A purr-fect visi­tor to church


We have a pet. She’s a beauty — a blackand-white bor­der col­lie. Well, mostly col­lie, mixed with an­other un­known brand. Her name’s Madisyn. All four of us as a fam­ily are hope­lessly de­voted to her and, de­spite her oc­ca­sional ir­ri­tat­ing habit, I sup­pose there’s noth­ing we wouldn’t do for her.

Still, I miss Tommy. When I was 12, I “owned” a cat. I named him Tommy. I’ve put the word “owned” in quo­ta­tion marks be­cause tech­ni­cally he wasn’t mine. There were two rea­sons for this.

First, my fa­ther dis­liked four-legged an­i­mals and, per­haps, some two-legged an­i­mals. He didn’t en­cour­age his chil­dren to have pets.

Sec­ond, Tommy be­longed to a neigh­bour. How­ever, over a sum­mer, I wooed him to our gar­den. Then, when­ever Dad was away on per­sonal or church busi­ness, I would let Tommy in­side the par­son­age for a few min­utes, hours or days, de­pend­ing on the length of my fa­ther’s ab­sence.

By sum­mer’s end, Tommy was, for all in­tents and pur­poses, my cat. He watched me like a hawk from his van­tage point on our ve­randa as I left for school in the morn­ing, and he was there when I got home in the af­ter­noon. He found his own home at night, but he re­li­giously came to me for food, wa­ter and ca­ress­ing. I al­ways had on hand a ready sup­ply of cat good­ies.

In Au­gust, it was so hot in church, the ush­ers would open the win­dows to let in a draft of air.

One Sun­day evening, af­ter the Pen­te­costal ser­vice had swung into full gear, an usher threw wide open all the win­dows.

The church was di­vided into two rows of pews, with an aisle in be­tween. My brother and me, gui­tar play­ers both, sat on the sec­ond pew from the front on the left, di­rectly be­low one of the win­dows.

No sooner had the usher opened the win­dows and re­turned to his chair at the back of the sanc­tu­ary than I caught a blur of fur out of the cor­ner of my eye. Jerk­ing my head in dis­be­lief, I saw Tommy, perched on the win­dowsill, purring and peer­ing around the church. I caught my breath and waited for what I knew was the in­evitable. I felt blood rush to my cheeks.

Sud­denly, Tommy spied me. In one grand leap, he jumped over my brother and landed on my left knee. Now, I was hold­ing both a cat and a gui­tar.

Dad, do­ing his usual thing on the plat­form, missed noth­ing in the un­fold­ing drama. He in­structed his youngest son, “Bur­ton, put the cat out.”

Not one to pub­licly dis­obey his par­ents, I du­ti­fully placed aside my gui­tar, which knocked against the seat, the open strings mak­ing a loud dis­cor­dant sound. I marched to the back door, where I re­leased Tommy and shooed him away from the build­ing.

Many of the con­gre­gants had know­ing smiles on their faces, while oth­ers looked like they had just swal­lowed a bot­tle of vine­gar. Sev­eral of the younger set, who were my school­mates, were en­joy­ing the in­ci­dent to the full.

My face burn­ing, I re­turned to my pew, gath­ered my mu­si­cal in­stru­ment, and picked up where I had left off.

To my hor­ror, I sud­denly heard a loud meow out­side. I shot a glance at my re­served mother, who was sitting across the aisle from us, then at my fa­ther on the plat­form, then at my brother who had a dead­pan ex­pres­sion on his face. Again, I in­stinc­tively knew ex­actly what was about to hap­pen. Tommy was back with a vengeance.

A mo­ment later, he jumped up onto the win­dowsill. This time, though, he knew ex­actly where I was lo­cated. He crouched, then shot through the air like a bul­let from a gun. Miss­ing the mark by a few inches, he wedged him­self be­tween my gui­tar and me. There was an un­godly up­roar as he tried to ex­tri­cate his paws from the strings, while I strug­gled to put down my in­stru­ment and hold him tightly, to pre­vent him from do­ing a holy roller dance around the church.

I was hu­mil­i­ated. Not sur­pris­ingly, my friends were de­lighted. I could imag­ine them say­ing, “ Now this is what makes church ex­cit­ing!”

Dad shifted his Joey Small­wood-type glasses and pursed his lips. A man of few words, he spoke di­rectly to me for the sec­ond time, “Put the cat out.”

His or­der was my com­mand, so I fol­lowed it to the de­tail. I marched to the back en­trance and de­posited the cat out­side. De­spite the fact I thought the world of Tommy, I refuse to put into print what I whis­pered un­der my breath to him as I told him to get lost.

As I was walk­ing back to my pew, my face aflame, I heard Dad say, “ Mr. Usher, please close all the win­dows.”

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