Monday, March 26, 2012



I found Booger at the Coffee Shop some fifteen years ago - a tiny kitten with only one eye open, and although I could easily cover her with one hand, I couldn’t muffle the anguished MEEOOW! that she produced. It was like the cry of some tortured soul in hell, filled with equal parts of despair and terror. She had matted, multi-colored fur and when I cupped her to the shoulder of my jacket, she sank her tiny claws deep into the fabric and clung there like a small wad of velcro. Something had plucked her from a bleak and uncertain fate and she had no intention of letting go.

I opened the back door of the Coffee Shop and caught the eye of the short-order cook at the grill.
“Is it okay if I take this kitten?”
The cook laughed. “Are you kidding? That screech was getting on my nerves.”

So, Booger came home with me. She only stopped giving her heartfelt lamentation when I pried her off my jacket and forced her mouth into a saucer of milk. I think she underwent a kind of “instant weaning,” but she figured it out. Then, she slept in my pocket the rest of the day, emitting a loud, rumbling purr ... a sound that, like her cry of distress, seemed abnormally loud for such a small creature.

There was a major problem with Booger’s becoming a part of my household - Jack, my Jack Russell. However, I thought I had a solution.
Booger would be a barn cat. I would create a perfect environment in my old abandoned barn, complete with food, an old tattered blanket and an endless supply of mice. But when I deposited Booger in her new home, she was immediately unhappy, emitting a yodel of misery that followed me back to the house. I told myself that she would adjust, and I would come each day with Friskies and love.

It didn’t work, of course. When I returned the following day, Booger was gone. I searched through the saw briars and broom sage around the barn, leaving food and milk in the old feed-room. After three days, I gave up hoping that she had found her way to a neighbor’s house where she was now warm and content. I found (heard) her a week later in the old garden, covered with beggar lice and terrified. It took me several hours to clean her up, tugging each sticky burr from her fur while she continued to give that anguished cry. Although she endued the “cleansing,” she obviously considered the ordeal a personal attack. I don’t think she ever forgave me for that.

Eventually, we worked out a living arrangement. Booger lived in the attic and since Jack was afraid of steps, she was beyond his reach. Although she left each day, vanishing into the dense woods above my old farmhouse, she returned each night,exploding through Jack’s “doggie door” entrance in the bathroom and racing to the top of the stairs where she sat giving Jack and I a baleful stare. Obviously, we were not to be trusted. She only visited her food dish after we were in the bed. We lived like that for over ten years.

Two years ago, I decided to give up my old farmhouse. The roof was leaking and I had passed several uncomfortable winters there due to the absence of insulation and dependable heat. I was fortunate enough to qualify for an apartment in a community complex that catered to the poor and elderly. Jack went with me, (although he had to pay rent, too) and we suddenly found ourselves basking in well-heated rooms complete with a dish washer and a garbage disposal. However, Booger remained in the old farmhouse. There was no place in my new community for a maladjusted kitty.

As fall turned to winter, I worried about “the woolly booger” that lived in the attic. Although I had cut off the heat and the electricity, I went by each
day and left food in Booger’s dish. Within a month, the house was filled with cobwebs, mold and mildew. When the first snow came, Booger abandoned the attic and moved to the front porch. In time, I came to realize that she was waiting for me. I hadn’t heard that banshee wail in several years, but now it returned. Each day, as I trudged through the snow, Booger greeted me with loud recriminations. She had been abandoned again.

I guess guilt did me in. More and more, I had misgivings about Booger’s fate and as I listened to that anguished wail each day, it came to be a mix of both despair and accusation. “Where have you been?” she seem to say. As the house became increasingly bleak and inhospitable, the cold, empty rooms filled with dust devils and little “tumbleweeds” composed of Booger’s fur; I made a decision. I turned the electricity on and hooked up a heating pad for Booger to sleep on. I discovered that if I stayed a while, my old cat became less fretful. I brought books to read, and a radio that picked up an fm station in Asheville. One night, I dozed off in my chair and woke to find Booger in my lap, her mournful meow reduced to a vibrating purr, like an idling engine or a car.

And so I came home. Despite the protests and advice of my friends, I talked them into loading my battered belongings and making the trek back to Rhodes Cove. Several old acquaintances helped me clean the old house, remove the mildew and fire up the wood stove. Jack was obviously pleased, and we are now gradually “rediscovering” the pleasures of familiar things - the little stream in the front yard, the rain crows on the ridge above the house. It is time to put chickens back in the empty lot and plant tomatoes in the garden.

Did I come home because of my old cat, Booger? Well, that would make me some kind of fool, wouldn’t it? But it is gratifying to see Jack and Booger asleep in the same chair, their noses buried in each other’s fur. Each night, Jack burrows beneath the quilts on my bed and Booger sleeps on my pillow where she can keep watch on the silent fields and the night sky through the window. After all of those years of glaring at us from the attic steps, she has finally managed to “insinuate” herself into our lives.

Sometimes, I think it is the other way around - that Jack and I have finally managed to sneak into Booger’s world. When I stay up late reading and listening to music, I sometimes see Booger in the dark kitchen where she lays on her back purring. She is a chubby cat now after so many years of painful thinness. She rocks slowly back and forth, shifting from left to right in a kind of an ecstasy of contentment. Then, she will explode, vaulting to her feet and racing away up to the attic, down and out of the house, leaving the “doggie door” clattering, and then back to the kitchen where she sits and washes a foot, her huge, green eyes watching me. It took me a while to realize that Booger is... playing. And more than that, she is celebrating. Finally, everything is where it should be.


  1. Well Gray, a most wonderful story and the most appropriate ending...."Finally, everything is where it should be." Oh, I do believe that to be true!!

  2. Gary, So very true everything in its proper place.
    A touching, warm true story and I feel very fortunate
    to know all.

  3. There are some relevant details that are not in this version of Booger's story. She has objected to a series of "date rape" assaults from Jack, but she forgives him. Both Jack and Booger have been to the vets and rendered up their reproductive talents, but it is humiliating to be squashed beneath a 40 lb Jack Russell. Jack sometimes goes to sleep in the midst of the encounter and Booger is forced to crawl from under him and go to perch at the top of the stairs. They invariably make up before bed time.

  4. Gary, I love this story. I'm glad you have Booger and Jack. I had Rocky and Tiger who loved each other beyond reason until Old Rock died at fourteen from a brain tumor, I believe.
    Now Tiger owns me and knows she is the head of this house and demands whatever she wants from me.
    I almost lost her to a skin disease, but began feeding her ground raw chicken and she looks gorgeous now.
    Her coat has come back prettier than ever. I'm glad Booger and Jack love each other now.

  5. Thank you, Glenda. I have written a reply to you four times, but the system on this blog refuses to publish it. If this one makes it, I'll try again to talk about Booger and Jack.

  6. To Gary Carden,I loved your story about your old cat Booger and your dog Jack. I have a strong affinity for cats and have the best one I've ever had now 11 years in May.My grandkids love animal stories so I've made a copy of your story to read to them. Good Luck being back in your old homestead. It sounds fitting. Alice G. Duckett

  7. Thank you, Alice. Cartersville High School was a long time ago, but I think of all of you often. I have a pretty good stock of old color slides taken during parades, and school events like "Myth Day." Where you Pandora?
    Heard from Phillip Mullinax last week and Don Smith is coming to see me in a couple of weeks...he always takes me out to breakfast. Carlee and Spike have visited me and may come back this year.

  8. Hi Gary, I'm sure you heard about Carlee's husband's sudden death. It was so sad for her. I know you enjoy the visits from former students. I keep up with your news on your blog and through DiAnne Munroe who sends info regularly. I'm completing several Summer Reading Programs for kids at AL libraries next week and then plan to take a break for summer and grandkids and some travel. I do hope to finish one of my children's books this summer. I have 4 half-way and must get something new ready for this fall or winter. Guess you're settled now back at your old home. My husband and I hope to visit in NC this summer in the Grandfather Mt. area. Wish I could get in a visit with you. Hopep you have a good summer. Alice (Gilreath) Duckett-Anniston, AL

  9. Mr. Carden (Gary)- Thanks for this story. I do enjoy reading your blogs. I travel the Blue Ridge Parkway several times a year and stop in Maggie Valley often. I've wondered if I might catch a glimpse of you during my wanderings. I've seen "Mountain Talk" several times and other documentaries with you involved and I appreciate your wisdom about the area and the stand you take on 'being mountain folk'. Hopefully we'll meet someday when our paths cross. It would be my honor to meet you.

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