Nine Lives

Back in Kokomo, Indiana, we lived next door to Grandma. No matter how stern Grandma was with her 3 sons, she had a soft spot for the grandkids. She always knew the right thing to say, the right time to slip us a piece of candy, or the right time to sit back and listen. She’d sit in her rocking chair, listening to us recount our latest adventure, tall tale or skinned knee petting her black and white long-haired “Kitty” who purred while she rocked back and forth.

Grandma loved that cat. It would sit in the windowsill, sleeping in the sunshine. It would follow her around, weaving in and out between her feet as she walked, always mindful of not tripping her….and purring every time it wanted food, attention or just to sit in your lap.

I’m not saying we were poor, or even lower-middle class, but my uncle Lowell’s nickname was “Boy.” His dog was named, literally, “Dog.” We were so poor we couldn’t even afford names. Grandm’s cat must have come along during a period of relative affluence, because “Kitty” actually had a name….even if it was just “Kitty.”

I loved riding with Grandma in her old Ford Falcon. Grandma would peer over the dash with the giant steering wheel, and riding with her was fun, even if we weren’t going anywhere special. In those days, we didn’t wear seatbelts or sit safely secured in car seats. We’d ride unsecured in the back seat, lying in the back windowsill, or, if we were up front, protected by the “Mom belt” – the right arm that would swing across to stop our forward momentum every time she put on the brakes.

One day, we were returning from an errand, and as we got closer to her house, Grandma became visibly upset. “What’s wrong, Grandma?” She pulled over to the side of the road, and started quietly sobbing. She saw what appeared to be her beloved “Kitty”, dead in the ditch next to the street. Grandma scooped Kitty up in a blanket from the trunk, placed her on the back seat, and we drove home in silence.

When we got home, Grandma got a shovel out of the garage, and I helped her dig a hole in the back yard. We put Kitty into a shoebox, and gently placed dirt over the top of the box before Grandma finished filling the hole, and tamping down the dirt on the top. She placed a couple wildflowers on the grave and bowed her head. When she looked up, her eyes were still teary, but she steeled her face, said, “Let’s head back in.” I followed her into the kitchen, where she made herself some coffee, and poured me a glass of milk, while I stirred in some Nestle’s Quik. We drank in silence.

Later on that afternoon, I was mindlessly playing in the living room, when I heard a blood-curdling shriek from the kitchen. I dropped my toy car and sprinted towards the apparent fright. On one side of the kitchen was Grandma, clutching her apron, with her cup of coffee lying, spilled on the kitchen floor. On the other side, sitting upright in the window….

…was Kitty.

Now this was a LONG time before I read anything by Stephen King, and about 17 years before he wrote Pet Semetary (and even 8 years before his first book), so I didn’t have any idea about pets rising from the grave, but I had heard enough ghost stories by that point to know why Grandma was standing there, shaking, and looking about as pale as a piece of paper.

Grandma called Kitty, who nonchalantly jumped down from the windowsill to run up to her and start rubbing against her leg and purring. Grandma ran to the back door, threw it open and sprinted (as much as Grandma could ‘sprint’) into the back yard. I ran along behind while she made a beeline to the grave site. She stood there while I caught up, and just stared at the undisturbed earth. As we both stood frozen in place, we both slowly realized…..


Between the grief and shock, I don’t know who started, but we both burst out laughing at how ridiculous the situation was. Grandma wiped her hands on her apron. “Let’s head back inside”, and we walked back into the house. While we were still a bit sad about the loss of SOMEBODY’S cat, we were both relived that it wasn’t Kitty. For a few weeks after, however, I was very cautious walking by that patch of dirt in the back yard, especially at night.

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