I miss Tommy. When I was twelve, 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. 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 a ready supply of treats on hand.
In August, it was so hot in our Pentecostal church–in more ways than one, I might add–the ushers would open the windows to let in a draft of air.
One Sunday evening, after the service had swung into high gear, an usher threw open all the windows.
The church was divided into two rows of pews, with an aisle in between. My brother and I, 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, obviously looking for me. 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 my parents, I dutifully placed my guitar aside, knocking it against the pew, 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 lemon. Several of the younger set, who were my schoolmates, were enjoying the incident to the full. It was more exciting than what was happening on the platform.
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. I instinctively knew exactly what was about to happen…again. Tommy was back with a vengeance.
A moment later, he jumped up onto the windowsill. This time, though, he knew exactly where I was sitting. 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 himself, while I struggled to put my instrument down 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 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 walked to the back entrance and deposited the cat outside. Despite the fact that 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.”