He came into our lives one cold March morning by meowing at the kitchen door. When Mom opened it, the huge black cat—wet, scrawny, and bedraggled—held his swollen, bloody left front paw in the air.
“Why you poor thing,” Mom said, “where did you come from?” She picked him up and got a towel from the bathroom and dried him off. As she was doing this, we kids came downstairs for breakfast. All activity stopped as everyone took turns petting the cat, who by this time was purring like a muffled motorboat.
“You’re as black as midnight,” Mom said, and so he was dubbed “Midnight.” Mom removed a large sliver of glass from the pad of his swollen paw, bathed it in warm water and Epsom salts, then bandaged it. Meanwhile we kids put some old clothes in a cardboard box to make a bed for Midnight.
Mom placed the box behind the old, wood-burning kitchen stove and told Midnight that he could sleep there till his paw got better. After that, she advised him, he would have to make his home in the barn, where there were grain-eating mice to catch. After consuming a saucer of milk to which Mom had added a few drops of cod-liver oil, he lay in his bed and slept till evening. Mom fed him again, and he went back to sleep.
The next morning he crawled out of the box, gingerly testing his paw on the floor. Mom fed him some more milk and cod-liver oil, then a small piece of meat, which he ate with relish. After he ate, Mom bathed his paw again and put a clean bandage on it. By the next day Midnight was favoring his paw only a little bit, and we took him to the barn.
A week later Midnight was making forages into the woods each day. One morning Mom heard him meowing on the back porch. Upon investigating, she found him there with a dead field mouse at his feet. He looked up at her as if to say, “Here’s a present.” Mom petted him and told him that he was a good cat and a good mouser. When he saw that Mom didn’t want the mouse, he took it in his mouth and headed for the barn.
Two or three times a week after that he brought field mice, ground squirrels, small snakes, butterflies, and young rabbits for Mom to inspect. Each time, he meowed to let Mom know that he was there, then looked up at her to see if she took what he brought.
One day Midnight brought a very young woodchuck. He was holding it in his mouth the way a mother cat carries her kittens. Mom took it from him and saw that it wasn’t harmed in any way. She couldn’t tell exactly how old it was, but she knew that it was still nursing. Always softhearted, she took the baby woodchuck in and made it a bed in a box. When she gave the baby creature a doll’s bottle filled with warm milk mixed with a drop of honey, it took to it like a duck takes to water. So that’s how Woody joined our family.
After that, Midnight stopped presenting his offerings at the kitchen door. But he came each day to see how Woody was getting along. He would look into the box and touch the baby with his paw, then look up at Mom.
Woody grew like a weed and was soon following Mom around as if she were his mother—indeed, she was the only mother that he knew. He became such a nuisance that Mom decided that he was big enough to live in the backyard. He didn’t seem to mind the change at all, and he scampered all over, examining everything in sight. At night he curled up with his small tail over his nose in an old easy chair on the back porch. One day Mom called for us to come and look—Midnight and Woody were playing together like a couple of young kittens. Woody chased Midnight for a while, then Midnight chased Woody. They even wrestled with each other. These playful antics went on for an hour or two every day till they wore themselves out. They shared the same water dish, and they would lie down side by side in the warm sun and sleep.
When Woody was about three months old, he started digging himself a hole under the stone fence that surrounded the yard. He worked on it every day till he got it to his liking. While Woody was busy digging his den, he wouldn’t play with Midnight, no matter what enticements he offered. So Midnight just lay on the grass and watched his playmate and thought his own thoughts. When Woody finished his hole, he went back to playing with his friend each day.
Woody had very good manners when following any of us into the vegetable garden. He wouldn’t touch a thing unless we offered it to him. Then he would sit on his haunches, take the offered vegetable, and eat it with gusto.
As fall came and the days became cooler, Woody seemed to eat all the time. Pop said that he was storing fat for the winter. Woody also pulled up grass, laid it in the sun to dry, then took it into his den. Pop said that Woody would use the grass to make a warm bed for the winter and to store as food.
When the weather broke and we had warm days during the winter, Woody came out of his hole and sunned himself. We took carrots, apples, and chunks of cabbage to him on these days. Other days we went to the edge of his hole and left food, which would be gone the next time we looked.
Spring came early that year. By the middle of March, all the snow was gone and things started greening up. Woody came out on a warm day and walked around the yard, inspecting everything. He and Midnight resumed their playing with each other. One morning in early June we heard a commotion in the backyard and howls of pain and growling. A stray dog had jumped the stone wall and was attacking Woody. Before any of us could come to his aid, a huge black streak cut across the yard—Midnight to the rescue! He leaped onto the dog’s back and sank his teeth into its neck and clawed at his head with his long, sharp claws. The dog let go of Woody in order to rid himself of his own attacker. But the harder he tried to shake Midnight off, the tighter Midnight held on. Finally the dog took off running, with Midnight’s claws still gripping his back. We watched, spellbound, as Midnight rode him like a steeplechaser over the stone wall, down the road, and out of sight around a turn in the road.
When we turned our attention to Woody, he had crawled to the edge of his hole, where he lay whimpering with numerous bites all over his body. As she had with Midnight, Mom washed and dried his wounds and bandaged them. When she finished, he looked like a mummy. Then, knowing some herbal lore, she made some strong catnip tea, cooled it, and forced a half cup of it down Woody’s throat by using an eye-dropper and rubbing his throat till he swallowed it. As soon as Woody went to sleep, Mom laid him in a bed that we kids made from a box and some old clothes.
By this time Midnight was meowing at the door. Mom let him in, and he headed straight for Woody’s bed and looked down at him. Then he looked up at Mom as if to ask, “Will he be all right?” We all petted Midnight and told him how proud we were of him for what he had done. Then Mom did something that I had never seen her do before. She got a big piece of steak and gave it to Midnight. After eating his reward, he lay down beside Woody’s bed. Mom didn’t say anything about him staying in the house that night.
Whenever Woody stirred in his sleep, Midnight scrambled to his feet to look at him. Then he’d gently stroke Woody’s head with his paw. If I hadn’t seen it for myself, I would never have believed it. I thought to myself that if two different species of animals can show love and affection like Midnight and Woody did, then why can’t people do the same?
After many days of tender nursing from Mom, Woody was up and about again. And in a month or two, new fur covered his many scars. But he had a limp in his right rear leg, and he was never really the same after the attack. He and Midnight played again in the yard, but Midnight saw that Woody wasn’t his old self, and he took it easy in their play.
As summer was drawing to a close, we noticed that Woody was less playful than he used to be, and he spent a lot of his time sleeping beside his hole. One morning in late fall, we found him lying on the cushion of the easy chair instead of by his den. He was dead.
When Midnight came from the barn for his daily visit, he looked at Woody and sniffed him and then walked to Woody’s den and back again. Then he walked back to the barn to be alone in his grief. Not long after that we discovered that Midnight was missing. Although we searched high and low, we never found any trace of him. Maybe it was too painful for him to stay around after his friend had died. Everyone in our family still cherishes the memory of the two animal friends who brought so much love into our lives.