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Posted: January 28, 2014 10:00 p.m.

Rhett Butler: one unforgettable cat

When I was growing up, my family always had a cat. I can’t remember them all. And after I got married, my home followed that tradition. We always had a cat. But after nearly 50 years of marriage, I can’t remember all of their names, either. Most, however, followed a literary tradition, from the first, "Milton," to the last to die, "Earnest" (from "The Importance of Being Ernest"). There were exceptions when my children or a grandchild named a cat. That would include my present cat Julianne, a stray who took up with us and who was named by my oldest granddaughter.

My sister has always had a cat, too. She is now catless, since her last, named Tippy, is deceased. She did have a stray take up with her after Tippy. She named her Cleopatra, but that cat is too wild and does not like to be social.

My sister’s most famous, or infamous, cat was Rhett Butler.

She went with her son to a neighbor whose cat had just had kittens. Their intent was to pick out a family pet. She asked the neighbor, a farmer, which was the smartest of the litter. He said something to this effect. "Lady, they ain’t no smart cat." That statement was to be prophetic for Rhett Butler.

My sister then indicated she would take the one with big ears. Hence his name. According to my sister, Clark Gable, who played Rhett Butler, had big ears.

Rhett Butler was black and white and was an indoor/outdoor cat. And it seems he had an affinity for car engines, particularly on cold mornings.

One chilly morning my sister started her car, let it run awhile to warm up and then drove off. She was on the way to the school where she taught when she heard a blood-curdling howl coming from her engine. It was Rhett Butler.

Since she was in the middle of nowhere on her drive to school, she had no option but to continue to her destination.

When she got there, Rhett Butler was still howling, and my sister was afraid to open the hood, for fear of seeing a mangled cat.

Her husband was the principal of the same school and had left for work earlier than she. She went to his office and explained the situation. He came to the parking lot, popped the hood and found Rhett Butler no worse for the wear. How he managed to remain in a relatively safe place under that hood and around that engine and did not jump off onto a strange road is anyone’s guess.

Since classes were about to start, Rhett Butler, like any wayward child, had to spend the day in the principal’s office. It somewhat mystified those listening to the morning announcements when a meowing cat was heard in the background.

Rhett Butler did not learn his lesson.

The next time it was in the afternoon and not all that chilly. My sister and her son were headed to a ball field for her son’s baseball game. This time she and her son heard the fearful howls of a cat when they were about halfway to their destination.

When they arrived at the ball field, my sister sent her son on to get ready for the game. This time, she was not afraid of what she might find. She was just angry.

She stood in the middle of the parking lot and screamed at the hood of her car. "Rhett Butler, come out of there right now!" After she had done that several times, she began to attract a crowd and had to offer an explanation.

He eventually came out and she and the cat watched the ball game. He wasn’t happy having to sit still for so long, but she couldn’t leave him locked up in the car. She did get him back home from his second exploit as a stowaway in a car engine. And it was his last.

Rhett Butler was not a long-lived cat. He died when he was about five. Probably just the comfortable middle of cat life.

He developed respiratory problems. Probably from inhaling engine fumes.

Paula Travis is a retired teacher from the Newton County School System.

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