A Place called Home
Robert is a carpenter by trade and even though retired, he still takes on special projects for friends and family. While he was young, he built himself a log cabin in the woods, at the end of a very quiet street in the little town of Homerville. Now it is more than a home for Robert, it is his sanctuary. He had never really felt lonely when he had a job and an active lifestyle but over the last few years, the walls were closing in on him and the things he used to find exciting, were just a string of empty days and nights. The holidays were the worst. His visits to his sister in Maine for Thanksgiving were the only times that Robert could look forward to, but this was the first year that he spent it alone. His sister was gone now and most of what was left of his family were scattered over several states. This year’s Thanksgiving dinner was spent at the VFW among strangers and kind-hearted veterans that put on a dinner for those who had nowhere else to go.
So, Robert would be spending Christmas alone again this year as well. But there was one thing that he had always enjoyed on Christmas Eve, and that was to drive around town to see the beautiful Christmas displays that people put up for the holidays. It had been a family tradition since he was a little boy, and it lightened his mood to recall the big family celebrations of his youth.
The snow started early in the day on Christmas Eve. Robert put the finishing touches on his little table Christmas Tree and turned the outside Christmas lights on as the day began to turn to nighttime. Dinner was spent in front of the TV, watching a traditional Christmas movie. He wasn’t a big fan of movies in general, but on Christmas Eve, it just seemed the right thing to do. After dinner, he dressed for the weather and began his drive through the town. Before he knew it, he had driven even further than usual and as he started to head back home, he noticed that the lights were on in the building just ahead. Curiosity got the best of him as he continued up the street towards the cheerfully decorated structure. Flashing, colorful mini-lights framed the large glass windows, and garland and ribbon were hung from the front door of the Homerville Cat Shelter. The inside lights were on and as he got closer to the building, he could see people of all ages moving about inside. Out of curiosity, he pulled into the parking lot and shut off his engine. On a Handwritten sign in the front window was an invitation to those who were alone on Christmas Eve, inviting them to stop in and share some time and love with the homeless kitties.
Robert never owned a pet, but he did love animals and always had a soft spot for cats. With nowhere else to go and no real plans ahead for him, he decided to stop in a make a donation while the place was opened. As he approached the front entrance, a family of four were exiting with a makeshift cardboard cat carrier and other items. From the inside of the box came a soft ‘meow’ sound which made the two children giggle with anticipation. It made Robert’s heavy heart lighten a bit, knowing that at least one cat was saved from homelessness this night.
As he entered the interior of the shelter, he was greeted by a teenager with a basket full of small paper bags filled with cat treats.
“Welcome to Homerville Cat Shelter,” she said while handing him a bag of treats. “Those are for the residents, she added, but we also have people-treats, coffee, hot cocoa, and homemade Christmas cookies for our visitors.” Please make yourself at home. If you want to visit with our kitties, just register at the front counter and a tour guide will show you around.” “My name is Sadie and if you need anything else, just ask… and thank you for stopping by.”
Sadie walked off to greet one other guest just entering the lobby and Robert wondered if he should just drop some cash in the donation jar and leave for home or stay to enjoy the company and maybe even visit with the cats.
To his left, was a large room, filled with cat trees, beds, and litter boxes. Scattered about the floor were many types of cat toys in all shapes and colors. In an umbrella stand, were toys with sticks that had various colored feathers, balls, and other objects on the ends of them. But as he grew closer to the window of the large room, he did not see any cats.
“That’s Highways room.”
When Robert turned to see who was speaking, another young teen came forward to point to a dark corner of the room, and on the highest level of the well-worn cat tree, barely visible, was a big, red tabby cat, warily watching the two people staring his way.
“This is the 'shy cat room' and for now, Highway is the only cat that resides there."
“Why the name “Highway” asked Robert.
“Well, when he was a kitten, he was found wandering along the side of Route 58, very close to the road. He was rescued by a kind-hearted person and then brought here and has been here ever since. They say that he is unadoptable because he won’t let anyone near him. We’ve had him for three years now, the young man said sadly. I tried once to take him home, but with my other two, it was not a good mix, and he was very unhappy.”
Robert couldn’t keep his eyes off the lonely little guy, but then the cat crawled deeper into his hiding place and was out of view.
Robert moved on to the front counter, pulled some bills out of his wallet, and stuffed them into the donation jar. He decided while he was here, to enjoy a cup of coffee and some Christmas cookies that looked very much like the ones his grandmother used to make. He took a seat near one of the other cat rooms to watch the inner action between the cats and their visitors. He sat there for a long time and decided that maybe he should start back home soon. Just then, he noticed a woman entering Highway’s room with a bag of treats. She sat down on the floor near Highway’s hideout and began to speak softly to the wary cat. He watched her for a while until she decided to give up and exited the room. He noticed then that Highway had stuck his head out to watch her leave.
He can’t be that shy, Robert thought to himself. She just didn’t give him enough time.
As she rounded the corner, keeping her eyes on Highway’s encloser, Robert nearly rammed into her.
“Oh, excuse me,” she said. I wasn’t watching where I was going,” she continued.
“My fault said Robert, I was watching you try to get Highway to come out of hiding.”
“Yes, I have been trying for a number of days, but I guess he is just not interested.
Why don’t you give him a try, maybe he likes men better,” she added."
“Yeah, I don’t know, said Robert, I never owned a pet before, there were allergies in my family, so we just never had pets."
“Well, good luck then, she said, he really does deserve a chance.”
Robert was torn. He felt as though he already knew Highway’s reasons for not trusting anyone. All those years, living alone in a room, never knowing love or companionship. Robert knew what that was like. After he lost his wife of 13 years from cancer, he was very much like Highway… lost and afraid to get close to anyone else. It hurt too much to lose them. Jill died over a decade ago and since then, Robert has led a solitary life, not wanting to bring anyone else in. His friends tried to get Robert to open up and get out and meet someone, but it just wasn’t in the cards for him.
As he began to make his exit and return home, he glanced one more time at Highway’s room and to his surprise, Highway was in full view on a tree near where Robert was standing, warily staring his way. A pathetic ‘meow’ came from behind the glass as the little cat reached out and touched the glass near where Robert stood. It’s a miracle, he thought. He must know I am as lonely as he is somehow. After seeing this, Robert’s heart ached for the poor cat. What am I getting myself into, he thought?
Robert approached the front desk to inquire about cat adoptions and how they work. He was told that if he finds a cat that he is interested in, for the protection of the cat, a personal information form must be completed, followed by a two-day waiting period. After the adoption is approved, there is a $50 adoption fee for kittens, and for older or harder-to-place cats, the fee is waived. Each cat is sent home on a trial basis and if the cat adapts and is doing well, the adoption is finalized. Additionally, he was told, that he can purchase a ‘care package’ containing all of what he will he for his new companion; a litter box, a bag of cat litter, a dozen cans and one bag of cat food, a cat bed, and blanket, a food, and water dish, and a catnip toy, all for $25. Everything he will need to get his friend settled in and comfortable.
Robert thanked the volunteer for the information and hesitantly headed towards Highways room again. He noticed that the little cat had moved back to his hiding position to the back of the room. Robert slowly and cautiously entered the room. With the bag of treats in hand, he took a seat on the floor on the opposite side of where Highway was perched. He crossed his legs and rattled the bag of treats in front of him. Then he waited. After a few minutes went by with no movement from the cat, Robert began to hum to a Christmas Carol that was playing over the intercom throughout the shelter. 'Silent Night' echoed through the entire facility, followed by 'Jingle Bells' and other favorite holiday hymns.
When Highway heard Robert’s voice call out his name, his ears perked up in anticipation that he would hear it again. Then Robert began to speak to him as he held out his hand full of cat treats, urging Highway to come and take a chance.
Robert noticed that Highway had come out in full view, at the top of his cat tree. He stared Robert’s way for several moments. Slowly and cautiously the little red cat made his way down the tree and then warily towards where Robert sat. He stopped a few feet short of Robert and sat down with his tail wrapped around his body, he dropped to a prone position on the floor and kept his eye on Robert the entire time. The cat began to clean his paws and then his face, still staring Robert’s way. Robert took the handful of treats and placed some on the floor in front of him. Highway’s ears flicked back and then forward again as he continued to stare towards Robert and then at the pile of cat treats. This routine went on another few moments until Highway, checking behind and to both sides of him first, slowly approached the seated man. When he reached the pile of treats, he sniffed and then gobbled down the pile, all the while watching Robert’s every move.
Robert sat patiently, still humming softly to the music, as Highway started towards him. Robert held out his hand with more tasty treats and to his delight, Highway took the chance and ate them, too. Then the cat began to meow softly as he rubbed his face against Robert’s hand. Then Highway climbed on Roberts folded legs on the floor, circled around, and cuddled in his lap. Then the purring started, as Robert gently pet Highway and began to sing softly to him to the music that was currently playing.
Two months later:
Robert returned from a routine trip to the grocery store to find Highway, who he now called “Big Red” lying on his cat bed in front of the big bay window, watching the birds at the feeders on the other side of the glass. When he heard Robert coming through the front door, he turned his head slightly, meowed, and then went back to bird watching.
“I’m home,” called Robert, but the little cat just gave him another quick look and a tail wag and settled back into what had now become “a place called home.”
By Randi MacWilliams