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October 23, 2021

During the difficult days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Clare and I are doing what we can to help those in need. Each week in this space, I will ask you to consider supporting one of the local nonprofit agencies that offer critical care in our community. This week, please volunteer for, or donate, as you are able, to the Spartanburg Humane Society, Animal shelter, 150 Dexter Road, Spartanburg, South Carolina, 29303, (864) 583-4805.

Cats are a classic Halloween symbol, but how did their unique place in the October celebration originate? Black cats have long been regarded as objects of superstition. In Medieval France and Spain, black cats were considered bearers of bad luck and curses to any human they came near.  Later they were associated with witchcraft. 

A friend was taking me to a medical appointment last week. Along the way, a black cat ran across the street in front of us. “Did you see that?” my driver exclaimed.

“Yes,” I replied. “That is supposed to bring bad luck.”

“Not for me,” my friend said. “I love black cats.”

The world is filled with cat lovers. The animals have been revered from ancient Egypt, where they were first domesticated, to the exotic Persian cats. They are thought to be the most popular pets in the world. Many of our friends are cat people, and some have cats living in their homes – the very definition of a house cat.  

Composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, the Broadway musical Cats opened on Broadway in 1982. The production won numerous awards, including a Tony as the best musical. As of this year, it is the fourth longest-running musical in Broadway history.

Suffice it to say, many people love and enjoy cats. Some do not.

I am fascinated by the big cats on the National Geographic television channel. I enjoy watching the Panthers, the Lions, the Bengals, and the Jaguars of the National Football League.  I can tolerate cats around the house as long as they stay outside, hunt rodents for their keep, and leave the birds alone.

Since we were married, Clare and I have pretty much agreed that cats were not our favorite pets, and Clare just downright does not like cats, inside or out.

I have learned that when Clare senses something is amiss, I need to pay attention to her. Years ago, while hunting for a house in Winston-Salem, we visited one picturesque abode. We got no further than the front door when Clare said, “Yuck! The previous family had cats! Many cats!”

We purchased a different home, further out in the country, near the old Moravian settlement of Pfafftown, North Carolina. We had no sooner moved into our new domicile than our first visitor appeared on our doorstep. He was an enormous cat, as white as Martha White’s self-rising flour and as wild as a March hare. Neighbors told us that the cat had belonged to the previous owners of the house.

I made the mistake of feeding leftovers to the feline, and he stayed around for the seven years we lived there. I named him the Kentucky Wildcat, though we resided in the heart of Atlantic Coast basketball territory. In the seven years we had Kentucky, I never laid a hand on him. I never could get close enough even to scratch his ears. He possessed the disconcerting habit of darting across my path when I went outside on dark nights. Though I halfway expected his surprise appearances, he never failed to startle me.

I saw Kentucky for the last time on the day we moved away. I thought of trying to take him with us, but he was simply not available. It seemed only fitting. We really had never owned him. I doubt he ever had an actual owner.

Clare often wears two pairs of glasses. Her prescription lenses are perched on her nose, and a pair of reading glasses is at the ready on top of her head. But her unaided eyesight is impressive. She can spot a dead bug on our basement floor at thirty paces. She can see a stain on my shirt and identify the source before I am even aware of the blemish. She carries a Tide laundry stick in her purse, just to keep me presentable.

My wife’s hearing is equally sensitive. Several years ago, on a rainy night during a booming thunderstorm, Clare thought she heard a baby crying. I, of course, heard nothing. But I have learned to pay attention when Clare senses something strange. As I listened, I heard only rumbling thunder, whistling wind, and pounding rain.

“I hear something that sounds like a baby crying,” Clare insisted. I listened more closely, and I heard what she had heard.

I went out into the storm to investigate. Sure enough, Clare was right! It was a baby crying – a baby kitten.

I reported my find. “Don’t bring that cat into this house!” she instructed.

I heeded her warning. Again, I have never regarded myself as a cat person. Dogs are more to my liking. At the same time, I felt compelled to provide some comfort for the black and white foundling. The little kitten had obviously become separated from her mother during the storm. I could not be sure how old the kitten was. She was so small I could hold her in the palm of one hand.

Placing an old towel in a garden basket, I made a bed for the tiny trembling stray. Cold, wet, hungry, and frightened, she continued to cry. She even tried to nurse my little finger in search of milk. That didn’t work.

 I called a good friend, a retired veterinarian, who gave me sound guidance.

“You found her, Kirk. She’s your responsibility. You’ll have to become her mother.”

At a local pet store, I purchased a formula substitute for feline mother’s milk. The little orphan lapped it up and promptly fell asleep in the crook of my arm. As I have said, I am not really a cat person, but I had become the unexpected caretaker of a kitten.

Our daughter named the cat. “She was delivered to your porch by a thunderstorm. You have to name her Stormy.” So, Stormy she is. Little did I know then that the name Stormy would later become associated with a national scandal, as in Stormy Daniels.

My veterinarian friend advised me on immunizations and on the proper time to have her spayed. Those health issues were taken care of by the good folks at our local animal shelter. Now, when I take Stormy to have her shots, my friend Roger goes with me. Believe it or not, it takes two grown men to corral the small cat into a crate to transport her to the vet.

My responsibilities are relatively few. I make sure Stormy has her regular ration of food, that her water bowl is freshly filled each day, and that she has a routine tick and flea treatment. I also take a little time to scratch her ears. When I sit down on a favorite bench in the yard near the tree of life, Stormy still enjoys climbing into my lap for a snooze. I, though not really a cat person, enjoy that, too.

Stormy has made herself at home in our garden. She quickly found the patch of catnip and enjoyed a daily tumble in the fragrant foliage. She has her favorite lookout posts and napping places. She has climbed most of the trees in our garden and knows how to descend as well as ascend each one.

Early in our relationship, Stormy and I reached an agreement. She is free to stalk and capture any varmint that crosses the estate. However, she is under strict orders to leave the birds alone. She does have to be reminded.

Stormy has gifted us with a variety of relics at our front door. These have included an assortment of deceased moles, voles, mice, chipmunks, and at least three gray squirrel tails. I don’t know what she did with the other end of the squirrels. Perhaps there are three tailless squirrels still bounding through our tree branches.

Late one night, I heard the sounds of a major catfight.  Actually, Stormy had cornered a possum. She wasn’t quite sure what to do with the critter. So, I ran it off with a pickax handle that I keep close by for just such occasions.

As far as I can tell, the bird casualties have been limited to one starling. Honestly, I wasn’t a bit upset by the demise of the pesky starling. Stormy is a discerning cat.

I have a cast-iron chiminea in one corner of our garden that I bought from a fellow in Commerce, Georgia. Sometimes on cool nights, I build a small fire in the rusty stove. Stormy ventures over to check me out. Then, just like she did when she was a tiny kitten, she will hop on my lap. I am not really a cat person, but I scratch her ears. Stormy purrs, and we enjoy watching the dying embers together.

By the way, Stormy is a black cat with attractive white markings.

            Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, a teacher, a pastoral counselor, and a retired pastor. He can be reached at

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