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"...besides love, independence of thought is the greatest gift an adult can give a child." - Bryce Courtenay, The Power of One

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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Skidmarks

About seventeen years ago, give or take some months, I was a corner worker (also called "F&C" ) (some places call them "safety-marshals") at a pro-racing event called Trans-Am. It was at Road Atlanta, the road racing course North of Atlanta in Braselton.

In those days, we had plenty of workers to man the turns - so many, in fact, that we even had off sessions where we could get off our aching feet, go visit the blue room (port-a-potty) have a snack, or chat up the spectators.

Our duties included flagging (using a variety of colored flags to tell the drivers about course condition and incidents between our turn and the next turn), communicating with the control tower (we were spoiled, we had a hard line network to use instead of handheld radios...those were the days) about track conditions, incidents, talking certain cars through our turn, calling for Emergency Vehicles, and also letting our Captain know what was going on at other turns. We communicated with each other using a variety of hand signals that were complex and a good prep for learning proper sign language (I still use track-sign, today), and responding to incidents as needed, including extracting drivers if they needed it (only if the car was on fire and the driver was unconscious) putting out fires, pushing cars to safer places, cleaning up oil spills and generally keeping our bit of track as safe as possible for all involved. It was fun.

During this one event, I was part of a two-turn rotation at turns three and four. It was a big rotation, guaranteed not to be boring - thee and four were high-action turns, lots of spins, drive-offs, and more than a few impacts. When a car crashed, we would grab out fire bottle (extinguisher) and run to the car. If it could continue on its own, off it went. Sometimes we could just push it onto firmer ground or the pavement and it would move on, and sometimes we would have to push it against the wall and have the driver join us for the remainder of the session. They didn't like that! On rare occasions, we'd have to call for fire truck or ambulance, and we always signaled the turn station with what EV we needed to remove the car at the end of the session.

Between sessions, we would rotate to our next spot and have a little time to chat, sit, or run to the blue room.

On the first day of the event, I was in the middle of a long walk to my next place in the rotation, the cross-track position at turn four. Across the track was the turn station, perched on a high embankment and reachable only by a somewhat suspect wooden ladder. The captain of that turn waved me over to see something.

In her hand huddled a tiny ball of fluff. We had (and still have) a healthy population of feral cats at the track. People can be so careless of their pets. These ferral cats breed as cats will do. One of them had her kittens in the tire wall just below the station. Tire walls are there to keep cars from smacking into the embankments, walls, armco, and anything else they manage to aim for while spinning out of control. It seems this mum cat found the tire wall to be a nice, cozy, and usually quiet place for her family. She had no idea what she was in for when a race was on! The cars buzzing past had offended her, and she'd begun moving her babies to an alternate spot in the woods. We tried very hard not to get in her way or frighten her while she was at it. She was moving the last little fluffball when the group we called "ground pounders" came out - the biggest, noisiest group of the lot, they were ferocious, gobbling up the track and roaring their defiance at gravity, inertia, and little bothersome things like centrifugal force. Mum cat was not happy - she dropped her little one and fled for the woods.

Normally, we would have left the kitten where it was for her to retrieve later. We had no doubt she'd come back at the end of the day, and while the little one wouldn't be happy, it wouldn't suffer over much. The trouble was, after bouncing down the kudzu covered bank, it landed in the tire wall at an impact zone. We don't call them that for nothing - cars frequently hit that section of wall with enough force to break open the quads and send dust and nasty tire water flying. We couldn't leave a kitten in there!

So the captain had reached down into the wall and rescued the little furball. She waved me over to see what she'd found. At that juncture, we knew someone was going to have to take the baby into their care - mum wouldn't get near it now.

Mum had just had to put her cat to sleep, and my cat was missing his sister - maybe he'd like a little friend? I figured, why not? I was wearing a pair of painter's overalls (we had to wear all white for this messy work) with a triangle pocked on the bib. The kitten fit entirely in the palm of my hand, tail and all, so he (I peeked, it was a boy) was a cinch for going in that pocket. There he rode, all weekend, occasionally poking his head out and asking what the hell was going on? I fed him droplets of water until I could get to the grocery store that evening for milk and baby cereal. After that, we took turns holding him and feeding him - one of the workers, ND, had really long fingernails which worked beautifully as scoops/droppers for the little fellow.

I named him Skidmarks. He was a white shorthair mutt with three tabby spots on his left rear flank, a tabby striped tail, two tabby spots on his head, and a little smirch of dark grey on his mouth, like he'd gotten into some oil. I'd given consideration to calling him Checkers, for the flag, or Oil Spot, but Skidmarks just seemed to fit. I took him home, much to mum's chagrin, and bottle fed him the milk/cereal concoction until he chewed through the third nipple - then it was kitten food softened in milk, until he could manage hard food.

Really, it's a wonder he survived.

He grew into one big kitty, and the sweetest four-legged feral-born beastie you could ever hope to meet. He would cuddle on my lap, purring up a storm, and suck on the web of my thumb - probably because he was never weaned properly and he was all blissed out by the action. He would follow me wherever I went, indoors or out. He slept with me most nights, or mum. He was such a lovey.

He was my familiar for a while - I'll explain that later, but trust me it's not what the mundane world thinks.

When I moved out of mum's house and into an apartment, I asked her to keep him - I really didn't want to take him from a house, indoor/outdoor freedom, and the other cats (we were up to four by then) and lock him into an apartment alone. When she moved North to the cabin, she took him with her, and he became more her cat than mine - he still followed me around when I visited, still cuddled, still purred and drooled on me when I pet him, but he really was mum's fellow.

Yesterday, mum had to have him euthanized. He was in kidney failure - the vet could keep him alive for a while with IVs, but why? Why prolong the suffering? I wouldn't do that to a human with no chance of survival, why would I treat a cat with less compassion? Mum's the same way. So she had him put to sleep. I went up to help her bury him. We've placed a few of our furry loves in the earth up there. Skidmarks got a spot at the head of the path leading from her driveway to the arbor, next to a water garden and a bird feeder. We pet him a bit, told him he was a good cat. The best. No one could want a better one. There's a place at the Goddess' hearth for him. We placed him in the earth - something we can't give humans, a place to go back to the earth - covered him gently, and placed a large slice of pine tree over him. A slice from one of the White Pines that guard the entrance to her property, one that fell to a storm a while back.

I took mum to lunch (I almost never pay, so this was a surprise!), and then we went for a little retail therapy. No, we aren't heartless, just practical - I needed some lotion and soap from the one place I'll buy the stuff, and she wanted a sachet for under her pillow. We wandered in to the artisan's gallery near the soap place, admired the jewelry, the art, the carvings...and in the little room off to one side, mum found the perfect thing - a sculpture made of giant bolts and other machine parts, that looked like a cat. A very crazed cat. Perfect! She bought it, we carted it home, and onto the pine slab it went. Skidmarks, meet Nuts. Nuts, meet Skidmarks.

I loved that cat. I'll miss him. Mum loved him too...he was her constant companion when she was home, always leaping into her lap the moment she made one. He left a thick coating of shed fur on everything. It got into her knitting, her quilts, everything. Every glass of water I drank at her house, I was sure of swallowing a few rogue hairs.

Goodbye, Skiddle-Skidmarks.

2 comments:

Becky said...

Good-bye Mr. Skidmarks. I'm sure you're up in kitty heaven with my Finnigan and Atticus (who were equally wonderful and very missed boys).

*hugs*

foolery said...

Some animals more than others seem to have personalities and souls. Sounds like this one was in that group. Sniff.