Today, Stuff Kids Write (the new blog project I’ve started with Chase McFadden) features a hilarious letter from a six-year-old to her dad, who shot a tom cat. Click here to check it out; I challenge you not to laugh.
But first, I thought I’d offer you some information on farm girls, tom cats, and guns.
On Tom Cats
When you grow up on a farm, there are two types of cats: pet cats and tom cats. Tom cats are semi-feral creatures who noticeably share bloodlines with the bigger cats that most of us see behind bars in a zoo.
I learned young that it’s impossible to become attached to tom cats. They hate humans. One look into their skittish eyes told me they’d hunt me down if I were smaller than them.
Tom cats make frequent appearances during harvest, that time of commotion in a farm yard, of long days and cool nights (on the Canadian prairies, it’s not unusual for autumn temperatures to drop from 30°C (86 F) to 10°C (50 F) in two hours).
One of my farm jobs as a teen was to drive back and forth from the field to our farmyard, ferrying people, machinery parts, and coffee. I knew all too well that tom cats are drawn to a warm engine on a brisk night. Once the vehicle has been shut off, they’ll crawl beside the engine fan and sit there cozily, escaping the coolness of night.
I also knew the importance of the Fonzie fist. When I’d return to the still-warm truck with the thermos of coffee, two quick bangs on the vehicle’s hood would make the cats scamper out.
Except when I forgot.
Let’s just say the thunk of fan on fur is memorable.
When you grow up on a farm, you learn how to shoot a gun. I remember lying on my stomach on our graveled yard, cocking a .22 caliber rifle, aiming at a cardboard box. Later, I learned to fire a shot gun. My shoulder still aches from the kick. Later still, I’d try to shoot clay pigeons. I missed every one that my brother flung out over our field of wheat.
Before you start thinking about The Beverly Hillbillies, let me say that we rarely used guns. My dad didn’t hunt much as an adult, but he still possessed the capability to shoot with the accuracy of Atticus Finch.
On our farm, rabid animals were not unusual. Two days before my wedding, I saw a rabid skunk. I could tell by how it weaved, how it didn’t seem to notice or fear me. My mind fast forwarded to the skunk invading the big wedding tent.
I did what all brides in freak-out mode do: rant breathlessly at the nearest adult, which happened to be my father.
Dad unlocked the gun cabinet and told my mom to get in the truck. This tableau remains etched in my mind: my mom driving the silver GMC half-ton; my dad standing in the truck box, leaning on the cab, rifle braced perpendicular to his body; my fiance standing beside me on the house steps.
I heard the shot. So did my urban husband-to-be.
He looked at me. Although it wasn’t the intention of the act, the message was clear: you don’t mess with a farmer’s daughter.