Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Hitchhiker

This blog concentrates on my labs, Abby and Andy, but I will occasionally have stories of other pets that have been in my life. In this case, the story goes back into the mid 70’s. I was six to eight years old at the time this story occurred. We were at an outdoor swim meet in High Point, so the event took place in the summer and the meet was most likely the NC Swimming AAU State Championships. At least until the mid 80’s, this pool in High Point was the location of the outdoor state championships, and the only time we swam a meet there was at the state championships. However, I don’t know where the event is held now. Since I was so young, I was not a participant in the event. It’s not that my age precluded me from swimming in that meet, but I had not started swimming in full earnest at that time and so was not ready for the ‘big time’ of the state championships. My brother was a good swimmer in his day, so he was the reason my mom and I were in High Point at that meet.

For those wondering why I’m inserting this story here off all places in a blog that has mostly proceeded in a linear fashion, a program on the Animal Planet about cats triggered a memory this story is based on. A cat strayed from home, found its way on a tractor trailer whose contents, including the cat, were transferred to a boat and then shipped on the Great Lakes, down the St. Lawrence River, across the Atlantic to France, where the cat was discovered upon unloading. There was a happy ending since the cat was returned to its rightful owner.

Back to High Point. I remember the day was overcast, and I also remember where we were parked which was on the roadside close to the exit of the park where the pool was located. Since there was plenty of light out, the event took place sometime during the morning session for that day. The format for swimming championships has a morning session for swimmers to qualify for the finals which are held that subsequent evening that day. My brother, mom and I were in the car and ready to go home after the morning session. The car cranked, my mom was about to pull out of her parking space when someone in a car behind ran up to her and said that we ‘forgot’ our cat.

Perplexed, my mom asked him what he was talking about. He said that a cat jumped out of our car. Now for those who don’t swim, taking a cat to a swim meet is not within the realm of acceptable behavior. I’ve been to numerous swim meets, and I’ve never seen a family take a cat to the pool, and believe me, I’ve seen quite a number of weird, eccentric people at these places.

I know my mom was the crazy cat lady, but we did not use our cats as traveling companions. What most likely happened was that a cat climbed into the underbelly of the car and hitched a ride to High Point. One of the perils of having so many cats is the potential of killing a cat while cranking up the car or backing a car out of the driveway. Part of the routine when we drove anywhere was to check all around the car and underneath, and if there were any cats underneath shoo them away so they don’t get killed. This wasn’t effective for the cats that found their way into the motor of the car. That could get gruesome. As the engine was cranking, once in a while a cat would be caught in a moving part, making a loud ‘thumping’ sound, and soon after the dead or gravely injured cat would drop from the bottom of the car. Sometimes the cats stuck in the motor would make it a block or two until a moving part grabbed and killed them. We would hear that ominous sound and see the cat tumbling in the rear after it fell out of the car.

My family was amazed that the cat made it that far without being killed. Damned if it didn’t beat the odds. The family in the other car didn’t see it that way. They thought we were abandoning a cat we no longer wanted. I can still see the look in the woman’s face. This person was in the car behind us, and she was giving my mom an ugly look. Even at a young age, I could read her emotions and tell she was mad at us. This woman must have thought my mom was a monster. My mom tried to explain what happened but I doubt these people believed her. If looks could kill, my mom would have been dead that day.

We picked up the cat, put it in our car and went home. Since this was an ‘outdoor’ cat, I have no idea what happened to him after that day. We didn’t give names to the outdoor cats. Eventually he died, but on that day, he beat the odds and cheated death.

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