Dad slowed the car and pulled onto the restaurant parking lot. The tires quit their musical crunching of the loose gravel when he stopped beneath a shade tree and killed the motor. The hand written sign in the fly-stained window next to the door advertised Country Cooking. There was no doubt about that – there wasn’t another building in sight in either direction down the highway.
I nudged my sister and she reacted true to form. “Stop touching me.” She scooted further away on the rear seat, clutching Tom Cat tightly in her lap.
“We’re going to eat in a restaurant.” I pointed and she quit stroking her tiger-striped cat and looked. I’m sure she was as surprised as I was. Eating out rarely occurred in our family, and never unless we were travelling. When we were returning from Grandma’s and Grandpa’s like we were doing today, Grandma had always sent us away with a sack lunch. This was a major change in routine.
As we were getting out of the car Dad said, “Leave those windows cracked a little so it won’t get too hot for your pets.” I rolled my window up some and Sis did the same. Booger, my black dog of questionable parentage, and Tom Cat would have to wait on their dinner until we got home.
If I was a betting boy I would lay odds on Dad ordering a hot open-faced roast beef sandwich with gravy. I’d wager on him buying sliced brisket and a loaf of bread and soda pop to eat and drink under a shade tree somewhere if he had stopped at a roadside Bar-B-Q pit. I can’t think of anything else he ever ordered. He was right predictable.
Sis and I would have the Blue Plate Special ordered for us without our being consulted if it was on the menu,. “You got more for your money that way” Mom said, and she was right. If they didn’t have a special we would likely get a hamburger, cut the onions, with potato chips.
I was right, Dad got the roast beef. The rest of us had the special: baked chicken and dumplings with turnip greens and sugary glazed carrots. We all had a slice of chocolate cake that came with the meal. It was country and it was good.
We were all stuffed to the gills. Mom sent me a warning look. Eskimo burp’s of appreciation weren’t going to be tolerated today.
When we left the café I was carrying a paper cup with some water for Booger and Tom Cat. Sis ran ahead and opened her door. She was about to get in the car when she let out a squall. “Tom Cat’s gone!” Sis started bawling and let me tell you, she has an industrial set of lungs.
“Hush” Dad commanded. “He’s around here somewhere. How’d he get out?”
“I dun’no” Sis sobbed. “I didn’t think he could get out my window.” Again she turned on her siren and started revving up.
“Dad-nabbit, hush!” Dad said. “Spread out and start looking.”
After a futile search that lasted nearly an hour, even Booger couldn’t find that cat; Dad said we had to go on home. There wasn’t any consoling Sis. She wanted her tabby and she snuffled and wailed endlessly in the corner. Booger jammed his head under my leg. I couldn’t tell if he was grieving the loss of his companion or trying to muffle the caterwauling from Sis. It made for a miserable trip home.
I don’t know how long eternity is but that’s how long Tom Cat’s been gone. Dad finally got Sis another kitten and she named it Tinker Bell. She duded it up with a pink ribbon around its neck and hardly let it hit the ground.
“That ain’t no kind of a name for a boy cat” I told Sis. “You ought to name it something else.”
“Tinker Bell is a girl.”
“No he’s not. He’s a boy.”
“How do you know?”
Dad lowered his paper and lifted his brushy eyebrows, his eyes twinkling.
I looked at Dad. “Uh, Dad said so.”
“How do you know?” Sis asked Dad.
He folded his paper twice, gathering his thoughts. “Do you remember seeing a sign tacked on the mailbox post where we got Tinker Bell?”
Sis nodded, and since she hadn’t learned how to read yet, waited for Dad’s explanation.
“It said, Free Kittens – All Boys.”
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