Susan and I kidnapped Nana’s unsuspecting black cat and hid him in the back seat footwell of my dad’s old dull-green Studebaker. Our grandmother never let on that she missed Tom, he was one less cat to feed and let out when he insisted. My mother had no idea she was driving the get away car, even to this day she claims that she never knew what her girls were up to.
We kidnapped Ol’ Tom because we could not think of any other way to get a cat into our house. Susan and I swore that we had found the cat and mom had accepted our story. Tom was a big long black cat with white whiskers, boots and bib. He wasn’t an especially friendly cat; Tom wasn’t a lap-cat and would only suffer the humiliation of being dressed in doll clothes if we closed the playroom door to prevent his escape.
Tom liked to visit his old haunts at night and nap during the day and he learned to make himself scarce when it rained as this was prime dress up and pretend time. Soon Tom would return from his nightly tours with deep scratches and missing fur and broken teeth. The last people he wanted to see when he returned was Susan and me – he would slink behind the sofa to avoid our stares and attempts at patting his sore back. Uncle John said that Tom was a lover and a fighter, we weren’t sure what that meant, and that Tom was on the lookout for a girlfriend. There weren’t any cats in the neighborhood that we were aware of so we thought that Uncle John was just making up a story. One morning Tom didn’t come home until after ‘I Love Lucy’ and he looked worse than ever and was sent down cellar because our mother didn’t want him bleeding on the living-room rug.
The next morning Tom didn’t return at all. Susan and I waited for days, we walked up and down the road calling Tom’s name, we searched in the tall grass and in the woods behind the garden. We set out food and water bowls in case Tom forgot to come to the kitchen and ask to come in to nap. Uncle John told Susan and me that old Tom was doing okay, that he’d only gone off to Joe Pete’s farm where he would be taken real good care of. Uncle John told us that there were many animals and pets at Joe Pete’s place – they just couldn’t resist Joe Pete’s, it was almost like catnip to a cat and they couldn’t stay away.
I put in a lot of hours thinking about Joe Pete’s farm; I lost 3 cats and a parakeet to the farm and I was beginning to think something was fishy with Uncle John’s stories. Uncle John claimed that the painted turtles, goldfish and assorted “summer recess” gerbils all took the long hike to the farm – I must have been nine when I figured out that Joe Pete’s farm was pet heaven. Mom found one of our missing painted turtles petrified under her bed and the other stone cold dead under the car – how it got out of the house was a mystery! Uncle John declared that it had missed Joe Pete’s bus and had died waiting! When Susan found out (I may or may not have told her) she cryed for a week, at least it felt that long.
I must have been the brains of the cat kidnapping operation – it had to have been my brain child because I was a regular idea girl back then. Susan would do almost anything that I told her without balking or asking for a reason. I taught Susan everything she needed to survive childhood – faking sleep (this was hard for two reasons: (1) Susan’s eyelids refused to relax, and (2) her breathing was too fast) and stealing cookies by stealth of hand. Plus, I reckoned Susan’s biggest problem that needed fixing was her high moral center which prevented dishonesty and made her feel guilty for stealing cookies and pinching found change around the house. My moral center was with the gypsies and thieves – or so Uncle John said – and I had no problem whatsoever with telling white lies and fiblets – storytelling was my trade and Susan my innocent disciple.
I was a very naughty girl and logged in a humongous amount of hours sitting in the corner for my misdeeds. I took these opportunities to think deep thoughts and plan out our sisterly escapades, and due to my invisibility, Susan played alone waiting for my penalty time to expire. What were we going to do next, she probably wondered, and hoped with all her might that it didn’t involve snakes.