Tuffy and the Thompsons: My parents were ordinary people, unimportant, and a far cry from the rich and famous.
Mom was a tall, slim, attractive redhead, and Dad, a rather chubby, rugged, yet handsome farmer. They shared a quaint farmhouse with me, an effervescent, adorable little girl, with golden Shirley Temple locks and the personality of Tarzan.
Woods surrounded our modest seventy-acre farm on three sides. A zigzag path in front led to the main highway where our truck stop diner was located. The Lucky Dollar not only kept Mom occupied but provided a nice supplement to our income in the process.
Mom’s family resided in Philadelphia, a half-hour away by bus. Our lives crossed with Tuffy’s during a visit to Grandmom.
Like most five-year-olds, I overflowed with an overabundance of curiosity and energy. Pent-up liveliness begged for release, but there aren’t many trees to climb, or fields to prowl in the city. So I settled for the next best thing, alleys!
The odor filled corridors were damp, dark, and dirty, but to a seasoned little explorer, they became magnificent concrete jungles. A bounty of riches awaited discovery within the trashcan-lined tunnel.
It was a typical hot city day in July, with temperatures expected to reach the upper ’90s by noon. Oblivious to the heat, I set out on my great Safari.
The dense underbrush of tall wooden walls and garbage-strewn concrete paths reeked with the foul stench of decay. In determining fervor, I trudged on, convinced Tarzan’s Jungle would smell much the same.
Great caution was applied as I stalked each bin, and the treasure hunt began. My eyes grew wide as I lifted the lid to one can and uncovered three baby kittens. They had been sentenced to a horrible death, discarded like yesterday’s spoiled garbage by a cruel individual. Only one of the trio remained alive and gasped for air as it struggled to live. Perhaps four weeks old at most, the gray and black striped kitten hovered near death from the suffocating heat. Without a moment of hesitation, I grabbed it up and bolted for the house.
Tears streamed down my face as I laid the pathetic bundle in Mom’s outstretched hands. I pleaded with her to use those special curative powers, so often used on me, to save its life.
By late afternoon, the tiny furball improved, thanks to luck and a great deal of tender care. “Without a doubt, you’re one tuff, little guy.” Mom beamed and stroked his small body, proud of her life-saving abilities.
“Gee Mommy, that’s a great name for him. Tuffy.” With a smile, she placed the kitten in my lap, and I giggled with delight as he began to purr.
Mom did not have the heart to return this innocent creature to the passageways of hell. To my delight, she decided to keep him, but a huge obstacle stood in the way. How would we get him home? Dad stayed behind on the farm business, and we had traveled by bus. Now what? Animals were not allowed on board. Our life together had not even begun, and yet it appeared doomed.
It took a bit of thought, but an ingenious plan began to take shape. Mom dashed from the house, hastened to a nearby millinery shop, and purchased the biggest, most outlandish hat on the shelves. An old milk wagon horse would have shuddered at the sight of this bonnet, but it was cheap and came with a sizeable hatbox. This was to be our new pet’s secret abode for an inconspicuous ride home.
Soft rags lined the hefty round box and a few air holes made in its side. This now provided a comfortable and secure carrier for Tuffy.
We fed the kitten in hopes a full belly would make him sleep through the imminent ordeal. Moments later, my precious new friend curled up in his new quarters and drifted off, exhausted by the day’s activity.
Mom placed the crown of revulsion on her beautiful head, picked up our creative pet carrier, and away we went. How this elegant woman remained poised, I will never know. The stares and snickers from passersby were enough to make a rock blush. However, she held her head high and marched on.
The dark cloak of night approached as we stepped aboard the bus, sat down, and started home. Success was at hand, and we were about to pull this off without a hitch. Wrong. The hatbox began to meow. Tuffy had awakened. Oh no, our worst fear had surfaced. We would be found out and put off the bus. Any other time, the bustle of conversation would be thunderous, but not tonight. It was so quiet you could have heard a feather drop, and Tuffy’s cry sounded more like the roar of a lion than a helpless baby kitten.
My Mom, the genius, looked down at me and began to giggle. “Goodness. You sound just like a baby kitten. What other animals can you imitate, sweetheart?” I understood her plan, and for the next ten minutes, we made so many animal sounds, a person would swear they entered the Philadelphia zoo by mistake.
It worked, and at long last, we reached our destination, home. As we stepped off the bus, the driver looked at me and smiled. “Good luck with your new kitten, honeybunch, and with that hat, madam.” His laughter could still be heard as the doors closed, and the bus drove off.
Once settled in at home, Mom and I tended to the sweet being no one had wanted. Within a week, he turned into a fluffy bundle of playfulness, happy and content in his new life. Dad agreed to call him Tuffy since the tiny fighter had made it through such horrors. Our sixteen years of delightful adventures began. Tuffy Thompson had found a home. As for Mom’s hat, well, it kept the birds out of Dad’s fields for a very long time.
Tuffy adjusted well to his new environment, and in a year, blossomed into a handsome but problematic adult. He was a prolific mouser. The house and barns were all but free of rodents. However, we were overrun with a different plague. Kittens! They were everywhere, and not only on our farm. Nearby neighbors were inflicted with the same problem. Ironically, all the babies had an uncanny resemblance to Tuffy. He was one father who could never deny his children.
These escapades had to be stopped. Tuffy was a beautiful tom, but a bit to virile to suite Dad, and threats from several irate neighbors were about to turn violent.
In those days, a male farm cat did not get neutered. It was an old-fashioned misconception and thought to hinder their instinct to hunt. They do, however, tend to become docile, sleepy creatures you trip over. Should a wayward mouse happen to run by, they might manage to stick out a paw and catch it.
One morning, Dad packed up Tuffy and headed for the vets. In desperation, I begged for mercy, but the fruitless pleas fell upon deaf ears. I hated what my human doctor did to me, and feared the worst for my beloved cat.
To my delight, Tuffy came home before dinner, but looked awful and could barely stand. I was furious and began to cry. “What did that mean old vet do to my cat? He’s going to die.”
After a great deal of reassurance to calm me, Tuffy was placed in a cozy box Mom prepared earlier. He snuggled into the plush blanket and slept in this makeshift infirmary the remainder of the night. The next morning, however, he bounced back as though nothing had happened. However, an unexplained side effect remained.
As the weeks moved forward, I began to notice he did not prowl as much, and we were starting to get mice. Oh no. That darn doctor messed up my cat, and he had lost his hunting abilities.
In order to save him, Tuffy needed to be taught how to hunt again. I put on my five pocket khaki trousers, called my dog Dukie, and set out with Tuffy in search of mice!
We stalked every shed and barn searching for the pesky critters, high and low, in cracks and crevices, holes, and tunnels. After several hours, I grew tired, and Tuffy appeared content to watch Dukie, and I do all the work. It was no use. What else could be done to save my beloved companion?
After a great deal of thought, the perfect solution developed. I took Tuffy in my arms, grabbed my trusty popgun for protection, and proceeded to raid every mousetrap on the farm. My trouser pockets overflowed with dead mice. I would then brag of Tuffy’s great catch.
A brilliant plan for sure, but not my timing. Mom and Dad were busy at the diner, packed with hungry truckers eager for one of Mom’s tasty home-cooked lunches.
I strutted in with Tuffy still nestled in my arms. “Mommy, look at all the mice Tuffy caught today.” I pulled out a handful of the lifeless, repulsive rodents and held them up for all to see. If that wasn’t bad enough, what happened next caused one dickens of a mess.
Tuffy smelled the morsels, snatched one from my grasp, leaped from my arms, and began to eat it in front of our wide-eyed customers. I think it was the crunch that finally got to them. That place cleared out faster than a hound caught in a porcupine den. I never saw grown men turn green so fast as they headed for the bushes.
I started to laugh at the commotion, but then noticed the look on Mom and Dad’s face, and knew it meant trouble.
Later that night, after I emerged from my corner of punishment, Dad sat me on his knee and clarified a few things. Although Tuffy would no longer be the mouser he once had been, the few caught would be okay. He would remain a Thompson. However, if I ever pulled another stunt like that again, it might be me who would require a new home.
I’m proud to say it never happened again. Still, my animal companions and I would continue to share a boatload of adventures, and I spent many more days in the punishment corner.
Business at the Lucky Dollar was a little slow for a few days. When it did pick up again, many of those truckers checked their burgers before they ate, and always asked if I was around. Why? I’ll never know…
Two years passed like a flash of light. I attended school and could no longer spend long hours at play with my two friends. Tuffy did hunt on rare occasions but occupied most of his time curled up on the foot of my bed, content with the comfort and warmth it provided.
The old farmhouse was spacious and cozy but lacked one modern convenience. Mom desired more than any other, an inside bathroom. Like most farms in the area, we had an outhouse. Dad, a tad old fashioned in many ways, would not bend. He stated the outdated building worked fine and could see no reason to waste good money on such frivolities. A few arguments resulted in regards to this subject, but Dad refused to budge. That is until Tuffy stepped in and settled the matter.
As the story goes, late one afternoon, near sunset, Dad strolled down to the whitewashed clapboard enclosure to ‘do his business.’ A few rays of light remained, so he didn’t bother to take along a lantern. Those old privies were known to attract a snake or two, and you never, ever, sat down unless you first checked. Dad looked around before closing the door but failed to see a large, newly chewed rat hole on the bottom of an outside wall. Frustrated from an earlier spat with Mom, he slammed the door closed. This caused the outside latch to slip down and lock, which now barred an exit to all intents and purposes.
Tuffy had cornered a nice, plump rat in the barn, but it escaped and fled outside, with him in hot pursuit. The terrified vermin streaked about the property, desperate to avoid capture and become dinner. As luck would have it, the rat headed for a familiar hole and apparent protection from the pesky cat.
The frantic rat bolted for safety inside the darkened outhouse and scurried across the unwary occupant’s feet in the process. Dad, unable to see, assumed a snake had gotten in.
Tuffy saw the rat dart into the hole, and anxious to snatch hold of this foe, reached in. He felt around with his paw until it hit a solid object, and dug his claws in. Unfortunately, the solid something was Dad’s foot.
Dad let out a blood-curdling yelp as the dagger-sharp nails penetrated his skin. Certain an unrevealed snake had bitten him, caused explosive panic. He pushed the door, eager for a speedy exit, but the latch held fast.
“I’ve been bitten, I’ve been bitten. Help. Get me out of here. I’m locked in with a killer snake. Help!”
Dad’s screams could be heard all the way inside the house. Mom and I dashed to his rescue and headed towards the outhouse.
The rat huddled in a corner, trapped, and frightened by the ruckus. It must have had enough and decided to take its chances with the cat. As it headed for the escape hole, it once again crossed over Dad’s feet.
He could take no more and feared a poisonous, slithery reptile was still in there with him. Mom reached for the door’s latch, but the distinct sound of splintering wood caused her to jump back. The half-moon door shuddered, then exploded from its frame and crashed to the ground. Dad shrieked as he tumbled out, positive he was about to die. Mom rushed to his aide but noticed Tuffy scurry off with a fat rat in his mouth and realized what happened.
Upon examination, she discovered the ‘snakebite’ was only a cat scratch. As Mom tended to the wound, she tried unsuccessfully to stifle the laughter. Dad did not find any of this amusing, but he got a hefty chuckle from it once he regained composure.
The next day, Tuffy and I watched as Dad replaced the outhouse door. Mom was unusually happy and hummed as she went about her chores. It appeared Tuffy had performed a minor miracle. Within a week, supplies were delivered, and construction on a fabulous new bathroom began. In the fall, the old outhouse provided a splendid bonfire.
The years sped by, and as with all things, life for my concrete jungle cat came full circle on a warm spring morning. I awoke and smiled at the fluffy bundle of gray curled up at the foot of my bed, his body surrounded by the warm glow of sunlight. “Good morning, sleepyhead. Time to get up.” Normally, after a lazy yawn and good stretch, he would rise to greet me, but today Tuffy remained still. Dukie passed away two years earlier, and now a second member of the three musketeers had departed.
It is never easy to let go of those we love, animal, or human. A flood of tears fell as my beloved pet, and companion of sixteen years was lowered into his final resting place.
Life without my best buddies continues, and the memories of our adventures live on. In time we will be reunited, and I know beyond a doubt, two familiar forms will be there to welcome me home. Once again, I’ll look into Dukie’s soft brown eyes and giggle with delight as Tuffy leaps into my arms. Together, at last, our happy adventures will continue throughout eternity.