There is no denying it. Coco, the cat, was shot in cold blood. The crime happened towards the middle of the last century, located in a small rural community in central Missouri.
The culprit was a respected leader of the town. He was the former captain of the volunteer fire department and a business owner known for his honesty.
He had one fault. He hated cats.
Foxy, as he was known, did not go out of his way to shoot Coco, or any other cat. Instead, his passion was feeding and watching the birds in his backyard.
All cats are predators by nature and Coco was no different. But, like all members of his species, he looked at birds differently, being taught to hunt by his mother at a very young age.
Coco was a neighbor’s cat whose territory overlapped Foxy’s yard.
That day started like any other in Coco’s young life. Then, something caught his eye as he walked down the alley on that fateful spring morning. It was a bird making a nest for his family in an old wooden garage.
That garage — more like a lean-to than a modern-day two-car garage — was full of openings for felines, birds and mice to enter.
As Coco focused his energy on his prey, he failed to notice Foxy coming around the corner with his 22 rifle. Unlike Peter Rabbit in Beatrix Potter’s famous book, Coco did not escape unharmed.
We would not know of this story had it not been for Foxy’s honesty. His confession to Coco’s owner was simple, “I shot your cat.”
Coco’s owner is an employee at the Gasconade County Republican and Foxy was my grandfather and publisher emeritus Ralph Warden.
Ralph passed along his fascination and love for our feathered friends to his two sons, Tom and Don.
Tom shared his love of birds more than once through his weekly column, “Our Back Yard,” published on the pages of the Republican for over 30 years.
In one of his columns, he wrote about his need to find a tenant for his apartment. The headline enticed the reader to investigate further: “She arrived and departed…Lady of the evening.”
The conclusion of the column wraps up the words that arouse the reader’s curiosity: “For the moment, however, I am unsettled about the future of our new apartment, now a year old and still without an occupant.
Perhaps a classified ad is in order:
For Rent—Brand new apartment in good neighborhood; trees, creek nearby. Quiet, clean area. Perfect for raising a family. Low rent. Structure has never been occupied, has a skylight, and has been built strictly according to the specifications established by the Missouri Department of Conservation. Only Bluebirds need apply.”
My father, Don, must also have inherited the “bird gene.” In addition to investing in large bags of birdseed, he has had considerable luck attracting wrens to a one-room apartment off his back deck for the last several years.
What my father did not inherit from Foxy was a hatred for cats. As a result, for most of my life, a cat has roamed in and outside his homes. So the wren house is hung out of reach of any interested cat.
Connie and I finally gave in this winter and hung a couple of supposedly squirrel-proof bird feeders from two shepherd hooks outside our kitchen window.
After a couple of weeks, one feeder was drained of most of its food during the evening hours. Connie woke early one morning to discover a raccoon enjoying an early breakfast as he stood on his back legs.
That was an easy remedy.
We also have cats. Once, our daughter was heading to her car — just past the bird feeders — when she encountered our cat TC (short for Tail Chaser) laying near her vehicle. Not seeing him all day, she enthusiastically called his name. Unfortunately, this caused several birds to fly away and TC to walk away disgusted.
He seemed to be saying, “How could you. I have been lying here perfectly still for the last hour, waiting for a bird to land by me.”
For those of you who would like to revisit Tom’s column mentioned earlier, I will include it on our website at the end of my column.
By the way, Coco was able to limp home and his owner, Ruthie Jost, removed the bullet from his leg. I assume he never went hunting on my grandfather’s property again.
She arrived and departed…
Lady of the evening
BY TOM WARDEN
We first noticed her a few weeks ago when she dropped into our area, and it was our hope that she had come to inquire about our brand new rental apartment that has been vacant for almost a year.
I built the suite last spring, thinking our neighbors would get the word out about the vacancy.
No such luck. So I put up a small inconspicuous “For Rent” sign.
One would think that a new apartment would attract a couple seeking a nice home in a rural area. It has the perfect setting… in a wooden glen, a small creek nearby, good neighbors, clean air, no noise. The apartment is solid and of modern design, cozy, and has a skylight. It is perfect for a couple wanting to raise a family.
When she first arrived, I was a bit suspicious. She was alone and she came almost as a lady of the evening…clad in a striking blue outfit highlighted by an orange vest; she was alluring and quietly seductive. I wondered if this was the kind of tenant we really wanted in our apartment anyway. Was it one of those “live in” arrangements that the youngsters get involved in nowadays?
She apparently had checked out the neighborhood and then, mysteriously, departed as quickly as she arrived. That was about a week ago.
Saturday she returned. And this time she was not alone but in the company of a rather fine-looking chap. Admittedly, I was excited, hoping that finally the apartment would have an occupant.
My hopes were shattered when the couple went to a nearby cheap, two-story shanty that was old, unpainted, and about as rustic as anything you will find on the rental market.
They actually entered the place and stayed a while as I watched from our window. I am almost ashamed to admit that I was using binoculars to pry into their private lives.
The lady of the evening eventually departed from that old shack, leaving her partner—was it her husband or her boyfriend?—behind. She went directly to our new apartment, inspected the outside and entered briefly, only to leave and return to her escort.
Apparently, he was not pleased with our new apartment and wanted to rent the nearby shack, an eyesore that has reduced property values. “He’s cheap,” I thought, “because he won’t even look at our place.” Obviously, she opted for our new apartment with the skylight.
A noisy, lengthy argument ensued, ending in a stalemate.
And then this lady of the evening and her friend departed, dashing my hopes of landing a renter at last.
I checked around Sunday to no avail. I even stood at the window and watched with binoculars: they were not to be seen anywhere. My wife is confident she will return, possibly with a new fellow.
But I am not optimistic. If the apartment goes another year without renters I will be tempted to tear it down.
And that’s the way things are this spring in our neighborhood. Nothing is working out as planned. The garden plot is yet unplowed; weeds are consuming the lawn, which is bumpy from last year’s invasion of moles; my lawn tractor became sick and had to be taken to the doctor; several large piles of leaves —all that remains from last autumn’s fiery display—are yet to be burned, and several unsightly brush piles need to be reduced to ashes.
Verily, the season had gotten off to a head start, diminishing hopes of finding time for fishing and other leisurely summer activities that went unfulfilled last year and the year before that.
Whatever happened to spring?
All of which moves me to ponder that spring also arrives as a lady of the evening…colorful, alluring, seductive. And then, rather clandestinely, she settles in with summer, leaving us to wonder whatever happened to her.
For the moment, however, I am unsettles about the future of our new apartment, now a year old and still without an occupant.
Perhaps a classified as is in order:
For Rent—Brand new apartment in good neighborhood; trees, creek nearby. Quiet, clean area. Perfect for raising a family. Low rent. Structure has never been occupied, has a skylight, and has been built strictly according to specifications established by the Missouri Department of Conservation. Only Bluebirds need apply.
Reprinted from the Best of Our Back Yard, April 11, 2001.