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This article first appeared in issue 14, and was written by Ed Waggener.
This is not your usual cat-and-history story. It has it all: Cats, Charles Barnes, his Aunt Rena Tupman, and how Tupman's Pond came into being
Core facts in this story are true. The names have not been changed to protect the innocent. The historical events are as stated. Great care has been taken to correctly quote the cats. However, the feline count might be off plus or minus a cat hair or so.
It was a few years back when the conversation took place. At the time, some two dozen or more cats than we needed for personal use had congregated at our fertile one-acre farm and we wanted to find a new frontier for them to settle. Charles Barnes, Mrs. Rena Tupman's nephew, told me to take them to the Tupman place and leave them in the barn. "Aunt Rena loves cats. They keep the mice out of the barn," Mr. Barnes said. "She'll take good care of them. She'll feed them every day. They'll have a good home."
It looked like a win-win-win situation. Twenty-four fewer cats for me to feed. Cat heaven for them. And a rodent-free barn for Mrs. Tupman.
Back home, when I broached the prospect to the cat congregation, they said-to a cat, I recall-that, well, they would just as soon remain on Fortune Street and enjoy their daily rations of dry Cat Chow at home, supplemented by the Fancy Feast they were able to mooch off Merle Reed. But when I told them that the choice was not whether to stay or go, but whether they should live out their lives mousing on the banks of Tupman's Pond or be sold for medical experimentation, they caucaused and agreed that, after all the subtleties were explained, that, yes, they would go.
I loaded them up in the van and drove out 55 South toward Zion. I passed the Tupman home and stopped by the barn next to the road. I remembered the other barn behind the Tupman house and wondered whether Charles Barnes meant that barn.
It was a dilemma. Put them in the wrong barn, on the road, and some them might jaywalk and be flattened by a gravel truck. Take them to the more private barn, past the house, and maybe Mrs. Tupman wouldn't like that after all. You can't be real sure when Charles Barnes tells you somebody needs 24 cats.
Besides, a youngster, a winsome little Blue Russian, was ever so plaintively saying she wasn't sure she understood the deal, and, she asked, "What is 'medical experimentation,' anyway?"
I may be a sucker, but she got to me. I returned home with them all. But the very next day, despite the bout of flip-floppery, Linda and I took a drive out by Tupman's pond. I asked her opinion. "Which barn do you think they mean for me to leave the cats in, the one by the road or the one behind the house"?
Without proper agonization over the question, Linda suggested I actually go up to the door and ask Mrs. Tupman where she wanted the cats.
I finally overcame the painful shyness which has been a lifelong plague, and went to the house. Mrs. Tupman answered the knock and I said, "You don't know who I am, but . . . "
Before I could get the words out, she said, "I know you."
"Well," I said, "You know your nephew, Charles Barnes . . . "
"Yes, I know him," she said, but it was evident she was ready to be proud or not of that fact, depending on the ensuing message.
"Well," I said, "he told me you need some cats at your barn and told me to bring 24 of them out and I wondered which barn you want me to leave them in."
"Listen," she warned, "if there is one cat dropped here I'll fix Charles Barnes." Or maybe she said "shoot" Charles Barnes. I don't remember.
She was right definite on her policy. "We had 21 cats here," she said. "That's too many. I finally got rid of all but three and I won't have another cat on the place."
Negotiations on the cat issue thus concluded, I took another tack to segue to a graceful retreat.
"The pond is awfully pretty," I said.
"Yes, it is," she agreed.
"When was it built"? I asked.
"It wasn't built," she answered. "Have you ever heard of the Gradyville Flood"?
"They say," she said, "that there was a cloudburst which caused the flood. Before that, I'm told, there wasn't any pond. But the cloudburst also created it and it's been a pond ever since."
The cloudburst was 90 years ago. It happened on June 7, 1907. Tupman's Pond's level has been stabilized somewhat, Mrs. Tupman said, by the fill built on its west side when Highway 55 was improved, but other than that, it is the same natural impoundment as it was when it was created by Adair County's worst natural disaster.
It is a parallel, I guess, to the earthquake of the1800s which everyone knows created Reelfoot Lake in western Kentucky and western Tennesee. Not so well known around here is that that event is said to have created Big Lake, a Reelfoot lookalike, in Northeast Arkansas. I was told that Crowley's Ridge just west of Forrest City, Arkansas, was also created by the quake, but I never checked it out.
It seems we were all born knowing about the Gradyville Flood. But I have lived more than a half-century in this county and until Mrs. Tupman told me, it was the first time I had learned this significant fact about an Adair County landmark-how Tupman's Pond was created in the same storm.
The revelation made up for the disappointment on the cat crisis.
When we got home, the cats weren't told the story of Tupman's Pond, unless Linda told them. It would have held no great interest for them, anyway, I guess
And I never again threatened to take them off en masse again. One-by-one they married or were adopted into fine, tee-totalling, dogless, Christian homes, till we got down to the two stodgy bachelor cats and the feisty part-Manx. These three now constitute the homestead pride which patrols our boundaries and keeps us safe from the scourge of vermin, varmints, killer rabbits, marauding squirrels, Kamikaze blue jays and crazy arboreal grundoons.
This story was posted on 1997-06-15 12:01:01
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