Sam The Terrible!

The Cat I Grew Up With, and All My Other Furry Friends

Conan the Barbarian was bested by Sam the Terrible. When I was a teenager, there were critters in my life who proved to be invaluable guides on my destiny into the dark, mysterious and challenging world of adulthood. They were not peers, or friends or even enemies in the human form. They were animals in my life who kept me in stitches; and probably out of trouble. I believe those buddies of mine protected me from the big, bad mean world until I was ready to take that leap. I learned humor and a joy for life through their example.

Nowadays, a haberdashery seems to be primarily a small store selling something to do with sewing and clothing. But when I was a kid, the haberdashery was where I could buy small animals; the babies of the breed. As a side note, I actually learned how to sew on our old Singer sewing machine but that is not what kept me in “stitches.” The little ducklings did. They were my favorite purchase at the haberdashery where we bought lots of things for our animals.

We lived on a small 5 acre ranch in Southern California, about fifty miles East of Los Angeles. We had horses and a cow, chickens, dogs and a cat; and we had the occasional little ducklings, of course. I would find a small pan about 6 by 10 and about two inches deep, fill it with water, and surround it with a short piece of chicken wire that was about 3 feet tall. That was necessary to keep Sam the Terrible from having ducks for dinner. The ducklings needed their privacy and did not want to be disturbed. It was then that Pete, the Weimaraner, and I would take the prone position, my hands tucked under my chin and Pete with his face resting on his long front legs while we stared at baby ducks. His ears were touching the grown but not mine. Mine stuck out too much.

We would actually lay there for hours enjoying the show. I looked over at Pete, smiled, and began to wonder if these ducks were dumber than he was. They wouldn’t use the ramp at all. They would walk right up to the side of the pan, lob their breast over the edge and plop on in. They were having almost as much fun as we were watching them. The dunking of beaks from a darting neck would collect enough water to splash on their backs. And then the wing-flapping would follow just before the process would begin again. Out of the pan, back in the pan, a hundred times a minute. Pete’s a bird dog but I don’t think he realized those ducks were birds.

Pete’s IQ was about 3 points above a rock. He wouldn’t know a duck from an ostrich but if he had a choice he would try to each the ostrich not knowing the duck would taste better and the ostrich would kick his butt. But that is not the reason I referred to him as a “Whine-a-runner.” Two reasons come to mind, but there are hundreds of others. My brother and I would saddle the horses, get our .22 rifles and go rabbit hunting in the vineyards. Pete would always be with us. That’s why we never shot any rabbits. There were miles and miles of vineyards near our ranch. There was a dirt road which ran through the middle with thousands of grapevines to either side. It was off season so the grapevines had no leaves. And from the back of a horse you could see everything happening around us.

As we were riding down the road, a rabbit sprang out from the left, saw us, and darted off down the road with a yelping Pete in hot pursuit. We brought our rifles up to fire but we knew, with Pete in the way, hunting rabbits was going to be pretty difficult. We could only watch. About a hundred yards down the road the rabbit made a hard right, went in about 3 or 4 rows and turned left. Pete got his first turn right and made it right in the same row as the rabbit. But Pete missed the second turn left. We almost fell off our horses with laughter, watching the rabbit go north and Pete going east. As he ran down the row between the grapevines, we could see him bobbing up and down in hot pursuit of nothing. It’s obvious; Pete can’t think and yelp at the same time. That’s for sure. The things Pete did were why we loved him so much. He was hilarious.

At dinner time, the dishes of food would find their way out into the backyard where Buttons, our Australian Shepard, and Pete and Sam the Terrible would dine together. Ironically, Sam and Pete would finish about the same time. When Sam is done he turns and walks off minding his own business. And that is exactly the way he likes it. But Pete, overjoyed with a full stomach, wanted to play. That is all he does except when he is watching ducks. He chose to play with Sam. Dumb.

He began is playful little leaps just to the left of Sam taunting him to play. Sam has very little patience for this mousey colored big stinkin’ dog. He turns, looks Pete right in his poor sad eyes and with claws fully extended; Pow! Pow!….. Pow! Pow! and Pow! Pete received right and left shots on both sides of his cheeks with blinding speed like he was in a fight with Manny Pacquiao, the champion Filipino boxer. Let the yelping begin. But this time the yelps had a familiar ring of pain to them. Pete comes running to me for protection and sympathy. While laughing like crazy, I would cup his face in my hands and rub his cheeks to ease the pain. I would follow that with a few words he hears often: “You are really dumb!” The next week, we learned Pete has a very short memory. He tried exactly the same thing and Sam obliged by giving him a history lesson. Yelp! Yelp!

You know? You have not lived until you have kissed a horse’s nose. You just want to make sure they are not in the process of sneezing at that very moment. Featherfoot was my horse. What a wonderful animal. She gave me thousands of hours of pleasure and companionship. Riding, running and just about every other joy a young boy could have with such a great horse. I kissed her on the nose often. And after we bred her to Poco Mo, she gave birth one early morning right in front of me while I watched. I didn’t learn about the birds and bees at school or from my parents, Featherfoot taught me. Mares are very protective of their foals. But shortly after she cleaned up her newborn, she let me hold him. But I was the only one she would let near. Cradling a brand new baby horse, not yet dry, in your arms, is a treasure. A sweet smell, pristine hair, a cuddly face and 4 long wobbly, spindly legs were part of a surprisingly strong little creature.

“Dindin,” as my mother called it, in her English accent, was ready and waiting. He didn’t really need help in finding the drinking station Featherfoot had prepared, but to guide him in the right direction was my pleasure. Instinctively, he began nudging around between her hind leg and lower belly until he found it. The nudging also helps with the milk flow. Mother Nature has such wonderful designs of perfection in her little miracles of life.

Featherfoot was mine. Bossy was not. But milking the cow was nonetheless my job morning and night. So I made the best of it. I would tie her up in the routine position, take a seat on my stool, place the bucket in just the right spot and begin the milking process. The trick was trying to get it done before Bossy put her hoof in the bucket. If I took too long, she would punish me in just that way. I think we named her Bossy because of how pushy she was. Bossy and Featherfoot taught me a lot about women. I had this look like Alfalfa from Spanky and the Gang so girls didn’t show that much interest in training me.

Sometimes I did take a little longer than usual with milking because Sam and Pete were right there next to me waiting patiently for our daily ritual. I would stretch a full nipple from Bossy’s utter and squirt each of them in the face. More milk was on their face than in their mouths. The joy on their faces and the frantic licking to clean them up, told me they didn’t care. My aim was not that great so sometimes I had to make quick multiple shots. I guess you could say they were rapid-fire automatic nipples mowing down the enemy.

I learned to relax and remain calm from being around Poco Mo, our young stallion. He was a nervous wreck. Stallions are like that due to their hormone imbalance. His constant gnawing on the wooden posts of his covered stall was really destructive. It got to the point where we had to save his life by getting him out of there in a hurry so we could repair the stall. The roof was about to cave in on top of him. I believe he may have known it was dangerous in there because, not like other horses that sleep on their feet, Poco Mo would go outside and sleep in the manure pile, laying down. He not only had bad breath in the morning when he got up, but his whole body reeked of poop. He had to have a bath almost every day. And we often rubbed on a special oily mixture that helped ward off the flies. It had an unusual odor to it but it smelt a little sweet. The smell was much better than poop, though.

That’s when I figured out what Poco Mo was up to. He gnawed his stall down because he was trying to look like a burley handsome lumberjack to impress the female equine beauties living nearby. It also seemed he was a little shy and nervous about meeting them. But if you got him close enough, he would get right to point and chat up a storm. I believe he was deliberately setting himself up for a daily bath and fragrance treatment for the same reason. He wanted to look sharp and smell his best for the ladies. I think that’s where I got the idea I needed to take baths more often and splash on a good dose of Old Spice to make myself presentable. I figured that would do the trick when I went to school. I tried my best but I didn’t get any tricks.

I have had many other fine animal times. But what about Sam? Why “The Terrible?” Sam takes the prize. He was the absolute ruler of the whole 5 acres. I already explained how he treated his buddy, Pete. Buttons was the smart one. She never bothered him. In fact, she was so quiet, calm, sweet and respectful she was almost boring. It was midday and another cat made the mistake of cutting across what we can only define as Sam’s place. Sam knew his boundaries. And he also knew there was a big oak tree on the neighbor’s property next door. And that is where that innocent trespassing cat ended up out of fear and common sense. It was the only place to fly in getting away from Sam the Terrible. He stayed in that tree for several days, trembling, wondering where he might go – as long as it was safe. Never again did that cat cut through the Territory of Terrible Sam.

Sam didn’t like birds hanging around, either. He cared for birds only in one way. And it wasn’t pleasant for them to find out how. He had a saying, “The early worm gets eaten by the bird.” And the bird gets eaten by Sam. My parents had a huge picture window in their bedroom. It was like the biggest widescreen TV you ever saw. On dewy mornings we would scurry into the bedroom to see the “Sam Being Sam Morning Show.” It was so exciting; and not wanting to miss a moment, we allowed no time for preparing the popcorn. We had no time to get chairs, either. Standing up for the show, that was the ticket. At least it was free.

The birds would lite on the grass outside that window looking for worms. And we would stare down to the left side of the giant screen TV to get a clear view of the corner of the house. That is where Sam would begin his stealth-like approach. The tension was instant the moment he appeared. Although we really wanted to warn the bird, messing with Sam’s plan of attack could be deadly for us instead of the bird. It was very impressive how he would be in one spot low to the ground in a crawling position and then in another spot a little later, closer to the prey, without moving a muscle. The length of time it took him to get to the launch position seemed like ages. Bossy was mooing at me because her utter was full and couldn’t care less about Sam. But she had to wait. And finally, after what seemed hours with Sam snaking into position, the iron was hot for striking.

The move was like lightning and what happened next took place in a nanosecond. Sam would dart in the direction the bird and while underway, Sam’s GPS would lock-in on the target with his latest weapon – SAM the Missile. He knew the fowl was going to take flight but in what direction? Sam didn’t care because his guidance system was prepared to follow its target. There was not a chance of an escape. Pete was lucky. He witnessed the wrath of “The Claws of Sam,” and lived to experience the “Claws of Sam” another day. And he lived through that as well.

The claws of the missile hit their mark – all over that bird. It was very impressive and as Sam walked off with Tweety in his mouth, the show ended. It was rated PG for action. We were too young to be permitted to watch the second part. It was too gory for the faint of heart; or those who might faint; even those who might deposit their breakfast on their shoes. There is a sequel that comes out every dewy morning but it had a very similar storyline – just a different bird.

Describing Sam snaking along the ground, reminded me of the time we vacationed in a cabin in the mountains. Sam came along with us. If he needed a vacation, he didn’t show it. After our first peaceful night of sleep, my father and I stepped outside the cabin to smell the fresh, morning mountain air. In doing so, we usually check the ground to make sure there weren’t any varmints around. It didn’t take long to notice what appeared to be a motionless snake lying on the ground in front of the cabin. As we were looking, wondering how it got there, Sam came nonchalantly walking around the corner of the cabin and took a sitting position right in front of us and right next to that snake. The ground around the cabin was mostly gravel. So I got an idea and executed it immediately. I quickly, and intentionally, moved my foot, making a rustling sound in the gravel. Instantly, Sam went into launch mode and shot into the air about 6 feet; while all the time staring at that snake. He had killed it. But after hearing the rustling of the gravel, he had his doubts. And by the time he hit the ground, he had determined that it wasn’t going to move. He then went on about the business doing what cats in casual mode do.

That is not the only time I got a chance to mess with Sam without him knowing it. He had a very clever method of coming to the front door and asking to come in. It was usually pretty hot in Southern California. The global warming was killing us, and Sam, too. We always left the door open but kept the screen door closed so the air could come in and the flies would stay out. Sam didn’t meow or knock on the door. He didn’t scratch at the doorway and he didn’t say, “Open the dang door.” Sam was special. He did things differently. He would walk away from the door about 10 feet, turn and dart to the door, jump about 5 feet in the air and bury his claws in the center of the screen. He would not let go until someone opened the door. Oddly enough, he uses that same technique on birds. The glass of water we kept on the floor next to the front door was my idea. You just pick it up and throw it through the screen. Sam takes his need to lick himself dry elsewhere. Fill the water glass, he will be back.

Why am I different? I didn’t have a street corner to hang around on. I didn’t have a bunch of lazy, crazy teenagers standing around trying to help me decide how to do absolutely nothing in my life and get paid for it – by my parents. I was living in Southern California so I didn’t even know separate water fountains existed in the South. The kids on my street were busy tending animals and doing chores so you wouldn’t get a lickin’. Works pretty good. With a little physical encouragement from my parents and help from my very good friends; Pete, Buttons, Bossy, Featherfoot, and Poco Mo, I turned out OK. I didn’t learn anything from Sam except how to fight, kill snakes, eat birds and smack Pete around. That’s about it. Is Sam the reason I joined the military? Maybe.

At least that, too, continued to keep me off the block and into a nice safe foxhole. Here Foxy!

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The Gospel of JJ

Sam with An Innocent Smile

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