Monday, June 25, 2012

The Last Day in Pottawatomie

Sunday was going to be a hot one, forecast to be around 100° and it was their last free day before heading home.  David wanted to get in one more day of fishing so he could stock up his freezer and bring Lettie a whole mess of fish.  She’d been so nice to him while they were here and he wanted some way to show his appreciation.  He hadn’t really made any friends at Fort Riley.  The construction guys were young kids who liked to party and that wasn’t what David liked.  The military folks were too…military.  All business and no fun.  Maybe that was because he was a contractor, or because he was an Easterner and an Indian to boot.  For whatever reason, it had pretty much been him, the cats, Lettie and Lettie’s cats. 

As soon as the sun was up, David was packing up the car for his fishing excursion.  Lettie had told him about a local pond he could get to that had nice fishing and was well shaded.  Shade was a consideration today, even this early in the morning.  It was already 75° and the temperature was supposed to rise quickly.

The cats jumped in the car and David headed west out of town.  Rudy watched out the window and was surprised to see David turn onto the dirt track she had used to get to the pond where she had met the prairie dogs.  If she was lucky, maybe they’d see them again.  David parked the car in the shade and hauled his tackle, a good sized bucket and a lawn chair to a tree shading the pond.  He wasn’t sure what he’d catch here, but he was hoping for bluegill.  The area looked pretty tame around here, so he figured they wouldn’t be bothered by coyotes.  They were pretty close to town. 

Rudy and LT headed out around the end of the pond to where she’d met the prairie dogs.  “Swee!  Whiss!  Phwip!  Any of you guys around here?  It’s me, Rudy.  I came with LT and our human for some fishing.  This is the last time we’ll be here before we leave for New Jersey.”  She sat down and waited.  Hopefully one of the prairie dogs was in the area and would pass along the message.  Meanwhile, LT was investigating the edge of the pond.  If they had to wait, maybe he could have some fun while doing it. 

The edge of the pond right here was overgrown with sedge.  LT slowly moved through the blades toward the water.  He’d spotted a frog, intent on catching bugs.  Hopefully it was so focused he wouldn’t notice a huge (relatively) cat sneaking up on him.  He got within range and lunged, and ended up smack in the water as the frog hopped away making froggy laughing sounds.  LT dragged himself out of the water, covered in pond slime.  This would never do.  He couldn’t possibly groom this gunk off his fur.  He’d end up with a stomach ache. 

First he tried rolling in the grass and then dragged himself through it to try to scrape off the algae.  It didn’t work.  Next he found a bare area and rolled in the dirt, figuring that if enough dirt stuck to it, he could let it dry and flake off.  The dirt stuck, but now he was coated in slime and dirt, and they mixed to make a brownish, greenish mud that smelled terrible.  He heard a creature give a whistling laugh from under a nearby bush and turned to ask if he was really that funny looking.  Rudy bounded over and greeted the creature under the bush. 

“Oh, I’m so glad you came, Whiss!  This is my friend, LT, who is covered in well, smelly stuff.  LT, this is Whiss, a black-tailed prairie dog.”  Whiss edged out from under the bush and looked LT over. 

“You’re going to have to wash it off in the pond.  If you go in away from the grasses you can get in and out where there’s no pond slime.  I’ve done the same thing – get slimed and smelly and it’s the only way to get it off.  You have to get really wet and thrash around to get it all off.  I hope you like to swim.”  The prairie dog sounded sympathetic, as though he knew most cats abhorred water. 

LT shook himself experimentally to see if maybe the dirt and slime would come off, but it was stuck.  He hated swimming, water, baths, and even rain.  No self-respecting cat liked water, but it looked like he didn’t have any choice.  As Rudy and Whiss chatted, LT made his way up the edge of the pond, looking for a slime-free entry point.  He was concentrating so much on the pond itself he was surprised when he heard David say, “LT, what in the world happened to you?  Assuming of course, you are LT and not a cat-shaped pond slime monster.”  David laughed and put down his fishing rod.  “Can I help you, old man?”  LT meowed miserably and looked at the pond.  The edge was clear here.  He’d have to go in.  Maybe David would help him get the dirt and slime off.  He really didn’t want to have to swim around in the pond to soak it off. 

Putting one paw in the pond, LT looked back at David, who seemed to understand what LT wanted.  “Get yourself all wet and I’ll scrub it off.  Just don’t scratch or bite me, hear?  I’m going to try and help you.”  LT closed his eyes and just did it.  He walked into the pond until he was wet up to the neck and turned around so that he could keep his back under water and his head dry.  His head wasn’t slimed, and if he could keep it dry it would be nice.  David knelt in the edge of the water and scooped handfuls of water onto LT over and over.  That washed away the dirt and at least some of the slime.  He grabbed handfuls of the sand from the bottom of the pond and scrubbed LT’s sides and legs, leaving them a bit raw but slime-free.  It took forever in LT’s mind, although Rudy said it was only about five minutes.  Finally David pronounced him to be clean as a daisy and got up.  LT ran out of the water and found a grassy spot in the shade to groom himself.  His fur tasted quite clean – the water was lovely in the spots that weren’t full of algae. 

David went back to his fishing and within an hour he’d pulled in a respectable number of bluegills along with a few bass.  There would be plenty for the freezer and Lettie.  He looked for the cats and was surprised to see both of them apparently conversing with a prairie dog.  Admittedly, the prairie dog was pretty big, but he still would have expected the cats to chase it.  He shook his head.  These were not your average cats. 

Deciding not to break into their conversation, he sat and admired the little pond.  It was completely silent of human noise here.  They were far enough back from the road that he couldn’t hear cars, and there was nothing else around to make noise.  No farm machinery, no planes flying over head, nothing.  He couldn’t recall the last time he’d been somewhere that there was no sounds but those made by nature.  The East Coast, at least the parts he lived in or visited had become so populated that even if he went hiking on the shore or in a forest there would be the sound of distant trucks or airplanes overhead.  Even on the Vineyard there was human noise, lots of it in the summer, but winters weren’t silent unless the weather was bad enough to keep all the boats in and even then there was the sound of the fog signal.  It refreshed his spirit to have this quiet time.  There was the whistle of the prairie dog, the sound of frogs plopping in the pond, and assorted birdsong.  These were the noises that belonged here.

David didn’t move until the cats returned to him.  He smiled at them and asked if they were ready to head back.  He wanted to clean the fish and do some chores before they went to Lettie’s.  He didn’t have to stock as many groceries for this week, but he still needed to wash his clothing. 

They loaded the car and drove back into town.  Rudy thought to herself as they approached the RV Park that she’d miss this place.  It was nice here, and very different from New Jersey.  David was a very nice human to be around.  He talked to them the same way the Daddy did, discussing things that were on his mind, or just making observations about what was going on around him.  She wished she’d been able to see Maggie again, but it had been too hot to make any more long treks.  She sighed.  It would be nice to see the Mommy and Daddy again, but she’d miss her new friends.  LT was having similar thoughts.  If he didn’t love the Daddy so much he’d run away and stay with Ginger, but he’d known the Daddy almost his whole life.  He sighed.  After today or tomorrow he’d probably never see Ginger or the kittens again.

Back at the Oregon Trail RV Park, David unloaded the car.  The cats got out reluctantly, each thinking deep thoughts.  They climbed into the RV and each sought out a soft spot to think and perhaps sleep.  David bagged his laundry and said he’d be back soon. 

At 4:15 David had finished everything.  He’d cleaned the fish, the RV and his clothes, and packed away a lot of things he knew he wouldn’t need again before they left Kansas.  He called to LT and Rudy and they ran to the car, as eager to go to Lettie’s as he was.  Sometimes David wanted a human to talk to.  The cats were good listeners, but they didn’t talk back, at least so that he could understand them.

Ginger and Titus were outside waiting when David, LT and Rudy arrived.  Titus ran to LT, tackled him and said, “Monster Daddy, I’m going to miss you.  I wish you could stay with us.  Momma told me not to say that, but I want you to know how much I’ve loved seeing you again.” 

LT turned his head away so that Titus couldn’t see how much this meant to him.  “Well, little monster, I wish I could stay too, but I have my family and responsibilities back in New Jersey.  You’re my family too, but…”  LT couldn’t finish. 

Ginger came over and nuzzled LT.  “Come on inside, you two.  There’s time to be maudlin later.  Let’s keep the humans company and stay cool at the same time.”  She led them indoors to the living room where David and Lettie were sitting. 

“We’re having a cold buffet tonight.  It’s too hot to cook anything, even with the air conditioning on.  Oh my, I never considered this heat when we moved out here.  But, the good news is, we’re coming back east for a nice long trip this summer – all of us.  My sister lives in Belmar and she’s invited us to stay for the month of August.  I long for the ocean, and I’ll be near its breezes and surf for a whole month!  And LT, Rudy, believe me, I’ll be calling your folks and we’ll get together.  My sister loves having company, and I hope you’ll all come out for barbeques.”  Lettie took a sip of her cold tea and fanned herself with a sales circular.  Even with the air conditioning on, it was warm inside. 

Ginger smiled at LT.  She’d known about Lettie’s plans, and hoped that she’d talk about them, and look, it was the first thing she’d said.  That would hopefully lighten the mood for all of them this evening.  It would be just a brief good-bye this time. 

Lettie and David discussed their favorite fish recipes.  David had a few Lettie didn’t know, and he promised to send them to her when he got home, and she gave him a copy of a few of hers he thought he’d like to try.  When it was time to eat, Lettie put out dishes for each cat before she even set up anything for herself and David.  In Rudy’s mind that was just good sense.  The cats wouldn’t bother the humans if they had their own food to eat. 

The humans finished their meal with fresh berries and heavy cream.  The cats just had some of the cream, whipped and slightly sweetened.  Rudy had never had fresh whipped cream before, and thought it was the best thing ever.  Ginger had to send sharp looks to several of the grown kittens who looked like they were going to steal Titus’ out from under his nose.  Finally everyone had eaten as much as they could hold and they all sat companionably together, talking when there was something to be said, silent when there wasn’t. 

Finally David decided that it was time to get going.  He thanked Lettie for her hospitality during his visit to Kansas, and said that tomorrow was his last day at Fort Riley.  All that remained was a final inspection, and they’d take to the road from there.  He’d settled the bill with the RV Park, and all that remained was to gas up and go.  Lettie gave him a big hug and told him to drive safely.  She turned to LT and Rudy and told them how nice it had been to see them again, and she’d see them in about a month. 

Ginger had sat nestled with LT for most of the evening, with Titus close by.  While the other grown kittens liked LT, they didn’t remember him as much and were more interested in their own lives.  As David and LT said their good-byes, Titus pounced on LT one more time, pinning him and licked LT’s ears.  “I love you Daddy.  We’ll see you soon.”  Ginger nuzzled him and said something low that no one else could hear.  LT nuzzled her back wordlessly.  Rudy had said her good-byes a few minutes earlier to give them a bit more privacy and waited at the car.  David climbed in and LT ran out from the porch and climbed in the car.  “Ready?”  David asked, and then he pulled away from the house.  LT stood in the window, looking back until Ginger’s house was out of sight.  Good-byes were hard.  

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