A post over on Mindful Digressions prompted me to write this article about a character who enchanted me as a child. So thank you Doobster for the prompt.
I was about ten when there was a new addition to the household. It came in the form of a little black bundle of fur which was quickly named Blackie. He was a little kitten that my father had brought home to replace Smokey who had to be put down after coming off second best with a gin trap (not illegal back then, but prohibited in residential areas).
Smokey had adopted us when I was five, and was a very gentle, affectionate tabby, but was not much into play. We adored him immensely and he was sadly missed. There had been two attempts at replacing him, but for reasons I can no longer recall, both died after being with us just a few months. At first were were reluctant to become too attached to Blackie in case he was destined to a similar fate. But there was no denying his charm and intelligence.
Brother M, who was a little over a year younger than I, enjoyed tormenting his siblings (there seems to be one in every family). Usually it was his younger siblings, but I was also fair game. His favourite trick was to do something that would get another child in trouble. For example he would sit on the sofa beside me, hit me hard and yell “Ouch! Stop hitting me”. Our mother was fairly tolerant of sibling rivalry, but eventually M’s loud complaints at being bullied would result in her intervening. Of course I would be blamed as I was bigger than him.
Blackie was as much a victim of M’s tormenting as the rest of us. While I would never be so devious as to cause M to take the blame for something I did, Blackie had no such scruples. One in particular is still memorable.
M and sister B were sitting together on the couch, and I was quietly reading a book on the opposite side of the room when I heard B tell M to stop annoying her. M denied doing anything, but that was to be expected. This continued to occur at about one minute intervals, with the voices of both B and M slowly becoming louder. On the fourth or fifth occasion, I happened to look up just in time to see Blackie disappear behind the back of the sofa. Curious, I watched and waited. A minute later, Blackie’s head appeared above the back of the sofa, followed a moment later by one of his paws. The cat slowly stretched out the paw, gently patted B’s ear, then promptly disappeared from view. Of course, B again protested at being annoyed, and naturally M denied all responsibility. I was part way though telling them that Blackie was to blame when I changed my mind. I mumbled the rest of the sentence to an inconclusive ending and we all went back to minding our own business.
Another minute went by until Blackie performed the same trick again. This continued for about ten minutes and the complaining and denial had degenerated into an argument. I was beginning to think the better of my silence when our mother intervened. M was of course blamed as he was bigger than his sister, and was sent out of the room to “rethink his attitude”. I kept my mouth shut. Blackie appeared as if from nowhere, curled up on B’s lap and started his very loud purr.
That incident was the only one where I saw M being punished for something Blackie did. But until Blackie’s death, M was occasionally blamed for things I knew he couldn’t be responsible for. I kept my mouth shut. Yes, I admit it. I do have a (slightly) mean streak.
In those days we owned a dozen fowl, which kept us well supplied with eggs. They had an enclosed house and a yard of about 20 feet square to scratch around in. Every few days, the birds were allowed out to exercise on the adjacent lawn. The lawn was bounded on three sides by buildings and fences and by a garden on the fourth. The children were assigned the task of keeping the fowls off the garden and from escaping through the openings between the buildings. It kept us children quite busy.
While we had allowed Smokey to be outside during these “bird outings” as he shown no interest in them, our mother had though it prudent to lock Blackie inside while the birds were out. One day Blackie managed to escape. and he was discovered hiding behind a small bush, his tail swishing excitedly as watched the fowls intently. Our mother, in her wisdom, decided not to force the cat inside, and told me to keep a close eye on the cat and to intervene “only if necessary”. How I was supposed to do that I’m not quite sure as a cat in pursuit mode moves very fast.
As one bird approached the edge of the lawn near where Blackie was hiding, the cat got into position ready to pounce. I got up to grab the cat, but it was too late. Blackie sprang out just as the bird put its foot on the garden. The bird let out a loud squawk, did a quick u-turn and ran for its life towards the open gate to its yard with the cat in close pursuit. Blackie was so close that he could have easily brought the bird down by extending his paw, but he made no attempt to do so. He stayed right behind the bird until it passed though the gateway, whereupon he sat down nonchalantly licked a paw, then wandered back to his hiding place.
This continued for the rest of the afternoon. Blackie would remain on the garden, either hidden from view, or quietly stalking a bird if it approached the garden. He never made his presence known to the fowls unless one of them actually stepped onto the garden or attempted to go through one of the openings. At that point he would chase the bird all the way back to the gate to the yard, then walk back to the garden. Finally, it was time to return the fowls to their enclosure. This was a task that required the combined efforts of several people as the dozen fowl found ways of avoiding going through the gate. The moment Blackie understood out intent, he had the reluctant birds rounded up and inside the yard within seconds.
We continued to keep an eye on Blackie for a few weeks whenever the fowls were let out, but we never had to intervene. Finally, Mum felt it was safe enough for Blackie to mind the fowls on his own. For the rest of his life, he could be relied on to keep the fowls off the garden and from escaping. When it came time to return the birds to their enclosure, all we had to do was step onto the lawn and clap our hands. Within seconds all the birds would rounded up and in their yard. If he was able to he would probably have closed the gate as well. He had already worked out how to open doors inside our home. At school, farm kids sometimes boasted about the talents of their sheep dogs. Now we we able to boast about the skills of our “chicken cat”.
Blackie, like most cats, had a dislike of dogs. The only exception was an elderly cross-bred terrier that lived next door. He was too feeble to jump the low fence in the front of the section, (for non-NZers, a section is a residential property or lot). We didn’t have a front fence, so Bib, as the dog was affectionately named, would push through the hedge separating the two sections whenever he wanted to go for a walk. Blackie and Bib could be often seen lying together as if they were the closest of friends.
Blackie’s dislike of dogs turned to irrational hatred (Bib excepted) when he was about nine months old. One day a cocker spaniel managed to corner Blackie and he was unable to escape. Before he could be rescued, Blackie took matters into his own hands (paws?) and struck at the dog’s nose. The dog gave a loud yelp, turned tail and ran for the safety of his home several sections up on the other side of the road. I recall seeing the dog disappear behind the house with Blackie still in hot pursuit. A little latter Blackie reappeared, his tail standing up as if in pride as he trotted back home.
We didn’t see dogs on the street so often after that. Blackie made sure of it. If he saw any dog within half a block of our section, he would be off after it instantly. I never saw a dog stand up to our cat, and there were some large dogs in the neighbourhood. Unfortunately his hatred of dogs lead to his demise when he was a little over two years old. He was hit by a car in one of his mad dashes across the road in pursuit of the cocker spaniel.
He was sadly missed and will forever have a fond place in my memories.