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Pumpkin, our new barn cat

Even with one deaf ear I could hear a faint “meow” being repeated. And though I have zero echolocation, I was pretty sure it was coming from somewhere on the ground floor of the barn, not far from where I was working in my temporary makeshift workshop.

The reason my workshop is down under the barn, on the dirt floor where Grandad’s contented Guernsey cows used to shelter, is that we cleaned everything out of the upper floor, including my tools, ladders and such, so it could host the wedding reception for our suddenly unconfirmed bachelor son Worshrag and the darling girl who unconfirmed him.

Busy Bee’s sudden illness caused the wedding to be postponed, but now the pumpkin sale occupies the main floor, and when the pumpkin sale is over the wedding is back on and my workshop will still be in the basement.

At least now I’ll have company: a stray cat I named Pumpkin.

“Hi there kitty,” I said when I first spotted him standing in the narrow walkway between a horse stall and a pile of lumber. He looked intently at me and meowed hopefully, but scampered off the instant I took a step toward him.

“We have a new barn cat, a red tabby,” I announced on the family group text.

“I saw him,” grandson Bob texted back. “He was on our porch a couple of days ago.”

After supper I put out a small dish of dry cat food in the far end of the barn.

NEXT MORNING the food was gone, as expected. What I didn’t expect was for the cat to wholly abandon its fear of me.

As soon as I rattled the jar of cat food and put some in the dish, a handsome tiger cat, cobwebs in his whiskers, trotted up from somewhere in the dusty clutter of what used to be whitewashed wooden dairy cow stalls. A switch had been flipped. Suddenly I was his best friend. He was in a frenzy to eat, then to be petted, then to eat, back to being petted, eat, pet, eat, pet, eat, pet, switching every five seconds.

With my cellphone I took pictures of him and texted them out to the family.

“Meet our new barn cat,” I announced. “He’s a very affectionate tomcat. I name him Pumpkin.”

My wife phoned. “Is he neutered?” was her first question, not so surprising since she’s a retired veterinarian.

“I don’t know,” I replied. “I can see he’s a tomcat, but they, uh, don’t look very big.”

“Well, check him out.”

“Geez, Honey, we just met. I don’t think that’s a good way to start our relationship, me poking around back there.”

When Honey arrived in person, she had no such qualms and made a quick grab.

“Hmm, nothing there,” she said. “He’s either a crypt orchid or he’s been neutered.”

(Look it up yourself. I’m not explaining “crypt orchid,” though I did break it into two words so you can pronounce it.)

She said he was thin but in good health, certainly not starving.

Honey’s theory is that Pumpkin was someone’s pet, and he started peeing in the house or something and they got rid of him. Though the animal shelter is only a stone’s throw down Gas Valley Road, people still drop unwanted pets here, possibly because we have a farm.

IF THIS WAS A WORKING BARN, and if Pumpkin was any kind of mouser, there would be plenty of furry little meals running around for him to catch. But we store no grain and have no livestock to feed, so proverbial church mice would be well-fed compared to ours, if we have any.

“You should’ve named him Barney,” The Favorite suggested, but heads shook and the mood turned a bit blue.

Poor Barney. A slight black cat with white feet, Barney was hardly more than a kitten when he showed up at the barn, very scared, halfway feral, but desperately wanting to be friendly. It took weeks of being around him, feeding and talking to him, before he would let himself be touched, and then only by me.

One cold day I missed a feeding and Barney got killed on the road, heading for the farmhouse to steal their cat’s food. I still feel guilty.

No, nobody else gets Barney’s name.

Pumpkin has been very good about making up to all the family members who stopped in to meet him yesterday and this morning, but he made himself scarce this afternoon when a ton of kids came for the pumpkin patch and were running around the barn. Pumpkin’s a sociable cat, but he’s no dope.

I just hope his smarts include staying far away from the road.

(Fred Miller’s book of 100 stories, “Falling Under Honey’s Spell,” is $10, available locally at Connie’s Kitchen, Davis Bros. Pharmacies, Frank’s Pastry, Giant Eagle Calcutta, Museum of Ceramics, and Pottery City Antique Mall.)

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