“Miss Mattie & Her Cats”
By David Decker
The bumper sticker reads, “The Only Good Cat Is a Dead Cat!” Another favorite of non-cat-lovers is, “Cat’s Flattened While You Wait!”

The Good Lord created all things. Genesis settles that issue. Since “all things” includes plant, animal and human life, then The Lord rightfully gets the credit for cats. One of the questions this writer wishes to ask God when and if he gets to heaven one day is, “why cats, Lord?” Their fur causes itching and sneezing, their claws are razor sharp, and their sickening “meow” sound is anything but friendly and comforting.

And, cats are hard headed, stubborn, and independent. The late Johnny Carson once said that he would not allow a cat to be brought into his house, nor would he allow his family to own one. His reasoning was that if he was going to spend money to buy something, house it, feed it, make sure it had the proper shots, and give it other forms of attention and affection, when he called “it”, he wanted “it” to, “come there.” Carson observed: “No cat in the world is going to come when you call it.”

For some reason, cats are associated with women. If two women get into a tussle it is called a, “cat fight.” If a woman is hard to get along with she is labeled as, “catty.” It seems that feline and female have much common ground between them. And, this commonality seems to begin early in life. The image of, “a boy and his cat,” somehow just doesn’t ring true. In fact, if there ever truly was such a thing as mortal enemies in this world, crossing human and animal lines, it is a boy and a cat.

Boys typically find great joy and fulfillment in tormenting cats. They tie pieces of paper on cat’s paws to make it difficult for them to walk. They tie cans onto cat’s tails just to see them run away in fear of the noise. Boys hold cats upside down so they can purposely drop them in order to test the theory that cats always land on their feet. And, more than one boy has tried unsuccessfully to bathe, baptize, or else drown a cat in a large container of body of water.

Sometimes, boys never grow out of the passion of their youth for giving cats a devil of a hard time.

This writer’s father worked for the Southern Railroad for over eleven years. For many years Inman Railroad Yard was the central staging ground for all freight train activity in and out of Atlanta. Inman was a huge facility covering many acres, and stretching to more than two miles in diameter in some places.

The main “call office” at Inman Yards was situated in the middle of that giant rail facility. It was connected with the different staging areas located throughout the yards by a network of vacuum tubes, similar to those used by banks in their drive-through windows. Orders and manifests would be placed in large cylindrical canisters and sent out through the vacuum tube to the engineering crews that were set to man a departing train, and vice versa. These canisters would travel at speeds in excess of thirty miles per hour, and sometimes traverse almost a mile’s worth of tube in order to reach crews working at the very edge of the rail yard.

On one occasion a stray cat had been milling around the yards prowling and panhandling for food, affection, or whatever else it could find. The cat evidently became a nuisance to someone. The anonymous rail worker grabbed the cat, stuffed it into the vacuum tube (without bothering to see if it would fit in the canister), and closed the door. One can only imagine the harrowing ride that poor animal endured on its way to the call office.

The clerical people (mostly females) working in the call office said they could hear something screaming its lungs out long before the cat came flying out of the vacuum tube. When it finally did, witnesses claimed it did not have a hair left on it’s shaking body, and was so frightened that it tore up stacks of files, office furnishings, and anything else in its path.

One of the ladies finally opened the entrance door to the call office, and that poor hairless cat flew out the door leaving a trail of destruction and bodily discharges behind. Legend has it that Southern Railroad management conducted extensive investigations in search of the cat culprit. No one, however, was ever willing to point the finger of blame at any specific person.

The perpetrator was mostly likely an overgrown boy in a man’s body. If those ladies in that call office could have ever gotten their hands on him, HE likely would have gone for a vacuum tube ride himself.

The cat was never seen nor heard from again at Inman Yards.

“Miss Mattie” Lennox was a dear sister in the Lord. She was in her eighties when this writer met, and immediately fell in love with, her. Miss Mattie had been a widow for several years. She lived in the mother-in-law suite of her son, Bob, and daughter-in-law, Sylvia’s, spacious home.

Her eyes were bad, and her body was slightly bent. Other than this, Miss Mattie was a “pistol” in every respect. She liked to talk. She liked to have company. And, she L-O-V-E-D her babies. She also loved her grown sons. But, they were not her “babies.” That role was reserved for her cats. Miss Mattie owned three great big Persian cats, with enough hair on their bodies to stuff the coffers of the, “Hair Club for Men,” for a hundred years.

When you went to see Miss Mattie, it was assumed that you were either going to have to sit next to on the couch, or step around and over, or else hold in your lap one of these overgrown fur balls. They would sit in the living room windows like sentries scouting the front walkway for visitors, as well as an occasional bird or squirrel.

Miss Mattie spoiled those ridiculous cats until they were rotten to the core. She fed them better food than she ate herself. They had their own beds to sleep in at night. And, Miss Mattie would even let them watch their favorite TV shows. That’s correct – these pathetic cats had “favorite” television shows they watched every day and night. This writer never figured out how Miss Mattie determined what shows her cats were so crazy about. She swore that the shows her cats preferred were not just shows that she liked, but were the real choices of her cats. Chalk this knowledge of Miss Mattie’s up to the aforementioned telepathy between female and feline. It was best that no one from the male species even attempt to make sense of this.

Miss Mattie's three cats were named: Penelope, Flower, and Bob. Like children, each of these animals was highly individualistic. Each cat being so unique from the other made it easier to hate all three - but for vastly different reasons.

Penelope was a deep, golden colored Persian cat, with light gold yellow streaks running through the hair on her “chin.” She was fatter than an expectant cow, and lazier than a redneck wino on welfare. This sorry cat would not even walk to her bowl to eat the gourmet food Miss Mattie put there for her. Penelope’s food had to be brought to the basket where she lay, especially if her favorite show, “As the World Turns,” was on. And too, her food was not to be served cold - right out of the can. No sirreee. It had to be heated for fifteen seconds in the microwave, and on a special setting, before this high and mighty bag of cat bones would even consider eating it.

Flower was the tramp of the household. She had been sexually active since her kitten days with every stray tom cat in the neighborhood. She was constantly scratching at the front storm door wanting out. Miss Mattie often said that Flower was her little, “whore.” She would let Flower out first thing in the morning, and sometimes would not see her again until almost 10:00 o’clock at night. “Walking the streets again, huh Flower?”, Miss Mattie would say as she let this promiscuous, gray Persian cat back in the door after a day of roaming and mating.

Flower brought more “children” into this world than Marcus Welby, M.D. Miss Mattie was constantly requesting announcements to be made at church that she had a litter of free, give-away cats at home. She would sometimes even give them for Christmas presents to little children at her church. The parents of these lucky children were always “thrilled” with her gesture.

Miss Mattie’s third “baby” was Bob (named in honor of her oldest son).

The best that anyone could figure, Bob the cat was actually, deep down inside, Bob the dog. In other words, Bob was a transvestite. “She” dressed like a cat, and in actuality had been a cat from birth, but had more of the mannerisms of a “Black Lab” or Dalmatian.

Bob also had a short tail (hence another reason for the name given “her,” “him,” or “it”). Bob did not have the catty-type “meeeeeeoooowww” of her species. When she made noise it was more of a deep, glottal, “mow” (pronounced – “how, now or brown cow”) sound. Miss Mattie always said that Bob “barked” at people. This was, evidently, “normal” behavior for a transvestite cat.

Bob also ran around playfully and animatedly when Miss Mattie would let her (him, it) go outdoors. He (she, it) would dig countless holes in the ground like a Lab. Bob’s thick, black coat of hair and pointed ears made him (her, it) look remarkably like a miniature Batman. Bob was an aggressive transvestite, sometimes chasing cars and picking fights with neighborhood dogs – again, like a Lab. And, to top it off, Bob didn’t like cat food. She (he, it) preferred table scraps and, no kidding, Purina dog chow. If Reality Shows had been the ticket in Miss Mattie’s (and Bob’s) day, Bob would have undoubtedly been featured on one of those “Animal Planet” strange but true telecasts.

Every time visitors came, Bob was always first at the front door to greet them with his memorable, “mow,” sound. He then would aggravate them until they played ball, chase, or some other annoying transvestite cat game with him. To say that Bob was worrisome would be like saying that Hillary Clinton’s voice is only slightly grating to the average male’s nervous system.

In addition to her cats, Miss Mattie loved church. She loved singing, swapping gossip with the other widows, playing with the toddlers and holding the newborns, and eating at the fellowship “covered dish” dinners. Miss Mattie was one of the most beloved matrons of her congregation, and was greatly honored by them when she left this life.

One of her most favorite things about church were the preachers. Miss Mattie was often heard to say, “I like women, and I adore cats and little children, but I L-O-V-E good looking men.” To the reader, please remember that when Miss Mattie made this revelation, she was already well into her eighties.

Her congregation had one young preacher that Miss Mattie really took a shine to. She was forever inviting him over to visit in her home. And, this young preacher really enjoyed being in Miss Mattie’s company. She was conversant, intellectually sharp, and very interesting to talk to. She had lived through two World Wars, the Great Depression, and, as she often said, had even survived Bill Clinton serving as president for eight years.

Miss Mattie was a “hoot!”

There was one problem with her young preacher’s visits. He was deathly allergic to, and thus had an intense dislike of, cats. This was especially so with thick-haired Persian cats. Their fur made his eyes water, and caused him to sneeze like a madman. With every visit to Miss Mattie’s, he would have to go straight to the nearby drug store for some Extra Super Strength Claritin D.

Even with his sudden onset of violent sneezing and watery eyes, Miss Mattie never put two and two together. She frequently wondered why her preacher waited until he got sick with sinus trouble before coming to see her.

The young preacher was always super careful not to let on to Miss Mattie, nor to say in any public way how much he hated cats. The last thing he wanted to do was offend this precious old sister that he loved so much. Letting the cat out of the bag (pun intended) regarding his sneeze-laden hatred and loathing of cats would have hurt Miss Mattie deeply, and harmed their relationship for years to come.

One Sunday, this young preacher stood up for the morning sermon. He had been told by Miss Mattie’s son, Bob, that their family (including Miss Mattie) would not be at services that day. Their family often went to Tennessee for family reunions. Bob called the church office the week before to let everyone know why they would be absent.

Thinking that Miss Mattie would not be in the crowd that day, her young preacher began his sermon by telling a cat-hater joke. His effort was well-received. The congregation laughed heartily. Building on this, the young preacher went on to mention the two bumper stickers referenced at the beginning of this story. Again the congregation responded with chuckles abounding. Rounding out his cat humor trilogy, the preacher quoted an old one liner and applied it to himself. “I actually like cats,” he said, “they taste just like chicken.” For a final time the audience gave him a “10” by laughing in appropriate measure.

After the service concluded, the preacher took his customary spot in the vestibule (lobby) for the shaking of hands and kissing of babies. Some preachers call this obligatory, church door meet and greet their weekly, “fleecing of the flock.” If your preacher seems to contract colds and other seasonal illnesses on a far too regular basis, remember that he has “the brethren” all over his hands each Sunday as he sits down to lunch.

Miss Mattie’s preacher never saw her coming that Sunday morning. Her family had changed the Tennessee family reunion plans at the last minute. Miss Mattie and her family stayed home and were at services after all. They came in late that morning, and thus were not sitting in their usual place – which was the far right side of the auditorium - fifth pew from the front.

Miss Mattie had heard every word of the cat trilogy, but not a word of the rest of that morning’s sermon. Now, she had some words of her own to say.

As she walked up to her young preacher, his heart sank. For once, he was at a total loss for words. Instead of her routine bear-hug, Miss Mattie crooked her gloved, right index finger repeatedly – gesturing for the preacher to come near and bend over so she could speak in close proximity to his face. He did so, but with a great deal of fear and trembling.

Miss Mattie was not a whisperer. Her hearing had begun to wane in her eighties. But, even before that, she was almost always one to, “mumble out loud.” Miss Mattie would have made an excellent auctioneer or hog-caller. She claimed that she got her resonant voice from years of calling her husband and sons in from plowing the fields to eat the noon meal.

Once, when her congregation was having a week-long revival, Miss Mattie’s talent for muttering at high decibels came to the surface in a big way. The preaching that week had NOT exactly been a riveting display of homiletical oratory. The guest preacher was long-winded, rather stuck on himself, bent on sharing “his experiences” rather than preaching the Word, and exceedingly boring. One old brother even remarked to the guest speaker’s face, “You did a pretty good job tonight, sonny – I just didn’t think you was ever gonna’ quit!”

It was Thursday night of the week-long revival. Miss Mattie and her family had attended every service. The congregation had patiently suffered through lesson after lesson of this exasperatingly dull and disappointing week. During the middle of the Thursday night sermon, the sound of someone snoring commenced. It rang through the pews softly at first, but grew more intense (and more obvious) with each inhale and exhale. Folks started laughing under their breath and looking around the auditorium to see where the mounting rumble of zzzzzzzzzzzzz’s was coming from.

Sure enough, it was Miss Mattie.

The more she snored, the more each snore sounded like the noises made by demon possessed folks in the Scriptures. With each of these apneatic utterances, the guest preacher was showing signs of increasing frustration and distraction.

Something had to be done.

Miss Mattie’s son, Bob, had already nudged her several times, but to no avail. Finally, Bob reached over and spatted Miss Mattie sharply on the back of her hand. She abruptly awoke and loudly scolded her son, “Why did you hit me?” He quietly whispered that he was just trying to stop her from snoring during the sermon. Miss Mattie replied in a “whisper” that could have been heard across the entire auditorium, “Well, I am SO tired of hearing this wearisome preacher…Whose idea was it to bring him here, anyway?...I bet his wife is sound asleep too!”

No one ever had to guess what Miss Mattie was thinking.

Miss Mattie’s “voice” as she spoke to her preacher on the Sunday morning of the cat jokes was anything but quiet, friendly and sister-like.

“Let me tell you something, young man,” she forcefully said, grabbing her young preacher’s tie and pulling him close. “I L-O-V-E my cats…As a matter of fact I love ALL cats…And what’s more…I would rather have my cats with me in my house than SOME preachers I know!”

Before the young preacher could interrupt and apologize, Miss Mattie pulled him even closer and continued her tirade.

“Cats are God’s creatures too…They’re quiet, they don’t cause a ruckus like a bunch of idiot dogs would, and one day they’ll be in heaven just like me and you!” “Well,” she paused for a moment, “just like me!...Afteer today I don’t know so much about you!”

With that, Miss Mattie released her death grip on the preacher’s tie, turned on her heel and marched out the front door of the church building in a huff. Bob tried to comfort the preacher by saying, “Mom’s not really mad at you…You see, her cats have been a lot of company to her since Daddy passed on…She’ll get over this by the time she gets home…You come on by to see her this week, and I bet she’ll hug your neck and welcome you like she always has.”

The young preacher felt better after Bob’s reassuring words. He DID want to go over to see Miss Mattie and try to make amends. But, he was afraid if he called first, she wouldn’t let him come. So, on Monday morning this self-avowed cat-hater swallowed hard, went by the florist for some forgive-me flowers, stopped at PetSmart and bought some cat toys and a bag of Purina Dog Chow for Bob (the cat, not the son), and went straight to Miss Mattie’s front door.

When he rang the doorbell, Miss Mattie appeared – holding Penelope, and with Flower switching in and around her legs like a boa constrictor. Bob the transvestite was nowhere to be found.

Miss Mattie stared at the preacher for a long time through her storm door before unlocking and opening it. “Come in,” she said, “what in the world is all that stuff you’ve got?” The preacher began to explain how deeply sorry he was for his insensitive remarks on Sunday. He handed her the vase of flowers, and held up the bag of goodies from PetSmart. “I brought some things for your babies,” he timidly said. Miss Mattie looked suspiciously at him, then at the flowers, then at the PetSmart bag, and then back at him. The patented Miss Mattie smile he had hoped to see was, however, still absent from her face.

“Well,” she said, “I guess maybe you have learned your lesson…You can sit down a while if you want to…That is, if you can tolerate my cats…Or, if THEY can tolerate YOU!” The young preacher laughed nervously at Miss Mattie’s biting words. She didn’t.

They sat down and exchanged small talk for a minute or two. Suddenly, as sure as the sun rises in the east, the flood gates opened. The young preacher’s eyes began to water, his nose began to run, and he began to sneeze violently. Penelope, Flower, and even Bob, who had sneakily come into the room, scampered away and hid under the dining room table and hutch. For several minutes the preacher wiped his eyes, held his finger under his nose to try and stem the flood of sneezes, and bravely tried to continue his apologies to Miss Mattie.

When he could take it no longer, the preacher said he had to leave but offered to have a short prayer with Miss Mattie first. He explained that he needed to go to the drug store for some allergy medicine. Miss Mattie agreed to the prayer, but insisted that she be allowed to say something before it commenced. Covering his nose with his handkerchief, the young, suffering preacher urged her to say on.

“Son,” she said, “I hope your spouse never dies and leaves you all alone in this old world…It’s a terrible thing to outlive the one who has been joined as one flesh with you over the course of a lifetime…I hope that never happens to you…But, if it does…THE best thing that COULD happen to you would be to find a good cat to keep you company…As a matter of fact, I have been looking for a good home for Bob…Three cats are just too much for a person to say grace over at my age…Every time you come over here, he seems to want to follow you everywhere you go in my house…So….If you really want to do something for me…You can take Bob with you and give him a good home…How about that?”

For a split second, this young preacher gained at least a partial appreciation for the, “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” commonly associated in the Bible with hell. And, for a second time in as many days, he was speechless. He didn’t want to offend Miss Mattie again, but he certainly didn’t want to have to cart this allergy-causing, transvestite, fur ball home with him.

Summoning every ounce of diplomacy in his young heart, the preacher declined Miss Mattie’s “gracious” offer. He told her (between sneezes), “Bob would not like it at my house…There is no one there like you to keep him company…He would get so homesick…I just couldn’t bear to know that Bob was sad and missing you, Miss Mattie…Do you understand?”

Miss Mattie Lennox looked down at Bob, stroked the top of his jet black head, and solemnly replied, “That’s ok…Bob said he didn’t like you all that much anyway…”

Bob the transvestite cat looked at the preacher as if he (Bob) had perfectly understood every word Miss Mattie said. Before the preacher could reply, that mangy, feline flea-trap affirmed Miss Mattie’s sentiments with a deep, dog-like, “mow.”

“Praise the Lord and pass the Claritin D!,” the young preacher thought to himself. He finished the prayer, kissed Miss Mattie on the cheek, told her he loved her and left - sneezing profusely with each step he took back to his car.

Never again did he tell a cat joke in the pulpit.

Miss Mattie went on to “Glory” at almost ninety years of age. She left her beloved cats behind. One day, if they have Claritin D in heaven, perhaps she will see both her young preacher and Penelope, Flower, and Bob once again.

Bob, of course, will have to repent of his transvestite ways for this to become a reality.


© David Decker