When I was a little child, we had cats. Two of them to start with. The story goes that my father found them in the local quarry when they were tiny kittens, and brought them home. One was pure black, the other, black-and-white. No-one ever uses their imaginations when naming cats. They called the female kitten Fluffy, even though her fur was as smooth as silk. They called the black male kitten Smutty. All black cats around then were called Smutty; later we had another cat called Smutty, but he was tabby, and was so called because he had this habit of curling up right on the corner of the wood stove which heated our house, just short of actually being in the fire. I used to have nightmares about that, but that is another story; and this story does not concern either of the Smutties.
Fluffy turned out to be quite vicious, and I tended to leave her alone, since I had been the recipient of a couple of her bites, and her teeth had a definite tendency towards sharpness. Then the kittens came along, and things changed. Motherhood sat well on Fluffy, and she became gentle, and she and I formed an everlasting bond.
We children loved the kittens. We used to play shops on the stairs leading up to the top floor of the house, and Fluffy’s kittens fetched a great price, only, of course, when you’d go to collect your kitten, the merchandise had wandered off somewhere, and inquiries of Fluffy, who was always sitting around purring to see the activity, never did elicit any useful information as to their whereabouts.
Our parents weren’t so pleased with this constant barrage of kittens. Some they kept; others would suddenly disappear, and we were told that they died, or escaped, or were given away, and naïve as we were, we accepted these explanations. It didn’t occur to us to doubt their veracity; now, though, I never let myself ponder on what could have been the fate of some of those kittens.
We were a poor family, as were most in our neighbourhood. Winters could be severe, and to that end, my mother decided one year to put a paraffin stove in the middle of the kitchen floor. Now why she would do this, with an eight-year-old child and a one-year-old toddler running around the house, both of them blind, is something I have never been able to figure out. Looking back on it it seems to hit the pinnacle of thoughtless stupidity. But I doubt if even the Shadow could figure out what lurks in the hearts of people when they are that abysmally careless. I can tell him, though, absolutely nothing! The room is swept clean and the emptiness of it would be enough to transport the most joyful, merry-hearted person into instant depression! But here I am judging, and honestly, did I do any better? Even as a child, there can’t be any excuse for what I did to Tibby. And if my mother was abysmally stupid, then I was unforgivably cruel. Even now, all these years later, I still can’t really believe that I actually did that to Tibby.
A few nights ago, at a loose end, I was scrolling in my My Documents folder for something to listen to, and I found a play that seemed like it might be good. But listening to this play turned out to be not the best idea I had ever had. It was about a boy who first of all discovered that his mother, who had left the family, didn’t really care about him. Then, having been told that he was a really bright child and could take his O-level exams early, ran up against total indifference to his good news, when he attempted to obtain the necessary signature from his father. All of this, combined with the general circumstances of his family, sent him into a really bad place, and he went up to the loft, killed all his father’s pigeons, then, finding a bottle of his mother’s abandoned pills, attempted to commit suicide. He was found, put into a psychiatric ward, where an adept counselor finally managed to pry from him the thing that was really troubling him, which was, of course, the murder of 20 defenseless pigeons.
This, unfortunately, brought to mind the tibby incident. I had managed to forget about it again. I had put it out of my mind before, but then, a few years ago, for some reason, in the middle of one night, it came back to bite me. It came back to bite me several times after that; and in the end I wrote a song called Sometimes at Night, which begins:
“Sometimes at night, when I can’t sleep, I think about the cruel things that I have done, often just because it looked like fun!” I never recorded that song, simply because honestly, I had the tune and the words but had no idea what to do with them. But somehow this play had resurrected a memory that I would sooner have remained buried, and I suppose there are some things one does which need special attention, because not only forgiveness must be obtained, which happened, I know, when I received Jesus as my Saviour, but sometimes healing is required which even forgiveness can’t always provide. So it was at this point that my Saviour, the ultimate healer, took a hand in this thing. When the Creator of the Universe says “Tell me”, that becomes one of the sweetest directives that we can ever receive; and in response to this I shut down the computer before I had even finished the play, went into my bedroom and, sitting up in bed, I began to confess to my Lord and Saviour the thing that has bothered me on and off, almost for my entire life.
So there was that paraffin stove, sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor, waiting for something bad to happen. With my poor eyesight, when I first saw it I thought it was a stool and sat on it; so I was no stranger to what that thing could do, although I didn’t really know the extent of it.
I was standing by it one day, enjoying the heat; and my childish thoughts got me to wondering, what would happen if …? So I went off, determined to find an answer to that question.
And there was Tibby.
Tibby was one of Fluffy’s latest kittens. When I picked him up, he began to purr. And I carried him over to the stove, and stood there, and very, very slowly, I started to lower him to the top of the stove. He went on purring for a good while until he suddenly realized what I was doing; and then he began to shake. I could feel him in my hands, quivering with uncontrollable fear. Still he didn’t try to get away. Had he done so, the outcome of this story might have been different, and I may have had a whole lot worse to deal with than the memory of a quivering kitten. But as he realized what I was doing; so did I; and then I stopped, carried him away from the stove and apologized over and over for my cruelty, and held him until he was calm and reassured; then I let him go.
As a curious, cruel child can often do, I then forgot about this. Every so often through the years it surfaced, but I just buried it again and went on with my life, until that midnight memory, when I wrote the song. I have lived with it since then, a stumbling block to me, although I didn’t realize it until I heard that play, and it came to the surface and Jesus could deal with it. And the way he chose to deal with it was rather remarkable. As I finished confessing all of this, I began to ask, “What if … what if …” What if I had decided to drop him onto the stove? What if I had decided not to stop at just finding out what would happen if I lowered him down so far? Immediately, a very sweet and amusing memory replaced all my nightmarish fantasies.
I was sitting at the kitchen table, eating dinner. I was the only one, because although my mother had put all the meals on the table, there was some great discussion that my mother, father, and two brothers were having, which was preventing them from sitting down and eating. It was the sound that alerted me first; and when I looked over, there was Tibby, eating my mother’s dinner. He had jumped up onto her chair, and had two paws on the table, although I couldn’t see that, but that’s how I imagined him, and I could just see his little head at the edge of my mother’s plate, as he was very happily noshing up. I thought, “Should I say anything or should I let Tibby have the dinner?” But then my conscience got the better of me and I said, “Mum, Tibby’s eating your dinner”. My mother dealt with it in the appropriate manner, which was to swat the kitten, who jumped down fast and went his way. But when he went his way, he didn’t go very far. When I looked around, he was doing the very same thing with my father’s dinner, one place over from where my mother usually sat. By this time I was almost convulsing with laughter, but in a voice which I tried to make serious, I said, “Mum, Tibby’s eating daddy’s dinner now!” I don’t know who swatted him that time. I went on eating my dinner, looking out for the cat in case he decided to attack it, even though I was on watch, so to speak! Then, lo and behold, I raised my eyes and what did I see?
This time I couldn’t get their attention. I really can’t remember what they were discussing but it had reached fever pitch. Not only that, but I could hardly get anything out because I was choking with uncontrollable laughter. There was Tibby, at the next place on the table, calmly but determinedly chowing down! Finally, I managed to convey the news to one of my brothers that his dinner was in grave peril, and I went back to eating mine. One more place to go! This time I was on the look-out and saw it happen. The only word I could get out was “Mum … “ but that was enough. Used to the routine now, my mother turned and gave the kitten another swat. I guess Tibby was pretty full by then, My mother always cooked really nice dinners with lots of potatoes and gravy, so he was probably ready for a sleep. He had had quite a lot of dinner, and I had laughed myself almost sick! I tried to regale the family with Tibby’s antics afterwards, but somehow they didn’t find it as amusing as I did, probably because the portions on their plates had been somewhat diminished by those same antics. Tibby, after all, was a kitten, and one translation for kitten is “fast eater”. I wondered if he would feel heavier now if I picked him up. Trouble was, though, if I went to look for him just then, while I was doing that he could have snuck up the other way and made war on my own dinner; so I decided to leave that question unanswered.
And now, thanks to my Lord Jesus, Creator of the universe and the most wonderful person who ever lived, died, or did anything, when I think of Tibby as I have a lot since then, I only see a tabby cat, chowing down on my family’s dinner plates!
And what a sweet, health-giving memory that is!
Still, now I have a question: Is there any way Tibby could get into the marriage supper of the lamb?