Miss Kitty, Can You Spare a Dime?

January 4, 2008 4 min read

We shot the rabbit in midafternoon.

Four of us walked a logging road, shotguns pointed down, and it darted out of the bushes. One of the boys — they all went to Vietnam and two came back mostly whole, except for 40 or 60 years of coming nightmares and regrets — pulled up and put it down.

Just like that. A blur of fur one second, a limp body the next.

The boys were fast, three country boys in the Alabama woods on an autumn day, dragging along their cousin — me.

They skinned it and discussed the outcome — not enough to eat and too much to waste.

We took it to Miss Kitty — the pink and naked carcass cold by its feet.

The old black woman — at 14, 50 looks ancient — asked if it was a cat. She had some experience with my cousins.

They protested. She examined it and we negotiated a price. She left them in the dirt yard of her shack — hogs grunting, chickens scratching — and led me to the inner sanctum of her and Mr. John. She extracted a pouch from under a mattress and handed me a dime.

She trusted me, I don't know why. I never told about that mattress till she was deep in an overgrown grave.

I had watched Miss Kitty shucking corn and culling peas on the porch with my grandmother, two women, black and white, talking in the cane rockers on summer noons, fly swatters at the ready, in the heart of Dixie, when it had a heart.

When Mr. John moved his family from Caffee Junction to Reno, my grandmother told my grandfather Miss Kitty got an indoor bathroom, while she had a two-hole outhouse, frigid in February, draped in webs and wasps by August.

One of the cousins pocketed the dime, the prerogative of seniority and size. They all had three or four years on me.

Late in the day we came to a field of high golden grass with a ridge on one side.

We stacked the guns, Gettysburg style, and lounged about chewing grass. It was their habit, me being the city boy from Birmingham, to turn their talk on me.

This started in kidding and escalated to wrestling. Over and over we rolled, laughing, then cussing, till one of the cousins grabbed my hat and I shoved his face in the dirt.

We went for the guns.

I grabbed mine and took off.

When the first shot fired, I dived for cover about 40 yards out. The boys opened up a barrage of blasts, shredding the grass, raining it on my head.

I rolled over with the 20-gauge Remington Wingmaster and discovered a fighting rule: Do not dive for cover with your gun pointed forward.

If you do, you might drive your gun into the ground and get a barrel jammed with dirt. What you do is, you hold it out front, sideways. Better, you land on your back with the gun over your chest.

The cousins started to stomp through the grass my way, and I belly crawled across the field searching for a stick to ramrod the dirt from the barrel and get down to business.

On the ridge, I saw the boys headed home in the field below. I loaded some buckshot and opened fire. I tried some slugs, but those wouldn't reach them either.

A couple of bullets whizzed past my left ear. Wouldn't you know? One of them had a rifle. The boys could shoot. Good thing I trusted them. They might have hit me.

Phil Lucas is executive editor of The News Herald in Panama City, Fla. Contact him at plucas@pcnh.com. To find out more about Lucas and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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