No. 87 April, 2009
Ernie, The Cat Who Ate The Birdseed
by Bill Payne
Ernie was little pale orange kitten with stripes. He didn’t know that his name was Ernie yet, but what was special about him was that, although most cats have five toes on each of their feet, he had seven toes on each front paw and six toes on each back paw.
He lived in a house with his Mom and his brothers and sisters and some people. His Mom fed him and cleaned him and took care of him. She was soft and gentle and smelled good. He liked playing with his brothers and sisters.
One day the people in the house put him and his brothers and sisters in a big cardboard box and took them in a car and drove and drove.
They stopped by the side of the road and one of the people took Ernie out of the box and put him in the middle of a field of dry grass and then got back in the car and drove away.
Ernie sat in the field and watched the car go away. He didn’t know where to go or what to do. He looked around and saw nothing but trees at the end of the field and far away mountains.
Suddenly, he saw a shadow coming fast across the ground at him; he looked up and saw big bird, a hawk, making circles in the blue sky. Something told him that he should be afraid of animals bigger than him and as the bird started to dive down at him he ran as fast he could to the edge of the field and hid under the bottom branches of a tall spruce tree. He stayed under the branches, his little heart beating fast, and waited.
The sun went down and it got darker and darker, and because it was winter, it got colder and colder. Ernie shivered and he was hungry. He was afraid to come out from under the branches because he wasn’t sure if the hawk was still around. After awhile he peeked out and then started to creep along staying low in the short grass. After a long while he saw the lights of a house. He thought maybe he could go into the house and get warm and get something to eat. When he got close to the house he could smell food. It didn’t smell like good food but he was really hungry. Near the house he found a really big garbage can tipped over and he ran right up to it hoping he could find something he could eat.
A big black furry animal with big claws and bright flashing teeth jumped around from behind the garbage can and growled at him. It was a bear!
Ernie ran to the side of the house and climbed up an old oak tree. He climbed as high as he could and held on with all twenty-six of his claws. He didn’t know that the bear could have climbed up after him. But the bear didn’t want to eat Ernie; he just didn’t want to share.
Ernie was so scarred that he stayed in the tree for the rest of the night. He was so cold he started to cry.
Slowly, the bright orange sun came up, the bear left and it got a little warmer. Ernie lowered himself carefully down the tree to see if the bear had left anything. The bear hadn’t left much. Ernie sniffed around and found a little bit of
peanut butter in a jar. The opening of the jar had been too small for the bear to get into, but Ernie stuck his little head into it and licked. He decided peanut butter wasn’t his favorite food but it was better than nothing.
When he pulled his head out of the jar, a breeze came up and he smelled the scent of an animal he had never smelled before and something told him to RUN! He ran away from the house and into the woods and jumped part way up a pine tree and climbed and climbed and when he got almost to the top he looked down and there was a coyote panting with his big pink tongue hanging out between his long white teeth. The coyote kept looking up at him and circled the bottom of the tree and finally lay down and went to sleep.
Ernie stayed in the tree all day and toward sundown the coyote woke up, looked up at him one more time and went away. Colder and hungrier, Ernie waited until it was dark and climbed down the tree.
Day after day and night after night, Ernie wandered around trying find a place to be warm and to find something to eat and trying not to be eaten.
He had to keep away from any animals bigger than him because they all chased him. The only animals that didn’t chase him were squirrels and rabbits that were about the same size as he was.
When bigger animals chased him he had to run up a tree. He found out that spruce trees were the best because the thick branches let him climb up fast, because he was small, and gave him cover to hide in.
Sometimes he found little scraps that he could eat and sometimes he found places where he could get out of the wind like an old chicken coop or a falling down barn.
But he always wished he could be back with his Mom so she could take care of him and he wished that he could play with his brothers and sisters. He kept getting skinnier and weaker and he was always sad.
One night he was near a house and a car pulled up and parked next to it. A lady got out and went to the door and when she opened it a big black and white cat came out on the porch.
“No, Bruno,” said the lady to the cat, “it’s nighttime, we don’t want a coyote to get you.” And she pushed the cat back inside the house.
Ernie crept under the car and could still feel the warmth from the engine. He slept there cuddled next to a front tire.
The next morning when he woke up, Ernie could here a lot of birds chirping. He peeked out around his tire and saw a bird feeder near the back door of the house. The birds were flying and landing on the bird feeder and eating the seeds. Under the bird feeder was a pile of spilled seeds; two squirrels were eating the seeds on the ground. Ernie thought that if they could eat birdseed he could too.
He got out from under the car and went to the seed pile. The squirrels growled and squeaked at him but he didn’t care, he knew they wouldn’t chase him and he was really hungry. He chewed and chewed on the seeds. They were hard to swallow and they didn’t taste good, but he kept on chewing.
All at once the back door opened and Bruno came charging out hissing and spitting. Ernie ran for the nearest spruce tree and climbed right up still trying to swallow a mouthful of seeds.
“Come back Bruno and leave that kitten alone,” the lady yelled from the back door. Bruno gave Ernie one more mean look and went back inside the house and the lady followed him. From up in the tree, Ernie watched the lady come back out and put a bowl on the back porch.
“Come on down little kitten,” she said to Ernie, “you poor thing and have some food. I would take you in but Bruno won’t share. But at least I can feed you.”
Ernie waited until she went back inside and than slowly got down out of the tree and went to the bowl. The food tasted great! Just like good food should.
So Ernie stopped wandering and stayed near the nice lady’s house. He got food and there were lots of spruce trees for when the big animals chased him, but he was cold all the time except when cars came and he went under them to get warm, and he kept getting weaker and he was itchy and he had burrs in his fur and he kept sneezing and he was lonely.
Lots of cars came to the house and it was always ladies driving them. They would go inside and when they came out they looked different. Sometimes they had shorter hair and sometimes it was a different color. One time Ernie peaked in the window and saw that the nice lady gave the other lady a haircut.
One day Anita parked in front of the house and went inside. The lady sat her in the chair and started working on her hair. She said; “How are you, Anita?”
“Well, Theresa, I still miss Gemma.”
Gemma was a beautiful longhaired calico cat with a big puffy tail and three different colors; gray and white and pale orange like Ernie. She had been Anita’s cat but she had gotten old and sick and then she had died.
Anita went on; “With my children all grown and gone away, Gemma was my good friend and I can’t get used to her not being around the house.”
Theresa said; “Maybe I have found another friend for you.” And she told Anita how she had seen Ernie eating birdseed and had started feeding him but how she couldn’t take him in because of Bruno.
When they were done with Anita’s hairdo, they went outside and there was Ernie sitting under her car. Anita bent down and picked him up, and he was a little afraid because she was big, but he felt so weak that he didn’t care very much what happened to him. Anita held him in her arms and she was soft and gentle and she smelled good.
Theresa gave Anita a big cardboard box and they put him in the car and he was a little bit afraid again.
“I’ll take him the vet,” said Anita. And off they went in the car. Anita took him into a house where there were a lot of people and big dogs and he was scarred, but then a lady in a white coat picked him and talked to him and shined a light in his ear and then washed him and stuck him with a needle “OUCH!” and then another one “OUCH!” again.
Then Anita took him home to her house. Ernie had never been in a house like this one; there was a tree inside of it, a spruce tree. But it looked different; it had colored lights and shinny balls on it. Anita gave Ernie a big bowl of food and he ate it all up. She held Ernie in her lap and petted him and combed him. He really liked that. He wasn’t cold anymore. Later Bill, who also lived in the house came home and he petted Ernie and played with him.
Ernie liked to lie down under the spruce tree and once thought it would be a good idea to climb it but Bill said; “NO!” So, Ernie didn’t and he was just as happy lying back and looking at it. Besides he wasn’t getting chased anymore, so he didn’t really need to climb the tree.
Anita picked up Ernie and showed his special paws to Bill. “I am going to call him Ernie after Ernest Hemingway because so many of his cats had extra toes,” she said.
Ernest Hemingway was a great writer who wrote about his travels in America, Canada, Italy, France, Africa, Spain and the Caribbean. He loved his cats and wrote about them too. One of his cats, who had special paws like Ernie, was given to him by a sea captain in Key West Florida where Mr. Hemingway had a house. One cat was named Boise, after a Navy ship. After Mr. Hemingway died, his house became a home for his cats and their kittens and their kittens’ kittens and over sixty of them still live there. A lot of them have special paws like Ernie.
Bill said; “Ernie is a good name. Sometimes I will call him Ernesto. That’s what Mr. Hemingway’s friends called him when he lived in Spain.”
So Ernie lived in the house with Anita and Bill and he ate a lot of food and got stronger and stronger and every day he played with them and he wasn’t sad anymore.
Other people came to the house and they all played with Ernie.
Anita’s three nieces came to the house and Anita taught them how to knit. One of the nieces spent all the time playing with Ernie so Anita had to tell her; “Put down the kitten and tend to you knitin’!”
Christmas Day came and all of Anita and Bill’s grown up children; Susan, Dan and Mary, who lived in other places, came to the house and they all loved Ernie and played with him.
Susan tossed Christmas bows to him, Dan tickled him with a ribbon and Mary petted him. They liked him and he liked them.
But his best friend was Anita. She still thought of Gemma, but was happy to have Ernie around the house. Ernie was happy to be with Anita. She was soft and gentle and smelled good and he sat on her lap not hungry, not cold and not sad.
Copyright 2006 Anita and Bill Payne