Buster the Beloved Pussycat
“Dogs have owners; cats have staff,” and I have worked for some wonderful cats in my time. The one I loved best was named Buster. Buster had an unusual mind. He didn’t think like other cats; he didn’t act like other cats. Maybe that’s why I loved him so.
We got Buster from the county animal shelter. We usually get our cats from the county animal shelter. That way we save a life -- and we’ve gotten some great cats that way. One fall, after our cat had died and left a big hole in our lives, we went to the animal shelter for a kitten. There were no kittens.
I was about to give up, but my husband Bill kept saying, “That one over there looks good.” And he did. He was about three-quarters grown, grey and white, and had a sweet, hopeful expression on his little face. Also, he was scheduled to be killed the next day. There was no time for us to go home and meditate on the matter.
We went to the people in charge and said, “We’ll take that one.”
As we and the cat rode home, Bill picked out his name. We take turns naming our cats, and it was Bill’s turn. “We’ll call him Buster,” he said.
“When you’re mad at me, you say, ‘See here, Buster,’ and I’d like to have someone else around named Buster.”
When we got Buster home, he of course had to inspect the house. After a brief look around, he went into my mother’s bedroom, where the sun was shining warmly on her pink bedspread. He jumped onto the bed and promptly went to sleep in a patch of sunlight, sprawled out on his back, paws up, the way a cat sprawls when he’s feeling completely safe and happy.
“Home at last,” he was saying. “Home at last.”
“Buster Is Welcomed To The Neighborhood”
At our house Buster had food available around the clock, but he must have been hungry as a kitten, because he didn’t think of the other houses in our neighborhood as unfriendly. He thought of them as snack bars.
I later discovered that he got a slice of bologna from Pearl Cesare every morning around ten. He got milk from Bert Pigge shortly thereafter. Then he jumped onto a chair -- Bert had an especially desirable one -- and had a nap.
Buster was a successful entrepreneur from the start.
The other cats welcomed Buster to the neighborhood by hissing and snarling and letting him know he was in THEIR territory and he’d better get out. Well, Buster didn’t get out. He didn’t even get worried. I don’t know why; he just didn’t.
Then came the heavy artillery: the neighborhood’s reigning tomcat.
I heard a noise like a furious air-raid siren coming from the back yard. I looked out the window to see the huge reigning black-and-white tom crouched a few feet from Buster, making one of the world’s most menacing sounds. But Buster didn’t seem worried. He listened politely. Then he noticed an autumn leaf spinning down toward him. The wind blew the leaf around the corner of the house, and Buster followed after it, leaping and pawing the leaf as it spun.
The bewildered tom sent a few more air-raid siren noises into empty air. Then he fell silent. At last he wandered off in another direction.
After that Buster was accepted as a neighborhood cat in good standing.
”Buster and I Rise and Shine”
Buster woke me in the morning by bouncing on my waterbed. I would dream I was in a small boat in a choppy sea. And gradually wake to find Buster leaping straight up in the air and briskly landing on all fours on the waterbed. KER-THUMP, KER-SLOSH. KER-THUMP, KER-SLOSH. The waterbed waves grew higher and higher as Buster briskly bounced . . . until, groggy and seasick, I rolled onto solid ground.
“Buster And The Essential Kindness of Automobiles”
Buster believed in the essential kindness of people and automobiles. When summer arrived, I began hearing cars honk in front of the house. And looked out to see Buster waking from a nap, which nap was taking place in the middle of the street: he found the sun-warmed black pavement ideal for that purpose. Fortunately ours was not a through street; drivers were honking at Buster and waiting for him to leisurely wake up and move out of their way. But how long could that last?
Whenever I saw Buster napping in the street, I yelled at him to get out. To which he paid no attention. I had to go into the street, pick up his warm, luxuriously limp body, and carry him indoors.
And the next day I’d hear a car honking again.
“Why didn’t you keep him indoors, you idiot?” you are thinking.
Well, with 20/20 hindsight I know I should have. But I hoped that the honking cars would teach Buster not to sleep in the street. They would have taught any other cat.
And, while I dithered, came the heartbreaking day when Buster didn’t return from his happy neighborhood rounds.
I of course made inquiries -- and learned about his tours of the home snack bars.
But he hadn’t been to any of them that day.
I asked a group of kids if they had seen Buster.
“Is he the cat who chases cars?” they asked.
And then I recalled a half-forgotten memory: that of a little grey and white figure bounding joyously in the wake of an automobile.
“That’s him,” I said.
But they had not seen him lately either.
I will never know for certain what happened to Buster, but clearly he trusted in the essential kindness of people and automobiles one time too many.
Find Janette Blackwell’s hilarious cookbook, “Steamin’ Down the Tracks with Viola Hockenberry,” at foodandfiction.com