Tonight is our first snowfall of the year. Our cat, Boots, is curled up with one of her kittens by our back door. It reminds me of this story . . .
Animals weren’t allowed in the house, especially cats, but one was after she’d been a hero. This cat loved to curl up behind the wood stove on chilly, winter days. She kept my father company while his older siblings were in school.
One day, before she became a hero, the cat tagged along behind my father as he went out to play. He climbed the hill behind the house – far beyond earshot – to play in the snow. He fell through a pocket of snow down into a deep hole. He couldn’t climb out. He was there for a very long time. When they noticed him missing, my grandmother and grandfather called and called, but heard no answer. The snow wasn’t new and there were tracks everywhere. They searched and worried. They lived near a deep river that worried my grandmother constantly, and my father was little, only four or five years old, and it was getting colder.
As they searched, they noticed the cat stayed up on the hill. She seemed to walk in circles. Not finding my father anywhere, they went to see what caused the cat to stay on the hill. They found my father down in the hole that the cat was circling. Overjoyed, they gave the cat a spot in the house behind the stove.
My father said he often was bored waiting for winter to pass and his brother to come home from school. One day he lay on the floor watching the cat curled up behind the stove. The fireplace poker leaned next to the stove and reminded him of the branding iron they used on the cattle. Every spring he watched his father heat the branding iron in the fire until it was red hot, then place it on the animal until it had burned to the hide and left the brand. My father could see the cat didn’t have a brand and wondered how people would know she was his if she didn’t have a brand. The cat lay lazily in the stove’s warmth never suspecting a thing as my father stuck the poker in the wood stove until it was red hot. But when he put that hot poker on her skin she yowled, hissed, and put up a flight.
That cat never much cared for my father after that, but there was no mistaking whose she was.