'The White Cat of Christmas': A not-quite Dickens of a carol
There'll be scary ghost stories
And tales of the glories of
Christmases long, long ago.
“It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”
Edward Pola & George Wyle (1963)
“Eight years ago this very night,” he muttered to himself, mentally affecting a dialect decidedly British, loosely mimicking the musings of the fictional Bob Cratchit, who, in “A Christmas Carol,” recalled the death seven years earlier of Jacob Marley, the partner of one equally hard-nosed Ebeneezer Scrooge.
It was eight years ago on a frustrating mid-December evening that “The White Cat of Christmas,” as he had come to call it, had returned — 32 years after its first appearance.
The blustery morning after his mother's 1972 death, a few months before Christmas, with his father and brothers at the funeral home making arrangements, and having just hung up the phone from explaining to the high school attendance officer why he was absent that day, he took note of the light coming from under the door to the garage.
The garage door itself was closed; someone must have left the light on, he figured.
It was a light, but not the garage light.
He opened the door. And what to his wondering though grief-filled eyes should appear, sitting atop an air compressor in the garage's far corner, but a cat.
A white cat.
Perhaps the brightest, whitest cat he had ever seen.
You could even say it glowed.
Their eyes met.
But there was no fear in either set.
Then, to his speechless astonishment, the cat “spoke”:
“I'll be all right,” it said.
In his mother's voice.
As quickly as it had spoken, the cat lighted from its perch and escaped through the space between the garage door and sill not even a quarter the size of its girth.
Doubting his senses at first, perhaps, as Scrooge had rationalized when the ghost of Marley visited him, this ghostly cat was the result of “an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato.”
But he knew what he had seen, or at least what he thought he had seen: The cat was real and the “voice” was true. But he also knew he could tell no one for the disbelief and even derision that would follow.
And so, he remained silent for the next 32 years — until that night in mid-December 2004, in a different time and a different place.
Things were not going well on the new model train platform that year. The rush was on to complete it for Christmas but it seemed as if every engine and every car on every line was derailing. And no matter what corrective measures he took, the problems could not be remedied. Some grew worse.
Suddenly, the unthinkable was becoming the thinkable, if not the probable. And visions of Santa Claus telling his elves that, due to a raging storm, Christmas would be canceled this year began to dance through his head.
Conceding defeat, he left his garage workshop and repaired upstairs to make the announcement: “There will be no train platform this year,” he told the family.
He soothed his dejection before his hearth.
Hours later, he returned to the basement to retrieve something from a freezer. He noticed there was a light coming from under the door; he must have left the light on, he surmised.
But opening the door he found not the garage workshop light on but ...
Sitting atop a table saw just adjacent to the garage door was a cat.
A white cat.
Perhaps the brightest, whitest cat he had ever seen. You could even say it glowed.
It was the same cat of 32 years ago.
Their eyes met.
But, again, there was no fear in either set.
Then, the cat “spoke”:
“Have patience,” it said.
In the voice of his father who had died 2 1⁄2 years before.
And again, as quickly as it had spoken, it lighted from its perch on the table saw and departed, this time under a garage door whose fit between sill and edge was as tight as Scrooge's purse strings.
He told his family.
Their skepticism was palpable.
He told select friends.
Their doubt was just as manifest.
He even wrote of it but was persuaded, at least at the time, to think better of it for being branded as something less than flattering. (The “Catman of Catalpa” came to mind. So, too, did “crazy” and a headline such as “‘Shove it' editor sees talking cat.”)
Fact? Fiction? Whether the “White Cat of Christmas” was real or a figment of an imagination fueled 40 years ago by someone seeking solace in profound grief, then 32 years hence by someone seeking solace from profound frustration, remains a question for the ages — if not a question for the comforting angels of Christmas.
Colin McNickle is the Trib's director of editorial pages (412-320-7836 or firstname.lastname@example.org).