HEARERS OF THE WORD: Feeding the cats reminds me of him

By Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal

Every evening I open the cans, the gelatinous contents smelling disagreeably of horse meat and pulverized fish.
I dump them into circular, stainless steel basins and watch the mongrels gather around, like petals on a furry flower. Ravenous as they are, the scraggly adults still make room for the wobbly-legged kittens.
It was important to my late father-in-law, the feeding of these nearly feral beasts, so I’ve made it a ritual.
It’s amazing, when a life is over, beyond the platitudes and niceties, how few things there are left to say. Doug made it clear he didn’t want a religious service, so his brothers asked me to conduct the affair.
Some years ago, I attended the funeral of a friend. The cotton-haired preacher hardly mentioned my friend’s name. Instead, he talked the whole time about Jesus, and the hereafter, and how we can all share in the glory that our deceased brother was now enjoying.
Jesus gets plenty of press, I remember thinking, and he doesn’t need to be the topic of conversation at somebody else’s funeral.
At Doug’s service, gazing out over the crowd of union men and world-weary women, I chose to tell about waking up one morning to find Doug inflating my car tire. Even before Angie and I got married, the man took care of me like his own son.
I have several structures on my property, including a tool shed where I store bird seed, so it’s nice to have a few cats around.
I worry though, sometimes, about the beats’ fluctuating numbers, but I’ve come to understand that they’re a self-regulating population.
The cats are practical, but they’re also prone to the maladies of the inbred, and a flashlight search under my shed often reveals a shriveled carcass. The furry hide lies limp, and the skin around the teeth is pulled back – almost threatening – like a mummy.
Sunday mornings, after mass, I like to walk my property and make sure everything is OK. In the winter months I wear Doug’s coat, a green one, with a slick, nylon finish and a reversible, orange liner.
It smells like coffee, and industrial grease, and the cigarettes that killed him, and when I put it on, and walk the fence line, I feel like he’s waiting for me back at the house.
“Well, that sounds about right,” Doug would say, when the music and bells filtered into the house from the Presbyterian church next door.
He’d finish off his second pot of coffee, then rise and say, “Let me feed these cats.”
Friday nights I usually arrive home in the dark, and my wife has two days of trash ready for me to take down to the road.
Last Friday, I put on Doug’s coat, and cranked his truck, and threw four sagging bags of trash over the tailgate. It was bitterly cold, and I unbuttoned the coat pocket and reached inside, and my hand hit a pair of reading glasses.
Parked at the head of my driveway, my headlights shined over me as I walked twice to the trash can. I tried not to look up as the cars passed. My breath was golden in front of my face, like prophecy from the jaws of an oracle.
Inside, my wife was ladling Frogmore Stew into inexpensive, faux-French bowls, and, as I hung up Doug’s coat, she asked me if I was ready to eat. “Yes,” I told her, as I closed the closet door and reached for one the cans.
“Just let me feed these cats.”

Contact Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holley at 678-1510 or galen.holley@djournal.com.