Years ago, I was living alone in La Grande, Oregon. La Grande is a beautiful mountain town set in the Blue Mountains of North Eastern Oregon. I could look out my living room window and watch elk weave their paths across the face of the mountains. In the winter, the scene was like that out of a fairy tale, with millions of beautiful Christmas trees dusted with snow.
I had just opened my own retail store. I was selling and servicing vacuums and sewing machines and also giving sewing lessons to kids. The store was in an ideal location; right on the corner of an intersection in town with a stop light. Not an ideal location for pets with the traffic, but a good business location. The house I was renting at the time was right next door.
I loved this house! It was a gorgeous 2 story Victorian, built in 1906. The main floor had been remodeled, with new sheet rock, carpeting, etc. However, the old staircase and the 2nd floor were still untouched.
The solid dark cherry wood staircase would take you upstairs to 3 bedrooms. I’m guessing the last time the upstairs had a facelift was in the 1940’s. The walls were still covered in dark, but very ornate wallpaper, popular at the time. All the doorways had the wide original wooden frames and in the corners were those pretty wooden rosettes.
The main floor had a small bathroom just off the large kitchen, with a tiny shower. Upstairs the bathroom was set under one of the many peaks of the roof which gave it a slanted ceiling on one side. This added to its charm. But the first thing you saw when you walked into the room was a huge claw foot bath tub. You know, the kind that was long enough to stretch out in and deep enough to sink down up to your nose in hot bubbly water.
Despite the beauty surrounding me, I was not a happy person, living in La Grande. My business had gotten off to a very sluggish start. My husband, at the time, was still living in Pendleton, Oregon and the only time I saw him was on the weekends, after I closed the store on Saturday afternoons.
The husband and I had been having difficulties anyway and this just added another strain to the relationship.
I had 2 cats at the time. They were named Punkin and Muffin. Although Muffin later became Fat Cat. Punkin and Fat Cat were store cats. They came and went as they pleased, no litter box and kept me company in my little store.
One spring day, I was outside in the back yard and was a pretty Calico female cat. I’ve always been a cat lover, so my first thought was to try to coax it over so I could pet it. When I called “kitty kitty”, she froze and then bolted away. I didn’t give it too much thought.
I began seeing this Calico on a regular basis around the house, but she was wild and wouldn’t come anywhere near me. I discovered that she had made herself a home at the base of an apartment building that was right at the edge of my back yard. There was a hole in the foundation that she crawled into and made herself a bed.
Something else I discovered about this wild cat was the fact that she was pregnant. She had her litter of kittens in that little hollowed out spot of the apartment building.
At first I just saw glimpses of the kittens. Then she started bringing them out with her a little bit every day.
What’s cuter that little tiny kittens? Almost nothing! I tried to pet them, but of course they were as wild as Momma Cat was, so I couldn’t get near them. So I started coaxing them with food. I would put cat food out and then retreat to a distance away and watch them.
They became used to my presence; so I started moving closer and closer to them as they ate. Finally one day, I was sitting on a concrete slab and had poured out some cat food just an arm’s length away from me. They were hesitant, but they came up and ate.
I sat very still while they ate so they would not become alarmed. Cautiously, I stretched out an arm toward this fluffy orange cat. I touched him on his back as he was eating and he must have jumped a foot! This scared all the kittens and they scattered.
It wasn’t much, but it was a start.
Pretty soon, the kittens would come right up to me when I went out to give them food. Once in a while, I could touch one briefly, but they were still very wild. The only exception to this was that orange kitty that I touched the first time. He (I discovered) would let me pet him a little bit. I couldn’t pick him up at this point, but he was beginning to trust me.
I can’t remember now how many kittens there were in the litter. 6 or 8 I think. I decided that we didn’t need that many more stray cats in the neighborhood. So I decided that I would find them all homes.
It was no easy task, but I managed to catch them all, one at a time and I brought them into my house. They tore the hell out of my house! These little balls of fluff were wild as hell! They were climbing curtains, scratching the furniture and had no concept of a litter box.
I started advertising them, so I could find them homes. I had a yard sale and had them in a cage at the sale and was able to give most of them away.
They all found homes except one. This orange tom cat was now a little beyond that cute fluffy stage and had gone into that gangly, leggy, almost-not-a-kitten stage. No one wanted this cat.
I already had 2 cats and I certainly didn’t need another one! After another week or so, I decided that I needed to call this cat Something other than “kitty”, so I started calling him Tommy.
Nobody wanted Tommy so Tommy stayed.
Fast forward about a year.
My husband has been injured on the job, losing his job. He lost his son, from a previous marriage in a car wreck. He had always drank a lot, but he was now completely lost in the bottle.
During this time, Tommy and I had become very close. I was the only one that could touch him. He was still very wild. The fact that I was the only one that could touch Tommy was a sore spot with the husband. During his drunken rages, he had accused me more than once of loving Tommy more than I loved him.
Toward the end, he was right.
Fast forward about another year.
The husband is now running my retail store, because he would not (felt that he Could Not) look for another job due to his injury. I went back out into the field in sales. This was a job I had done off and on for several years. I hated it. But there was no other option. The two of us surviving on just one income was not working.
Muffin and Fat Cat were still Store cats, but Tommy was an indoor/outdoor house cat. He came and went as he pleased, but I never needed a litter box in the house for him. He did his business outside.
Things finally came to a head with the husband and I kicked him out. Since the retail store was right next door, it meant firing him as well. The store had been my investment, my blood, sweat and tears to get it opened. This made my husband my employee.
Tommy became my best friend. He would listen to me pour out my heart, telling him all my troubles. He never judged me. He just listened and loved me. Except for Tommy, I was very alone at this point in my life. He would snuggle in bed with me at night. I would lie on my side and he would put himself just as tight up against me as he could, with his back to me, starting at just below my chin. I would throw an arm over him and we would sleep, snuggled up like that most of the night together. If I was cold, I would cover up both of us and Tommy wouldn’t move. He would stay right there with me.
The separation and eventual divorce with husband was very ugly and very bitter. I became afraid of him. I had to file a restraining order against him, which succeeded in enraging him even more.
One night, a couple of months after our separation, I was in Pendleton, Oregon visiting some friends. Pendleton is about 50 miles away from La Grande, across winding mountain roads. It is a good solid hours’ drive, in good weather.
This was December, about a week or so before Christmas. The roads were icy and scary-dangerous.
The phone rang at my friend’s house. My girlfriend’s face went sort of blank and she handed me the phone. It was a neighbor of mine. The neighbor said “Penny, you need to come home, your house is on fire.”
This is NOT a sentence that is very easy to wrap your head around when it is just thrown at you like that. I thought she was kidding! My disbelief soon dissolved. My legs went out from under me. I sat/fell down in the chair next to me.
By the time I got back to La Grande, I could see the flames from the burning house as soon as I made the bend, turning into the town’s city limits. The flames were from the lower part of the house all the way up and shooting out of the roof.
I parked the car and burst into tears. I was given a hug from the neighbor that had called me. Her husband let the firemen know that I was the occupant of the house. One of the firemen asked me if there was anything in the house that I wanted them to try to get out for me.
I said yes, I wanted two things. The jewelry box that was my mother’s before she passed and a metal file cabinet with important papers in it. He said he would do his best.
I stopped him before he turned away and asked about my cats. No one had seen any of them. Fat Cat and Punkin had been let out when I closed the store, so I wasn’t worried about them. Before I left town, I would have made sure that Tommy was outside as well.
Of course the blaze would have them all scared. I was sure they were all off hiding some place.
I stayed at a friend’s house for a few days after the fire. I found out that the friend that called me about the fire also found Punkin and took her in to care for her.
Fat Cat had shared her time between me and a neighbor down the street. This neighbor had Fat Cat.
But no one had seen Tommy. Of course he would never let any one touch him.
It was a couple of days before I could get back to La Grande to look for Tommy. I pulled into the driveway of the house after dark. I could smell the burned out shell of the house before I even opened the door. It loomed in the dark like some dark, black, beast.
I stepped out of the car and onto the driveway. I called out for Tommy. I had never used “kitty kitty” with him. I just called his name once, twice, and before I could call out the third time, I heard this little “mew”.
The meows got louder and pretty soon there was Tommy running toward me! As he ran toward me, he kept up this little “mew, mew, mew”. He sounded like he did when he was just a kitten!
I kneeled down as he approached and scooped him up into my arms and hugged him tight! He immediately started purring. I buried my face in his fur and hugged him. He smelled of smoke. Had he been in the burned out house looking for me? I burst into tears at the thought.
I stood there hugging, stroking, and nuzzling Tommy. He purred away happily and reciprocated, by rubbing his face and head against me.
I had brought a pet carrier with me. I walked around to the passenger side of the car and put Tommy into the carrier.
Tommy and I drove back to Pendleton that night carrying on a very lengthy discussion. Tommy was meowing like crazy and I would talk back to him. Part of his end of the conversation, I’m sure, was due to his fear of being in the pet carrier, in the car, at night. But I am also quite sure that Tommy was telling me all about his adventure with the house fire, how scared he was and how much he missed me. I was happy to have the conversation and the company on my drive back to Pendleton that night.
Within 6 months, I purchased a house in the sleepy little town of Pilot Rock, OR. Punkin, Tommy and I moved. Fat Cat decided she wanted to live with the neighbor in LaGrande.
By this time Tommy was about 3 or 4 years old. Punkin was around 6 years old, I think.
Life in Pilot Rock was slow and quiet. The house we had was on a corner lot. No neighbor on one side of us and nothing but Alfalfa fields behind us.
I tried to hire out someone to run the store in La Grande for me, but that did not work out. I ended up closing the doors.
I went to work in Pendleton, which was about 15 miles north of me.
Tommy, Punkin and I were pretty happy living in Pilot Rock. Tommy had acres of land to explore and hunt in. Punkin had always been a bit standoffish, but she seemed happy as well.
Once in a while, I would come home and find a gift from Tommy on my door step. Part of a mouse, a small bird, sometimes even a small snake. He was very proud of these offerings that he was sharing with me and I made sure I praised him for his hunting prowess.
Around a year later, I met my last husband. He and I were married around a year after we met.
Our little family seemed complete with the addition of my New Husband. Punkin had found herself a new parent that she was very happy with. Punkin bonded to New Husband immediately. They say “you don’t pick your cat, a cat picks you”. This was very true of Punkin.
Tommy even seemed to mellow in his new environment. He eventually let New Husband pet him, although he was still very much My cat.
Tommy had been there for me during some of the hardest times in my life: Struggling to start a new business, the ups and downs of a marriage to an abusive alcoholic and eventual divorce and the house fire. Plus all this, there were times when I just needed someone to hold and love while they loved me back. This was Tommy.
Timmy had been neutered. But he still had the instincts of a male cat. He would occasionally disappear for a day or two hunting or doing whatever tom cats do. I never worried about him. He always came home. Sometimes he would have a scratch or scrape on him where he must have tussled with another cat. But other than that, he had never been hurt.
Well, Tommy had been missing around 3 days and I started to worry about him. I would go out and call for him over and over again, but got no response. Around day 5, I was almost in a panic. There had been no sign of Tommy during that time.
I went out and tromped around in the alfalfa field behind my house looking for him. I walked up and down the neighboring streets looking and calling his name. It did no good.
Eventually, my New Husband was speaking with a neighbor down the street about him. She told him that Tommy had been hit by a car. She was very kind. She held him as he passed. Tommy was 9 years old.
I broke down, hearing the news. I was grateful that Tommy had not spent his last moments alone, that there had been someone there for him.
I’ve had a number of pets in my life. They come and go from our lives. Some of them are only here a short time, while others live a lifetime with their pet parents. Also some of these pets leave a lasting impression on our hearts, while others, not so much.
Tommy was one that left that lasting impression. Tommy’s passing was about 15 or more years ago, at the time of this writing. I still miss him.
Every once in a while I will have a dream about Tommy. It’s always so good to see him! When I wake up, I always think “I had a visit from Tommy last night!”
Tommy found a way into my heart and he’s still there. I think that’s exactly where he wanted to be.
~I’ve had the picture above for years. I have no idea where it came from, but it always reminded me of Tommy. Credit given to the amazing artist that created it.