When you were small did you want to grow up to be like your father or mother?. I did, like my father. He seemed to me to know the answer to everything. He was big and strong and generally a pleasant man to be around. He could be strict and he demanded respect especially for mum but it was easy to see that deep inside he wanted to enjoy his time with us rather than enforcing a bunch of petty rules and regulations.
Some of the things he taught by example were to always polish your shoes. It seems quaint by today’s standards but I don’t think I can ever remember him going out anywhere with dirty or messy shoes. He converted a small children’s table into a shoe shine work area with pigeon holes for all the different polish colors and one of my earliest chore was on a Saturday night before the hockey game came on TV to go down and polish the shoes for all the family to be ready to go to church Sunday morning.
Most of the things I tried to emulate in him were fine like that but he did have one foible. He claimed to hate cats. He had no time for them and called them sneaky and untrustworthy. He loved, and we had, dogs for pets throughout our childhood and in fact I have had dogs with me most of my life. I would also say I prefer dogs to cats but back then I was prepared to hate cats, just like dad.
Dad’s older brother Bert told of him walking to church himself, as a young boy with the rest of his family and as they walked past a fenced house, on seeing a cat sitting on the top of the fence, Dad spit on him for no reason other than that he was a cat. He apparently got a cuff on the head for his efforts but it didn’t stop him from avoiding cats through most of his life. I have to point out that as an adult he would never have condoned hurting a cat or pretty much any animal but he certainly made it clear he didn’t like them, didn’t want them around, and wouldn’t allow them in the house as pets for us.
Normally this sort of thing is pretty harmless but when I was a pre-teen my emulation of his cat hatred nearly got me in significant trouble. As I said when I was younger my dad was my hero, something that never really changed all that much even after I realized he didn’t know everything and couldn’t fix everything. On the day I am particularly thinking of I got up early to deliver the Globe and Mail paper. I had a route in south St Catharines and at that time it was the only paper delivered in the morning instead of the evening. Unlike the local paper though the routes were usually quite long physically with relatively few customers. My particular route involved picking up my papers about a half mile from home and then had about a mile of route to travel along with only about twenty customers. I had seen dad this morning like usual. He went off to his day’s work as I started walking out to get my papers and then went to school after the route. It was still dark out at the time, about 6:30 in the morning and as I made my way up the street I saw a cat slinking along the gutter just in front of me.
I was moving a little faster than the cat and made a couple of hissing sounds at it to scare it away. Normal cats would, upon this take off in one direction or the other but this fool cat just kept walking up the gutter right in front of me. I’m embarrassed to admit it now but I decided I was going to kick the cat for being so stupid and slow. I sped up a bit and the cat still seemed oblivious to my presence. Now in my own defense I wasn’t expecting to maim or really harm the cat I was just going to boot it a little and startle it out of its complacency.
I was right behind the cat and actually drawing back my foot in order to kick the cat when something unusual happened. Did I mention that this cat who seemed to not care at all that I was coming up behind him was mostly black. He had some white as well and as I got that close to him he had something else, he smelled, really bad. If this had been the cartoon it should have been I would have been pictured there, frozen, with one leg drawn back ready to kick when the reality finally came through to me. The cat wasn’t worried about me because these particular cats have an incredible defense mechanism. He finally raised his tail then, and I was only about two feet behind him. He didn’t spray me, why I don’t know why not. He dropped his tail as I stood there terrified to try to run away now that I finally realized it was a skunk and then he just continued up the curb as if nothing at all was wrong.
Me, I was in a panic the whole route, imagining that I saw skunks around every house corner. It was days before I was relaxed again doing my job, constantly on the lookout for skunks, which although they were common were seldom a real nuisance. It did however convince me that even if I didn’t like cats I should just leave them alone. Ghandi was right, non-violence is the way to go. Since then I have come to know some cats as pets. So did my dad by the way, spending time in the company of cats for the last 20 or so years of his life. We both still prefer dogs as companions but I don’t try to kick them or any other animals either.