One thing just leads to another around here. Florida Sailor was reminded of a story. (And boy, were we glad!)
One day, when we were both in high school, my friend Billy and I decided we would go on a double date to the beach. Yes, his legal name really is Billy. Every year his teachers would insist on calling him William, because he had to be taught to answer to his proper name. His mother finally started giving him copies of his birth certificate for each of his instructors. I am not sure if having been born in a small North Carolina town might not have led to his informal name1.
Saturday night arrived and one of us picked up the other, I don't remember which car we used. I think it was mine, we both had 10 to 12 year old AMC Ramblers. We picked up our dates and headed to a deserted area of the beach on the north end of Sand Key, just south of the fully developed island of Clearwater Beach. Most of the Gulf coast of central Florida has a long string of barrier islands and this is the fourth from the north. At the time the northern most mile or so of Sand Key was totally undeveloped with a wide band of pines near the road and an open sand beach next to the Gulf. Sometimes we would go down and drive on the open sand with youthful carelessness. Unfortunately this area was taken over by hotels and condominiums many years ago.
On a date we would be more well-behaved. The custom was that one couple would be given the privacy of the car while the other would take an hour long romantic stroll on the beach. At the end of the hour the couple in the car headed for the beach, exchanging places with the couple who had been on the beach.
On this night My girlfriend and I had the first shift in the car. After only a half hour or so the other couple broke the rules by coming back early. They were carrying a poor little half starved calico kitten who quickly became the girl's sole interest in the world. We were soon on the mainland buying milk and cat food at a convenience store. After the cat was fed we all began discussing what would become of her (I later learned that almost all true calico cats are female). Everyone had a good excuse for not adopting the kitten. Mine turned out to be the poorest – my family had only had dogs and if I showed up with a cat I would certainly be thrown out on the street by morning.
I got home a little after 11:00 PM and everyone was in bed. I smuggled the kitten into my bed room and let her sleep with me in my bed.
'What is that!' My mother shrieked when she saw the kitten, 'we will find her a good home today!'
We did, she lived in that house for the next 18 years.
We had to find her a proper name. At the time I worked nights and weekends at the corner supermarket. Often the kids from school would get together in the afternoon and they would ask my girlfriend why I was not there, she had started a joke that I was out with my other girlfriend 'Barbara'.
My cat 'girlfriend' was given the name Barbara.
My mother once said that she didn't like cats because they killed birds, but after watching the Blue Jays attacking Barbara while she was only taking a sun-bath in her own back-yard, she thought it might only be fair, and a part of nature.
Then there was the evening that, she (the cat), brought a half dead bird, in her mouth, into the house while my Mother was having her 'sewing circle'. My father swatted her until she let it go. The flapping bird, chasing cat and screaming matriarchs made a funny sight – even if I did not dare to laugh in front of them.
Years pass, often high school loves go their separate ways. Teenagers grow into adults and leave home. 'You can't take Barbara with you, this is her home!'
I purchased a sail boat and moved aboard. A year or so later I married my wife. Whenever we visited my parents Barbara was there, in many ways she was still my cat. After another ten years we decided to buy a house. For the two or three months we waited for our house to close we moved in with my parents. We had obtained a Golden Retriever dog named Cody, the rule was that he could stay there, but only on the screen porch, as the house was Barbara's place. They used to stare at each other for hours through the sliding glass doors.
We moved into our house at last, with Cody. More years passed and it came time for Barbara to take that last ride to the vet. Not long after that my parents decided it was time to sell their house. My brother, sister and I were all invited to come up and take whatever we wanted that they were not taking with them. They had also packed a box for each of us with the special treasures they thought would be important to us. My box contained, among other things, a framed 8 1/2" x 11" photograph I had taken of Barbara lying on the carpet that was behind the glass door.
As soon as I got the box home I set the picture on the coffee table. Cody came over, sat down and started staring at the photo, his tail wagging. After a bit he got up and walked around the table sniffing, trying to find his cat friend. I had never seen an animal react that way to a picture, but then it occurred to me that they had only seen each other through the sliding glass door.
Cody has gone, but my wife is still here – every day might be a new story.