Most of the stories I write about involve events and people who live, or once lived, in McDonald County; After all, this newspaper is called “The McDonald County Press.” However, once in a while someone stops to talk with me and relates a tale of an event that occurred somewhere else. This story is one such tale told to me by Everett.
Everett began, “I guess Clinton was about eighty or so miles west of Oklahoma City. The town was in the Washita River Valley and in the very old days it was called Washita Junction. The old Route 66 ran smack dab through the town and everyone driving from California to Chicago used to go right through Clinton. Folks used to call it “The Hub City of Western Oklahoma.”
John, Katie, their children and Katie’s elderly father lived in Clinton, Oklahoma. Clinton was then a small quiet rural town of about 9000 residents and the people there lived a quiet life alongside neighbors they had known for years. Some of the townspeople worked in small locally owned stores scattered throughout the town while others struggled to earn a living on one of the many farms that graced the Oklahoma landscape.
There was little time for hobbies, as most of the folks there worked long hours each day and, if lucky, provided for their families and kept a roof over their heads. However, Katie’s eighty-two year old father combined the love of his hobby with the opportunity to earn some spending money. He fashioned birdhouses, knick-knack shelves and other works of art from rough pieces of wood. The retired oil rig builder worked alone in his shop, a converted shed located behind Katie and John’s house, transforming raw wood into beautiful pieces.
With the help of John and Katie the old man moved electric saws, drills, planers and routers into the old shed. The three made work benches where Katie’s father would assemble the wooden works of art, and shelves were constructed that would display the finished forms.
Everett’s face gave birth to a wry grin as he continued to tell his story. “I remember that on Friday nights we used to eat at a place called Pop Hicks Restaurant. The food there was really good and folks from all over used to go there and eat.”
One day in the early afternoon hours John and Everett were enjoying lunch at Pop Hicks Restaurant when the waitress came to the table and said, “John, Katie’s on the phone and wants to talk to you.” “What does she want,” John asked in a rather matter-of-fact tone. “Don’t know, but she sounded upset.”
John rose up from his seat and walked to the telephone that hung on the wall. Everett couldn’t overhear the conversation but he observed that John’s voice rose in volume the longer he spoke. John replaced the phone’s handset and returned to the table while removing some money from his pocket as he walked. John placed the money on the table and said, “We have to go, something’s going on with Katie’s dad.”
Everett didn’t ask any questions as it appeared that time was of the essence. He also placed some money on the cluttered table and the two left the diner. As the two drove to John’s house Everett had to ask, “What’s going on?” “I don’t know, Katie just said her dad is in his shop and she heard him screaming.”
The truck had barely stopped as Everett and John jumped from the pick-up. Katie stood motionless in the yard as John asked, “What the heck is going on?” “I don’t know, I’m afraid to go out there,” she answered. With no more conversation the three hurried around the corner of the house and to the shed.
Everett recalled that the shed’s only door was open and Katie’s father was shouting some indiscernible words. When the three entered the workshop Everett saw blood on the workbench, the table saw, the floor and on the old man’s clothing. The woodworker had several blood soaked towels wrapped around his right hand and, while crouched over at the waist, appeared to be chasing something.
“Kill that danged cat,” the old man screamed. “What,” John said as he returned the scream. “That cat has my thumb, kill him,” the old man again yelled at the top of his voice. Everett’s eyes scoured the room and suddenly stopped as, in the corner of the room, he saw the cat. The cat was sitting motionless and it seemed as though he was trying to ascertain what everyone was looking for. There, at his feet, lay one half, or possibly more, of the old man’s thumb. A look of horror came over Katie’s face as she pressed the palms of her hands against her cheeks.
Did the old man want that thumb because he believed it may be possible to reattach it or was he merely incensed because the calico cat had absconded with the severed appendage? Regardless of the answer to that unspoken question, Everett knew that was not the moment to verbally voice his curiosity.
“There’s the thumb,” Everett shouted as he pointed in the cat’s direction. John turned his head in the direction of the furry thumb thief and lunged toward the feline as he shouted, “I’ve got him.” But, a thumb in the hand is worth two in the cat’s mouth.
That ornery calico cat suddenly grasped the remainder of the old man’s once attached thumb, skirted between Everett’s legs and, with the thumb protruding from his mouth, ran out of the work shop’s open door.
John grabbed the old man’s arm and said, “Come on, let’s get you to the hospital.” On the short drive to the hospital’s emergency room entrance Katie’s father said that the ill-advised placement of his thumb on a piece of wood he was cutting resulted in the severing of most of the thumb on his right hand.
The emergency room receptionist took the old man’s arm and as she walked him through the double doors and to the treatment area Everett overheard her say, “Do you have the thumb?” “No, that dang calico cat got it,” he replied.
Katie’s father was treated and the wound was sutured shut. After a few weeks of recuperation, and a generous amount of pain killers, the old man returned to his workshop, the wood and the electric saw. Katie’s father never again saw that severed thumb but the cat remained and continued to prowl the yard and the workshop.
The old man, at least in his mind, forgave the cat for fleeing with his thumb as he realized that was just the way cats are.