An image from 1978 of my grandfather Patton recently appeared in this old
CHAPTER I I am a cat named "Wishbone". I am told I am so named because of a peculiar white marking on my forehead. I am mostly black with white markings and have long hair which I inherited from my father, whom I never saw. My mother told me he was a traveling cat.
Wishbone Relaxing at Camp
I was born in the Chautauqua hills of western New York state at a summer camp owned by my family. We spent our summers there and the father of the family is usually there during the deer hunting season. It was from this camp, a mile or so from the nearest habitation, that I began a series of adventures that I shall remember as long as I live. It was mid-summer and we had been at camp several days when the puppy arrived. It was a bitter disappointment to me that the family would want a puppy. I thought I filled their need for pets. I remember I sulked for several days, putting in only short appearances at the camp. I spent most of this time on a flat-topped stump that overlooked the cable right-of-way and the valley below. Everyone seemed so taken up with the pup that my absences seemed to go unnoticed. I was determined to give them a good scare and stay away a week or more. Mice were plentiful and though there seemed to be a lot of rain, the weather was warm and I could survive. CHAPTER II The Catnapping After several days of loneliness I had gone to the little bridge at the foot of the hill, hoping to see the children as they often played there. Of course I would only watch from a distance because I was still determined to teach them a lesson. As I neared the bridge I could hear voices. My heart beat a little faster at the prospect of seeing my loved ones, but that was not to be, at least not for four long months. First to come into my view was a car which I did not recognize. I should have run for home then, but I could not be sure about the children's voices. maybe they were my children. I crept closer and peered above the tall grass. These were children I did not know and then I was spotted and they converged upon me from all sides with exclamations of surprise and delight. They had smiling happy faces and the pleasant voices of children and I longed to be loved and petted, so I made it real easy for them to capture me. They petted and fussed over me and for awhile I did not even think of my family back at the camp. Soon their parents called to them from the car. "Let's ask if we can keep it", one of the children said and I was soon presented to the parents for inspection and with a request for permission to keep me. I had no intention of being catnapped, but as no opportunity to make a break presented itself, I soon found myself in the car and speeding over the country roads. I tried to claw my way out but to no avail, so concluded that my only chance was to watch for landmarks, buildings, bridges, anything I could see and remember for I was already planning my escape and my way back home. CHAPTER III The Escape I had been a captive about a week when the opportunity came. I had not been allowed out of doors all this time, nor did it seem I was to be allowed out for some time yet to come. It was a warm day and the children's mother was baking pies and cookies. The kitchen became uncomfortably warm and she raised one of the windows to let in a little air from outside. As she fumbled to place the screen I saw an opening to freedom. Summoning all my strength, I sprang for the open window, luck was with me and I was outside. I ran for the highway with all the speed I could muster. We cats can run well for short distances and I was almost to the road when the family dog saw me. With a bark that chilled my blood, he was after me and I dashed into the tall grass that bordered the highway. It is very hard to run in tall grass and though I could not hope to out distance the dog, I managed to run and hide and run and hide again until I reached an apple orchard several hundred feet from the road. I could see the trees before I reached them and decided that there at least, I would be out of reach of the dog. I had not counted on the grass being shorter in the shade of the trees and as I emerged from the tall grass, so did the dog. I made a desperate dash and leap for the trunk of the tree. As I leaped I heard the dogs teeth click shut behind me. I'm sure that leap would have won me a gold medal at the feline olympics. The dog was jumping up the tree trunk only to fall back and jump again. It satisfied me that this dog was no different from other dogs. He could not climb a tree. I had found a good place to wait for the dog to tire and go away, but this was not to be. The barking attracted the attention of the people back at the house and the children were soon dispatched to see "if the dog had found the cat". The dog, hearing the approaching children, and being more than pleased with himself at the moment, ran to meet them. He tried to urge them to greater speed and was doing a little doggie bragging at the same time. This was a break for me. I dashed down the tree and once more battled my way through the tall grass as fast as I could, toward the highway and away from the children. I could hear the children's voices and the dog barking as I put distance between us. The sound grew fainter and finally ceased altogether. Then I stopped to rest. That was the last I was ever to see them. They had been good to me but I already had a family and I was determined to find them. CHAPTER IV A Distant Relative It was getting dark when I found my first mark that I had noted on the day of my capture. I was elated that I could remember them and was on the way home. It was two days since my escape through the kitchen window and later from the dog in the orchard. It is true that we cats have an inborn sense of direction, but finding the mark eased my mind that mine was in working order. The mark which incidentally was an old abandoned barn, looked inviting since storm clouds had gathered and it had begun to rain. Luck favored me again. I surprised a couple of mice, which I had for supper. I climbed to a high beam to wait the storm out. Darkness had settled in, but darkness is not a handicap for we felines. We are, or were originally, nocturnal by nature and the thousands of years we have spent with civilized man has not weakened our ability to see at night and to feel at ease in darkness. I must have gone to sleep because I slowly became conscious that I was not alone. I looked down from my perch and there below me was the strangest looking cat I had ever seen. It was coal black with a band of pure white from the middle of its forehead to the tip of its ever-extended tail. I hastened to descend to greet it, but never did get to the barn floor. I've seen ill-mannered people and dogs, but they are sweet dispositioned little old ladies by comparison. this cat quickly turned tail toward me and sprayed the air with a smell I have never encountered before or since. It was so pungent that I could not draw a long breath. I knew now it was not a cat, but a skunk. It is said that they are a distant relative of the cat family. I hope ever to maintain that distance. I crawled back to my spot on the beam to assess the damage. I discovered he was not only the world's most disagreeable animal but also the most inaccurate. This spared me the task of cleaning my fur. However, the odor in the barn was more than I could stand and after making sure of the skunk's departure, I descended and made my way back to the highway. The rain had ceased and I think I made good time in the direction of home Night time turned out to be a good time to travel. There were fewer cars and almost no people walking. As daylight approached I found a bridge where I planned to get some sleep and spend the day. I found a flat place on the concrete abutment and was soon fast asleep. CHAPTER V Lost When I awoke it was past noon. I was hungry and homesick for sight and sound of my family. I felt I could even endure the pup if I could suddenly find myself at the camp. I decided to get started and do a little hunting as I went along. I had traveled only a short distance when I began to hear dogs barking. I hid in the grass beyond the ditch line and waited. The barking ceased. I waited a little longer then started on down the road again. No sooner was I on the road than the barking began again. I stretched as high as I could and there ahead of me was one of my marks. The dog kennels at a farm house. They were a series of wire compartments and three feet or so above the ground. I was happy to see one of my remembered guide marks but fearful lest some of the dogs not be confined. I surveyed the problem as best I could and decided to skirt the place on the creek side. I made my way back to the bridge. The creek ran diagonally away from the road and back of the farm house and could not be seen by the dogs in the kennels. I made my way along the creek bank, passed the farm house and found myself in a large newly cut hay field. I decided to cross the field and back to the highway. Way up ahead of me a car stopped. I sat up and watched, even hoped it might be some of my family. Two men emerged from the car, they were carrying rifles and in almost no time the guns were barking and bullets were thudding into the ground all around me. I ran for the creek bank as fast as I could, wondering how they could mistake me for a woodchuck. I had seen woodchuck hunters before. Without slackening my pace I leaped over the bank and into the creek. Rain had swelled the stream to a raging torrent and I found myself being swept down stream and I was now wet, cold, hungry and homesick. I made repeated attempts to scramble up the bank, but must have been carried on a half mile or more before I was able to get out. I shook myself dry. I could no longer see the road or the hunters or hear any cars. I should have followed the creek back to the field and waited for the hunters to leave, then proceed to the highway. Instead I struck out for where I believed the road to be. I traveled through woods and fields but found no highway. I tried to find my way back to the creek only to find I was hopelessly lost. I spent the night crouched in a hollow stump with a side opening. I was cold, hungry and near despair. Near morning I spied a mouse and pounced upon it -- my first food in more than twenty-four hours. It helped but did not suffice. Several hours later I managed to find one more. With something once again in my stomach I began to remember how I came to be lost. After thinking it over carefully, I decided on a course. It took two more foodless days to find the road and by then I was too weak to go on. I lay in a newly cut hay field for a long time, finally I realized there would be plenty of mice in the field if I could manage the strength to catch them. I tried and made it, then more. I stayed in or near the hayfield for several days, feasting on the mice and regaining my strength. Then the overpowering urge to go on, to find my home and people overcame me and I started out. CHAPTER VI A Full Stomach Again A week or more went by without incident. I kept on finding the landmarks and was making progress. I grew more lonesome and longed for companionship, yet I did not seek it. I passed many homes where there were cats, yet I dared not approach them, not knowing how I would be received by them or the people who lived there. I remember once, as I was passing a house, the smell of freshly opened catfood came to me so strongly that I could not resist. I crept stealthily up to the back door where the smell seemed strongest. I waited what seemed an interminable length of time, then crept up on the back porch. There it was, delicious freshly opened cat food and a dish of fresh milk. It was like heaven to taste real cat food. Then I saw why it was untouched, inside on the window sill sat the family cat. A glance at the empty garage satisfied me they had put the cat food out but not the cat before leaving for the day. I smiled inwardly and leisurely finished both the food and the milk before proceeding on down the highway. It was great to have a full stomach once again. I found a comfortable place in the deep grass along the road where I curled up and with a comfortable sigh was soon fast asleep. CHAPTER VII Wildcats Several days passed. I was now passing through areas where there were dense growths of tall pine trees, mile after mile of them, sometimes only on one side and old farm meadows and brush on the other. I didn't know at the time, but I was in the vast state lands and forests that end near the camp. I had curled up to sleep in the tall grass near a great windfall of tall pines. Some of the great trees were broken off and the naked splintered trunks pointing skyward. Others were interwoven into a gigantic mass. I did not know at the time but this mass of fallen trees and broken branches was the playground and home of a band of cats long detached from civilization. I was soon to make their acquaintance. I awoke staring straight into the wildest eyes I have ever seen. They were so close, that in panic I struck out, first with my forepaws and then followed through with the most powerful backfeet thrust I could muster. This last move may have saved my life for it gave me time to regain my feet. I had caught the cat, for that is what it was, under the chin and throat and tumbled it backwards over and over. I growled as the cat circled me, perhaps looking for a chance to close in. I could see the blood dripping from under its chin. I had scored heavily enough to discourage an attack. We crouched and growled at each other for a while then decided that perhaps friendliness might be the better course. We began to talk and this wild creature told me of a band of cats that lived only a short distance away. She said they were descendants of house and barn cats and came in various colors and sizes. Only one of the band had ever lived with man. All the others had been born in or near the caves that bordered one side of the great windfall. All but one had come from domestic ancestors. This one, known to all the cats as the Great One, was one of the last remaining bob-cats of western New York. I conceded that their life must be wonderful and most interesting but that I would like to leave now and continue on my way to find my family. This, my new found friend would not permit. Each time I started I was herded in the direction of the windfall and finally I consented to follow. We were soon on a well worn path, twisting and turning under the great maze of fallen trees. My companion never stopped talking. She told me that when pursued by dogs, the cats took a route over and through the trees and that both man and dog would soon give up the chase. On and on we went, finally climbing a bank out from under the trees. The bank was of many huge rocks and honey combed into many small caves, some connecting to other caves, some single caves. What a place for this band of wild cats, they could escape pursuit and have dry warm caves to live in. CHAPTER VIII Life with the Wildcats Toya, for such was the name of my ever-talkative companion, said we were about to enter the council and playground and to stay close. If I was accepted here I could later go wherever I chose, except perhaps a cave that housed suckling kittens. such a cave might be entered only with the mother's permission and that was not likely to be given soon. We were immediately surrounded by eight or ten curious and, with an exception or two, friendly, cats. Toya explained how I happened to be there. This seemed to satisfy them and we all settled down to talk and get acquainted. I was beset with questions about what they could least understand, life with people. I, in turn, was inquisitive about their life in the wilds. I began to tell of my adventures since being stolen from my home grounds. They thought it very amusing when I told of my encounter with the skunk. The narrow escape from the dog in the orchard reminded them of harrowing escapes of their own. They told me of trail dogs that could follow by the scent left behind and that the only effective way of eluding them was to walk in the creek beds and over, under and through the great windfall where dogs could not follow. Soon I was accepted by all and as time went by I was even invited into each of the two caves where there were suckling kittens. One nest of kittens was particularly interesting because all the kittens were dark gray, almost brown and all had very short tails. I wondered about this, since the mother was gray and white and had a normal length tail, but made no comment and asked no questions. A few days later the Great One entered the council area, He was dark gray, almost brown, and had a very short tail. He was both kindly and curious about me but quickly accepted me into the band. Toya was with me almost constantly, always talking, always helpful. Weeks went by swiftly, so engrossed was I in the life of these wild creatures, their gays, their sorrows, adventures and misadventures. While I was there one cat limped into the camp area minus one forepaw. He had caught it in a trap, probably set to catch a fox, and had finally resorted to chewing the paw off to avoid capture or death. Their joys were their unfettered freedom, their successes at hunting, their play in the play area, their families and each other, for they were strongly bonded together. Toya taught me to hunt much more effectively than I had ever hunted before. She showed me how to stalk and kill a half grown rabbit, though I never got to try it for myself. Weeks passed quickly. Toya and I hunted together and shared our kills. One day when we had traveled much farther than usual we came upon a flat topped stump. I climbed up and overlooked the cable right-of-way and valley below. With a rush, the realization of what I was seeing came to me. I was home. I had looked at this scene many times from this self-same stump. Excitedly, I told Toya where we were, that my home was a short distance away, that I loved her but I must go. With sadness in her eyes and an understanding she turned and walked away. CHAPTER IX Disappointment I ran as fast as I could, like I had never run before. Soon I could see the cabin, my heart was near bursting with joy. I shall never forget my feelings as I bounded up the steps to the door. I yowled as loud as I could, scratched at the door and wiggled the knob. I even bit the door casing in my frenzy to see my family, only to be greeted by silence. Finally, the terrible realization came to me, I was alone, they had gone. Finally, I regained my composure and began to look and smell around. All scent of my family was gone, except under the door of the cabin. The car was gone and I knew I was too late, they had gone on without me. At first I could not understand how they could have done that. Slowly it dawned that they had not left me, I had left them. I knew they would return some day but winter was coming on. I knew I could not stay there through the long winter months alone without shelter and without food. I stayed as long as I could, most of the time without food. I sat on the porch hours on end, at the sound of each car I would make my way toward the road, hoping to see my family, only to return to the porch and wait for another car. I grew weak from hunger, my coat lost its luster and then the snows came. I decided to seek shelter at one of the great barns at the end of the road. The walk down was tiring and I was forced to rest often. I finally gained the entrance of the cattle barn only to be set upon by the barn cats that lived there. I could not defend myself and crouched on my feet, closed my eyes and hoped that the end would come quickly. My passive resistance worked and since I seemed to pose no threat to them, they allowed me freedom of the barn. A pan of milk, I later found it was never empty, met my gaze and I drank until I could hold no more. I found a warm place in the hay and curled up to sleep. I slept and drank milk and slept again. Always I kept out of sight of the farmer and the children. One day the farmer's wife caught me at the milk pan and instead of chasing me away, called to me softly. "Come, Kitty," she said. "I do believe I recognize you. Yes, I know I do. You are 'Wishbone' from the camp. Well, I read their advertisement in the paper and you need not be lost anymore. I'll call them right away." Within the hour I was in the arms of the father of the family I own. He had come to the camp to hunt deer after I had left. I am now back with my family and I hope never to leave them. I can even endure the pup. In fact, I was glad to see it, for a moment. Sometimes I remember the things that happened to me. My escape from the catnappers. My narrow escape from the dog in the orchard. My life with the wildcats. I hope someday I may see Toya again, and my great disappointment that day I reached the cabin. These thoughts and memories return as I sit or curl up on the sofa. I simply curl up a little tighter, roll a little more over on my back and am thankful that I am home where I am fed and petted and above all, loved. EPILOGUE by Chip Patton I'll never forget the "surprise" that my dad brought back to our Cherry Hill, NJ home from his hunting trip that year. He brought in a large brown cardboard box and set it in the living room. When my sisters and I opened it, there she was: much thinner and quite scraggly, "bedraggled" would be a good word. But she was okay and we were happy to have her home. Wishbone continued to visit the camp for a number of years and was easily the best mouser ever to be a guest there. Sometimes she'd bring these prizes onto the beds where we slept -- and the mice weren't always quite dead yet! She also continued to have adventures and to slowly use up each of her nine lives. Once she was bumped by a car in front of our house in Raleigh, North Carolina. She was bruised and the tips of both her top fangs were broken off, but she recovered fine. She used other tricks that she may have learned during her time on her own. Our house in Richmond, Virginia included a 6 foot high wooden fence on one side. This fence had a shallow depression under the middle of it where a cat could easily squeeze under. Another feature of our neighborhood was a generally good-natured German Shepherd. One day this German Shepherd (Prince was his name), chased Wishbone around the house until she scrambled under that fence. No way could Prince fit through, but he could stick his nose under; and he made that mistake. Wishy, after completing her escape, had whirled around probably hoping that Prince would do just what he did. When he stuck his nose under she gave him a swat to remember! She had other endearing traits, too many to tell about all of them, but one in particular was making sure we got out of bed in the morning. If she thought it was time for me to be up she'd gently nudge my nose with her paw. If I buried my head under the sheets she'd knock things off my bedside stand: my glasses, a novel, the clock radio -- try to sleep when your lamp crashes to the floor next to your bed! Wishbone outlived all our other childhood pets. The puppy, Crestte, died at the respectable age of 12 years. Wishbone continued on another four years. After many travels, adventures and a full life, Wishbone passed on, dying of old age in the county of her birth, Chautauqua, New York.