The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Beefer: The Seeing Eye Cat

By Mel Tharp © 1988

Issue: April, 1988

Growing up in the Green River section of western Kentucky during the 1930's certainly had its positive points. The words "smog" and "urban congestion" did not even appear in our dictionaries. Crime was relatively unknown except for an occasional raid on someone's henhouse or watermelon patch.

Of course, we had our compliment of local "characters." Everyone was known and spoken to on a first-name basis. You even knew your neighbor's animals by name. One such animal that sticks vividly in my memory was Beefer.

Beefer was a Siamese cat belonging to Effie Smith, a middle-aged widow. It is not meant to imply that Beefer was necessarily better mentally equipped than other cats; it was just that he had learned to exploit man to his greater advantage.

It would be invidious to compare the mental abilities of different breeds of cats. Most cat-lovers will arise in wrath to defend the mental powers of the breed they fancy! Beefer may or may not have been more intelligent than his peers, but there is one point that brooks no argument: he had an uncanny knack for getting what he wanted sooner.

There was consensus in our community that Beefer had somehow taken on many of the traits of his owner. Ms. Effie was a crusty lady who had some firm opinions about everything from religion to the relative merits of different brands of table syrup.

Ms. Effie was not a man hater in the true sense of the term. She publicly proclaimed that she was ready and eligible for marriage whenever the right man came to her door. The main obstacle to matrimony lay in the fact that Effie has set some pretty high standards for anyone presuming to be Prince Charming.

First: Effie was unequivocally opposed to the consumption of alcohol in any form. She was president of the local temperance group, and although she had never been known to hatchet a bar in the mode of her patron saint, Carry Nation, she had been seen on more than one occasion verbally blistering some over-served tippler.

Secondly: Effie seemed to have an incomprehensible antipathy toward dogs. This is probably the reason John Ford Cannary, local bird hunter and connoisseur of liquid grain, had never been able to get to first base with Effie, although he had made numerous overtures.

People just naturally assumed that Effie's animosity extended to cats. So the neighborhood was mildly shocked when Effie's niece came down from Louisville one weekend and brought a tiny Siamese kitten. People expected Effie to give the kitten short shrift.

Instead, a close bond quickly developed between woman and kitten. Effie named the kitten "Beefer" because of incessant complaints and demands. Effie would be in her favorite rocker dozing or reading; Beefer would dash to his dilatory slave, bash her leg with his hard head, utter the Siamese roar and leap to her shoulder, firmly asserting his right to immediate attention. Effie would smilingly, patiently, accede to his demands.

If this wasn't enough to get Beefer exiled to Timbuktu, he also had the disquieting habit of hooking his claws in a chair to scratch. Effie solved this problem by wrapping a piece of wood in a strip of carpet and rubbing it with catnip, like most cats, Beefer liked catnip and enjoyed sniffing it.

When people where prompted to ask Effie how she could put up with Beefer's antics, she had a ready answer. "He's going to be my seeing eye cat. My eyesight's failing, and Beefer sees at night. I like to walk to church at night and Beefer's going to go right along with me and lead me."

People sort of smiled and tapped their heads, believing that Effie was going off the deep end. They changed their minds, however, when as the little kitten grew, Effie started to train it to work on a leash. Before long, it became a common sight to see Effie walking along the road blindfolded with Beefer on a leash acting as her guide. Within six months, the sight of Beefer setting placidly on his leash beside Effie at church no longer drew a second glance.

John Ford Cannary was considered to be something of an enigma. He made a comfortable living raising tobacco and vegetables although he had a proclivity for neglecting his farm work during quail season. John was not a troublemaker, although his affinity for the cup that cheers would sometimes net him a free night's lodging in the county calaboose

John had never been married although he always insisted that he was looking for a "good woman". He made no secret of the fact that Effie was the girl of his dreams. Unfortunately, because of his lifestyle, marriage with Effie seemed an unattainable goal. Effie proclaimed that she wanted no truck with "that shiftless, whiskey-toping bird hunter."

John also had a pack of hunting dogs which didn't exactly endure him to Effie. He certainly seemed sincere enough in his infatuation for Effie. Once he even went so far as to call on her with a bouquet of roses to ask her to be his date at a school pie supper. But alas, he made the blunder of bringing Mack, his favorite bird dog along. Effie and Beefer combined their collective talents to put John and Mack on the road.

Call it Providence, fate or coincidence, things sometimes have a way of working themselves out in a most-unexpected way. John won the heart and hand of his beloved as a result of a serendipitous incident, which in retrospect, seems foreordained.

The Green River Interdenominational Church always set aside the week preceding Thanksgiving as Harvest Revival Week. It was a time to give thanks for the harvest and to replace the diminishing ranks of the saints who had died or backslid during the summer.

As a general rule, Indian Summer lasted through Thanksgiving favoring a good turnout for the services. This year, however, winter came early. Opening night was chilly and wet. Sleet was falling which promised to turn to snow as the temperature fell. It was a sparse congregation that gathered that evening in the little stone church. Seated among the faithful in a front pew was Effie accompanied by her inseparable companion.

Beefer didn't seem to mind the inclement weather. He traipsed along in front of Effie, leading her through the swirling blasts of icy rain. Once inside the church, he curled up at Effies feet to await further orders.

The pastor, Brother Lee, was undaunted by the miserable weather. He exhorted the choir to sing with "great exuberance." After the singing, he laid down a heavy barrage of fire and brimstone that threatened to engulf anyone so foolish as to procrastinate a trip to the mourner's bench. He promised an especially dire future for those who had backslid from the fold.

While Brother Lee was warming to the task, John Ford Cannary was having his own problems. Earlier in the afternoon he had went out quail hunting with Mack. As the weather started to deteriorate, he decided to take shelter at the home of a local bootlegger.

As the temperature outside dropped, the fire in the hearth started to feel more and more comfortable to John. The bootlegger had some lively records which he played on the Victrola for the entertainment of his customers. The combination of cheerful music and heady brew was enough to make John lose all track of time. By the time he remembered that he had animals at home to feed and care for, it was black dark. Rousing Mack from his cozy spot beside the fire, the two reluctantly went out to brave the elements.

Truly, it was not a fit night out for man or beast. John walked crouched over, his overcoat collar pulled up around his neck in an effort to shield his exposed skin from the solid sheet of sleet. His shotgun felt as if it weighed 50 pounds and he found himself wishing he had left it at the bootlegger's home. Perhaps it was fortunate that he didn't, because the gun was to play an important role in events that happened later.

Mack was cold and somewhat hurt that his master would drag him away from the comfort of a warm fire to go out on such a wretched night. Oh how he longed for shelter! Then Mack was the first to see lights ahead. He barked happily and trotted a little way ahead to show John that there was refuge from the cold within reach. What Mack saw was the lights of the Green River Interdenominational Church.

The prospect of shelter ahead was not lost on John either. An ardent church goer he was not, but any port in a storm was his philosophy for the moment.

John knew there was a small vestibule leading into the main chapel where he could take shelter until the services were over. After the services he could pretend that he was just passing by at that moment. It would be an easy matter to hitch a ride home with a neighbor in the warm comfort of a car. The plan was good, but unfortunately, John didn't take into account that the combination of alcohol and the heat in the room would soon have him nodding. Why not a short nap? Cradling his shotgun in his arms, he sat on the floor and leaned back against the wall. Soon, he was fast asleep.

Meanwhile, Mack was getting bored with matters. At first, the warmth of the vestibule was a blessing. But now he had thawed out; the activities inside the chapel aroused his curiosity. He couldn't understand the meaning of the words spoken by the man in the pulpit. At times the voice sounded soft and cajoling. At other times they were fierce and threatening. Mack found it expedient to investigate.

Mack made his entrance with the dignity of a deacon. He walked up the aisle, head held high, heading straight for the front row of pews. Once he got to the front, he made a right turn and found himself face to face with Beefer.

For a moment it was a silent confrontation like two boxers staring each other down before the opening bell. Then, tentatively, Mack stretched forward and sniffed at Beefer. This was an affront the Siamese could not condone. With a scream of anger that only a Siamese can emit, he leaped clawing and snarling at Mack's nose.

Mack beat a hasty retreat. Fortunately, the two antagonists never made contact. Beefer's leash became entangled around the leg of Sister Macy Mize's piano stool. Sister Macy had been leaning back on her stool at a precarious angle, relaxing until her services would be needed for the closing hymn.

Beefer's momentum was sufficient to apply the coup de grace to the already over-balanced stool. Sister Mize went backwards, her dress ballooning above her waist.

"Any man who looks will be stricken blind," shouted Brother Lee. (More than one man was said to have risked at least one eye.)

The calamity of the overturned stool brought John back to consciousness. Instinctively, he grabbed for the trigger of his trusty shotgun. Uncharacteristically, John, who was a skilled hunter, had left the safety of his gun in the off position.

Blam! The gun went off with an ear-splitting explosion. The wad of pellets ripped into the ceiling bringing down a shower of sawdust and plaster.

Now the congregation turned its attention from the dog/cat feud to the source of the newest and more pressing matter in the vestibule. Some were convinced that the Day of Judgment had arrived.

Aunt Effie firmly believed that the bootleggers had organized an army to drive out the god-fearing people of the community. Her convictions were strengthened when she saw John holding a smoking gun.

It took four strong men to keep her from attacking John.

"John Ford Cannary! I might have known it would be you in here shooting up a place of worship. If you don't get a horsewhipping for this, there ain't justice left in the world." It was several minutes before John could get a chance to offer an explanation. Then, someone remembered the dog and cat that had initiated the fury.

"Oh, my poor Beefer," Effie shouted. "If that dog harmed one hair on his head I'll..."

She never finished her threat. It was evident that her fears were groundless. Mack and Beefer were setting side by side with the fallen piano stool lying between them. They seemed placid and even a little amused at the storm raging about them.

The calm demeanor of Beefer and Mack seemed to reassure both Effie and John. "I think they like each one another," John observed. Effie grudgingly agreed.

John and Mack stayed for the conclusion of the services. After church, in what was maybe the greatest peacemaking event since the Treaty of Westphalia put an end to the Thirty Years War, John walked Effie home.

Within a year John and Effie were married. It seemed to be a classic compromise. John didn't become a teetotaler although he ceased to go on prolonged binges. Effie tolerated his drinking at home rather than have him in local taverns. John on the other hand, while he never became a member of the church, frequently accompanied his spouse to the Amen Corner.

Beefer and Mack became good friends. As for the marriage itself, Effie had her own opinion:

"This union wasn't made to get us to Heaven, but only to save us from Hell."