Sandy and I weren’t next door neighbors, at least not in the traditional sense. His property adjoins the rear of my lot at a ninety degree angle. If I walk to the back half of my yard, I can see his house. My first encounter with Sandy occurred not long after we moved in. A tree in my back yard yielded to gravity and fell across the lawn. I was doing my best to cut it into manageable sized pieces with the tools I had on hand, when Sandy strolled over with a chainsaw and an antique logging tool I had only seen in photos.
He stood about 5′ 8″, thin and wiry, bowed legs protruding from a pair baggy shorts. From beneath a Cardinal’s baseball cap, escaping tufts of hair gave a clue has to how he had acquired his nickname.
“Hey, neighbor,” he called out with an accent associated with the Northeast, “Want a hand?”
“Great,” I thought to myself, “Just what I need.” But it didn’t take long to figure out Sandy knew a lot more about cutting up trees than I did, and despite the large gap in our ages, I’m pretty sure he could have worked me into the ground. After our logging labors were over, we retreated to the small deck at the back of his house for conversation and a few congratulatory beers.
Turns out Sandy had been a navigator in the Air Force, flying bombing missions during WWII and later the Korean conflict. He regaled me with stories of his adventures both wartime and peacetime; like the time his crew decided a flight departing from Alaska would be the perfect opportunity to test the bomb bays capabilities for keeping a load of King Crab legs frozen until they arrived at their home base in Texas … maybe not illegal, but certainly not regulation. Imagine the scene when the bomb bay doors were opened after landing and hundreds of King Crab legs spilled out onto the hot Texas tarmac. There were a lot of happy (and surfeited) airmen that day.
Turns out Sandy also had a fondness for cats. There were no less than 8 to 10 cats sauntering about his property. Sandy was not sentimental enough to give the cats names, he just referred to them based on their coloring and markings. “That calico over there, she just had kittens, I think that orange one is hers and maybe the white one with back feet.”
Sandy’s clowder of cats (yes, I had had to look that up), grew over the years and they started migrating north to our back porch, among them a nondescript grey tabby, that had recently given birth to a litter of kittens.
In the spirit of full disclosure, we are a family of softies. Mrs. Poppy is well known for her habit of escorting insects out of the house rather than squish them. The exceptions being mosquitos, roaches and brown recluse spiders (God have mercy on their little buggy souls).
However “soft” our family might be, that didn’t mean we wanted a crew of feral cats camping out in our backyard. We had to figure out a solution and taking them to an agency where they might be euthanized was not an option.
A little research yielded what seemed to be the perfect solution. St. Louis County had a free (with the help of my tax dollars) service where they would lend you a live-trap and when you caught the feral cats and brought them in, any kittens or cats they deemed adoptable would be put up for adoption. Older cats would be neutered and returned to you or placed with farmers or someone who might have need of a mouser. Sign me up!
They gave me more details as I filled out the government paperwork. Adult cats who were neutered, while they were under anesthesia would have the top of one of their ears cut off as a means of identification in the future. I answered a series of questions, the last one being … “Any adult cats that we neuter, do you want us to return them to your property or place them elsewhere?”
“Somewhere else,” I quickly replied.
It took several trips to catch and deliver all the cats. I turned the trap in with the last load of felines and returned home feeling smug and smart.
“There’s a cat on the back porch that looks like that grey cat except it’s missing part of one ear, ” Mrs. Poppy tells me three weeks later.
Kismet … there are times when you just have to give in to fate. Through typical government inefficiency, we now have a cat. We could no longer keep calling her, “that grey cat,” so she became “Mrs. G.”
Her ribs are no longer showing and she now has a heated cat-house during the winter months. Mrs. G is a fierce hunter, she is not big but is incredibly fast, her grey coat allows her to become almost invisible in the dusk. To show her appreciation for food and housing, we are regularly gifted with her kills on the front or back door mat. Mice, voles, birds, even small squirrels. To these creatures she must appear as the T-Rex of Elizabeth Avenue.
Sandy is gone.
I am not one to dig up past mistakes, there are so many of them, I’m content to let sleeping mistakes be. I don’t need zombie mistakes shuffling and drooling behind me, besides I have new mistakes to make tomorrow.
But I am not without regrets. Most of those regrets are relational. Times where I could have been more patient, times where I chose to stir things up, rather than be a peacemaker. Times where I could have taken 10 minutes out of my “busy” schedule to spend with someone who needed some company.
Sandy could not cook, he lived off of frozen dinners and prepared foods. I knew that. After major holidays, I would take him some of our leftovers … but only occasionally.
Sandy appeared on his deck as I mowed the back yard. I would occasionally walk over after mowing and talk baseball and politics … but only occasionally, most of the time I was too “busy.”
The chain on the back porch screen door pulls shut with a sound unique to old houses and old screen doors, Mrs. G hears the sound and comes running. I settle on the top step of the stairs leading down to the driveway. She rubs up against my ankles and I reach down and scratch behind her ears.
It is time well spent.