Timmy, The Garden's Soul

THE REAL DIRT

April 25, 1993|By MIKE KLINGAMAN

There is a fresh grave in the back yard, sweat on my brow and a tear in my eye. I just buried Timmy, my little gardening buddy.

Timmy is resting beneath a crab apple tree, near the garden he loved, a garden made poorer by the passing of this dusty orange alley cat who roamed its border for 16 years.

Summer won't be the same without him.

Timmy gave soul to the garden. He liked to crouch in the dense summer foliage, a wannabe lion lunging boldly at prey that passed his way. Timmy pounced on scores of unsuspecting beetles and grasshoppers. Sometimes he sought larger game. Witness my scarred ankles.

His favorite haunt was the asparagus patch, which I still tiptoe past in fear of an attack that will never come again.

To heck with scratched ankles. I miss Timmy's ambushes.

The garden was also a combat zone for his territorial skirmishes with neighborhood rivals, namely Fats, the cat next door. Invariably, they chose a newly seeded row of beets or carrots as the spot in which to circle each other, hiss and scratch the ground. Neither cat was ever hurt, and the crops survived, though the plants always grew in crooked rows.

Baseball was Timmy's favorite pastime. He liked to swat garden pebbles with his front paw. Toward evening, I'd pitch batting practice from a pile of stones I'd collected. Timmy hit every one. We stopped when a line drive whizzed past my ear, knocking a cherry tomato unconscious.

He swung with a bad paw, too. He lost half his right foot as a kitten, but kept right on using it. Because he limped, we named him Timmy, after the Dickens character.

When he found a mole hole in the garden, he would stick that paw deep into the earth, groping for signs of life. It almost seemed like he was trying to plant his bad foot, in hopes it would grow back correctly.

Timmy is the only cat I ever welcomed into the garden. Most cats see the garden as their personal litter box. Timmy was no different, though he usually managed to relieve himself between planting rows, rather than -- eecch -- on top of them.

I'd like to think he respected my plants.

Timmy did have a bad habit of spritzing each newly planted tree in our yard. No sooner would I drop the shovel than Timmy would stride toward the young tree, sniff its base and tinkle. Eventually, his efforts became a kind of family ritual: It was Timmy's job to welcome new trees. He did this at least 50 times.

I put up with his feline shenanigans, I suppose, because Timmy was the ultimate underdog. He found us years ago, mewling at the back door at dawn. He was in awful shape. He had a split eyelid and ear, maggots, worms, two missing toes and a broken leg with the bone poking out.

The veterinarian said he had never seen a cat survive such trauma.

I wish some of my plants had Timmy's spunk, and his will to live.

In the end, diabetes did him in. Timmy fought the disease for five years, during which he lived a perfectly normal life (for him): Squashing ants in the garden. Scratching his head on the tines of the rototiller. Sniffing a new load of farm manure in the bed of my pickup truck. And relishing every moment.

Timmy taught me to enjoy gardening. He liked to saunter up as I slaved away in the vegetable patch, weeding feverishly. Timmy would sit right in my path until I could weed no more. Then he would roll over in the warm summer sun, scratching his back on the ground the way buffalo do on those Public Broadcasting Service nature shows.

Timmy looked so blissfully content that I would pause and stretch out beside him. We lay side by side in the soft garden loam, listening to birds, swatting flies and squinting at the sky.

After awhile, we both got up. Timmy's back had turned brown and so had mine. I dusted us off and returned to my chores, notably refreshed. Timmy returned to his ambush site.

I remembered those interludes as we sat in the veterinarian's office last night. And I thanked Timmy for sharing his wisdom while holding him tight in my arms one last time.

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