowed back. Four meows just like before. I did it again and Engine did too. After a few moments I echo located the darn cat to within a few feet of my position.
Once again, not being a picture of Adonis, I couldn’t get under the car to get the cat. I quietly went into the house and got Brian. Larry, Donna’s husband followed as well. On cue they remained silent as I made a fool out of myself and mewed one more time. Brian got on the floor with a flashlight. Larry motioned with his hand and between my mewing, Larry’s echo locating and Brian’s flashlight we narrowed the darn cat to its location.
Brian found Engine on the driveshaft, hunkered down and hiding its white feet from detection. He grabbed it, pulled it out and we shoved it back in the carrier. Larry immediately took the furry thing in the box to the back patio far from cars and jeeps. All four of us, Larry, Brian, Arnold and I admonished the cousins not to let that darn cat out again. With that mischievous glint in their eye, all swore they would never. And they didn’t for at least 10 minutes.
An hour or two passed in good conversation when it finally came time to head for the hotel and the trip home. Donna, bless her heart, had found the paper work to Rhonda’s family grave site and we had one more task to do before it became dark. We said our goodbyes and made sure we had that darn cat. Then we headed off down the hill to the cemetery.
After a brief search and an assurance this was the place, Rhonda finally let her father come home. It was on a beautiful spot overlooking the valley and with a grand view of the hills and trees. We paused to say goodbye and I took her in my arms back to the car and that darn cat. We headed down the hill and into town to get a slaw dog and onion rings then we headed back to the hotel. The cat remained silent occasionally poking its claws through the screen to tug on a sleeve.
We go back to the hotel, set Engine up for the night and went to bed. We rose early, creaked our way to the complimentary breakfast then packed up. Rhonda went and aired out the car and set Engine up for the long road back home. With all the gear packed, the goodbyes said, and a darn cat in between us we headed for home.
Between the traffic and the rain, I pondered a bit on the trip. It had been as it should have been. Rhonda loved her daddy, North Carolina and her family, especially her cousins. With Engine we had an adventure in North Carolina, we saw the old haunts and memories and Rhonda even got into a bit of trouble with her cousins. Just like old times. But after spreading her daddy’s ashes in the place of his birth she had a living memory to bring with her of him, her mom, family and friends. All and all a good trip.
Now we only have to see if the cat at home will agree with the sentiments abroad. But that is definitely another story.
I am a 21-year author of self-published books and short stories. I like writing and have been told to ‘get out there’ and try to let others see my work. So here is an effort. I am 64 years old, live in Florida with my lovely wife of 44 years and some cats. My profession is entrepreneur and businessman. I own a company that does research and development in electronic health care records.