Cats from 'away,' and one close to home

Probably the word started with English sailors and came to America with the Mayflower. The "ratlines" were the foot-ropes the crew stood on aloft while working sail, each paired with a hand-rope, or man-rope, to which the sailors clung for dear life, yo-ho and blow ye winds. The ratlines, or rattlings, had nothing to do with rats. It was the great docking hawser that tied up the vessel in harbor that led rats aboard to wreak havoc with cargo. Once warped to the pier and the hawser secure, the first job was to rig a rat baffle on that hawser and the second was to take care of customs.

The subject this morning is the sea-faring cat, the first of which will be the numerous pairs escorted by Noah, pair by pair, to bring the antediluvian pussy cats forward to be enjoyed by a grateful populace. Next, I think, will be the cat of Dick Whittington, which became the Lord Mayor of Barbary and had nine tails. Then, we have the Maine coon cat.

Maine sea captains picked up foreign kinds of cats, meaning them to hunt rats (if any) during the voyage, and then serve as gifts to wife or daughter back home. Voyages lasted months and years, so we must bear in mind that a kitten shanghaied in Bombay could be a snarling old tomcat by the time he passed customs at Cape Neddick in Maine.

Then the forebear of the Maine coon cat had to find a suitable mate and settle in for the duration. The fruit of this union was the establishment of a special strain of domestic cat that persists as the handsome Maine coon cat. If you like cats, it is a beautiful thing. From Kittery to Fort Kent, from Quoddy Head to the Magalloway, the Maine coon cat has his undisputed way. They are decorative, lovable, behaved, and although born as Democrats, they become Republicans as soon as they get their eyes open.

Summer folks, first seeing a Maine coon cat, become desirous and apply to a pet shop. There, the proprietor assures them good coon cats are hard to find, and that he happens to have one he is reluctant to let go, but, "seein' as it's you," etc. In this way, tourism becomes profitable and another Down East cat goes to live in Rich City. Tourists never seem to notice, as they continue on their vacations, that every house they go by has one of the things sitting on the front steps, right beside the sign that says, "FREE KITTENS."

Now I believe, but am not sure, that a "money cat" is supposed to be a coon cat, except for one thing. That is, there's no such critter. A pied cat, or one of many colors, admired for its splendid display, is always a female. The saying goes that if you find a calico cat that is a boy cat, he'll be worth a lot of money. But such is the angle of Down East hilarity that anybody owning a parti-colored cat speaks of her as his "money cat."

Some years ago I had a money cat in my employ as a barn cat. House cats luxuriate and become snooty, but a barn cat accepts responsibility and is reliable. We didn't allow this cat in the house, and she didn't want to come in. She was truly a beautiful thing, and every time I went to the barn to extract the lacteal fluid from the bovine provider, my almost money cat would meet me at the door as I opened it. She would bounce around in joy, announce her great love for me, rub against my ankles, and purr sweet nothings to my heels.

Then she would prance ahead of me to the tie-up door with her tail up like a Christmas tree, and we would pass through to be among the placid kine who all stood at once in respect. When I kicked the milking stool into place, flexed my concert phalanges pianissimo, and assumed my operations posture, the cat would retreat to my rear and sit facing me in anticipation.

She would purr so it sounded like a herd of caribou trotting over a plank bridge, which always put Bossy in a good mood, and I'd begin by strumming the overture to "William Tell" on the bottom of my l6-quart milk pail. After this, or some cadenza of my choice, I'd shift position, aim my cow, and - with incredible accuracy - direct a fire-hose stream at my cat.

She, expecting this, would open her mouth wide and lean forward into the line of flight. In this way she would enjoy the full force of my largess, and it would knock her backward, tail over whiskers, into a stack of straw I kept there for that catapult. My money cat did become somewhat punchy, but not enough to spoil our fun.

The cow would turn her head to see the cat bounce off the straw. It doesn't take much to amuse a cow. After each squirt, my cat would toddle back for more warm milk, and I'd indulge her maybe five or six times before the cow was stripped out and my pail was full. In addition to the squirts, I always gave my money cat a nappy of new milk to enjoy after I went into the house.

In order to give a cat a nappy of new milk after each milking time, you need two nappies. There may be an odd reader who doesn't know this and will thank me for the information. You leave the first nappy full of milk for the kitty to enjoy at leisure, and the next time you leave the second nappy and take the dirty one in the house to be washed. This way, Puss always has a clean dish. There's absolutely no reason for a money cat to eat from a dirty dish.

Just one thing more: My money cat was named Penelope, pronounced "penny-lope."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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