Life…’Tis the Cat’s Meow?

June 9, 2015 at 5:14 pm

Cat wearing glasses

 “Open my eyes that I may behold wonderful things in Thy Word.”  (Psalm 119:18)


written by Debbie Allen


“Dost Thou love life?  Then

Do not squander time.  For that

Is the stuff life is made of.”

As I poured over these few words of wit and wisdom, written by the quill of great Statesman/Publisher/Musician and Inventor, Benjamin Franklin; I couldn’t help but wonder if his own cat may have played a tiny, inspirational role in the penning of this lofty thought.   But, that is something each of you must decide for yourself. To fully engage in the story I am about to share; requires tapping into an unknown portion of the human brain.  I like to call it the phinnickus-imaginus. It is the  unseen spark that ignites when an unexpected emotional response occurs; forever bonding a cat to its human. More simply put, it is that fur-lined spot inside of human nature where all Cat Tales are stored.

Purr-haps I should elaborate.   One night back in June of 1752, Benjamin Franklin paced back and forth inside his Philadelphia home.  Sleeplessness often plagued him, but this night a raging thunderstorm kept him from slumber.  Deep in thought, he paused to fill his favorite pipe somewhere in-between the stages of inventing the bifocal lens, and securing a skeleton key onto a kite string.  Thinking was his favorite pastime…pacing, his way of doing it.    His own ambitions forever driving him, and his waste-not-want-not nature gnawing at his patience only added to the impossibility of his being able to think clearly.  Franklin struggled to hear his own thoughts over the obnoxious sounds of incessant purring in his background and the rolling thunder rumbling in the heavens above.  Hands clasped, retracing his steps in front of the crackling fireplace; his eyes came to rest on part of the reason. Shaking his head, he did his best to conceal the smile that overtook his countenance at the sight of his own lazy cat, Benjamina, stretched out across the warm stone hearth before him, purring like a freight train.

“Ah-hh…thou dost love life.”  Benjamin uttered, stopping in mid-stride to reprimand his furry name-sake.  “Truly, life is the cat’s meow for thee!” Franklin added.

Pulling his pipe from his mouth, he swung his arm out to one side and with great exaggeration, bowed low, in jest, before the hearth Benjamina claimed now as her throne.

“But I feel it my duty to inform your Royal Highness…that a cat in white gloves catches no mice, for the mice run free while you squander time given you to chaseth them in!” he added, backing away from her before standing up again.

His electrical experiments still weighing heavy on his mind, Franklin reached for his raincoat, stopping for a moment to study the home-made kite he’d constructed earlier. A glance back at the hearth told him his words to Benjamina went unheeded. Her concern carried her only as far as another lingering stretch and a new forced yawn could take her. So Franklin scooped up this furry queen in one hand and grabbed his kite with the other. With his house key now dangling from the kite’s string, he pushed the front door open with his foot and both of them emerged into this soggy night.

Benjamina’s four feet met the ground with protest from the very beginning. Out of the one hundred sounds that a cat can make, only a few were left unexpressed within a minute’s time.

“ME-EE-E-OW!!!”  Benjamina screeched as a last ditch effort to raise her master’s attention to the cruelty of such a hideous act.  If this is what master Franklin meant when he said “Life is the cat’s meow,” then she wanted no part of it! For her this entire incident boiled down to a simple matter of royalty vs. loyalty. Royalty, by the way, wins every time in Benjamina’s fur-lined mind.

Benjamina recoiled  as the cold raindrops continued pelting her; flattening the hair she wanted so very much to be standing straight up on her angry, arched back when her master turned to look at her.  By the time Franklin did turn his head, all he could raise was an eyebrow in her direction.  Even in all of her arched glory, her present de-pouffed condition made her look more like an oversized lucky-horseshoe leaning at a slant against his door.

Repulsed by her master’s unsympathetic gesture, Benjamina raised her chin into the air; higher than it had ever been raised before. Standing at attention on all-fours now, she did what all cats must do whenever their honor is at stake.  She piously flashed the Royal Rump in the direction of her master.  With poised and painful effort, she raised her water-logged tail straight up into the air and sashayed away from the one who just reduced her to the pitiful level of a mere mouse-catcher.

“Mouse-catcher indeed!” she thought once more in sassy silence. Slowly, she ambled away seeking shelter in the tangled root system of a Mulberry tree nearby.  She simply would not….no, could not lower her queenish standards and become the maligned beast her human made her out to be. Besides, why should she hunt for food when she could count on Mrs. Franklin to place a saucer full of milk near the hearth every night before she retired for bed?

“This dear lady…” Benjamina thought, “… appears to be the ONLY one in the entire household who even has a clue when it comes to understanding proper cat-servanthood!

On the other hand, Benjamina also knew Franklin to be a man who stood by his principles. His principles applied both to man and beast.  Anyone living under his roof.   More than once, she’d heard him confronting his teenage son, William; notorious for side-stepping his own household duties time and time again.

“Pulleth only thy weight, not thy punches!” Franklin would bellow at him, squinting over the tops of his glasses.

By the time this favorite dictum passed through all of the 64 twitching muscles in both her ears required for translating English into Cat, Benjamina perceived it more like this.

“Put your paws into it, or your royal rump is out the door!”

This thought in mind, failure to produce the mice she’d been summoned to catch tonight by the master somewhat worried her.  She concealed it well but, rarely did anyone in the Franklin household ever escape punishment concerning idle paws. She had no desire to sleep in the Mulberry tree in the front yard for the night.  She could not fathom what it might be like to have to claw her way up into a tree transporting 60,000 hairs per square inch topside, 120,000 hairs per square inch on her belly; and every single hair saturated to maximum capacity with rain!

“EEEE-EEE-EE-OOOWWW!”  Benjamina shrieked at the unthinkable possibility of experiencing life as a two-ton tabby before morning.

“Perhaps, though…” her devious mind continued to reason, “…should it come to that…I shall think of it only as the opportunity that forced me to become twice the Queen I was before!  Pull my weight, indeed!” she retorted, flashing two angry, luminescent eyes in Franklin’s direction.

It only took seconds for her to spot his silhouette running out in the field about a hundred yards away. He looked somewhat,let’s say…ridiculous to her at this moment.

What manner of human being…” she wondered, “…chases lightning in a field after midnight; with the six inches of mud accumulated on his soles pulling him downward, and more than two hundred feet of kite string pulling him upward?”

This tug-o-war with the heavens that Franklin seemed to have gotten himself into, confirmed more than ever what Benjamina always suspected.   Her master truly was a mad scientist!

On the heels of this thought, the heavens exploded with a flood of both sound and light! A deafening clap of thunder ushered in one of the biggest bolts of lightning Benjamina ever witnessed and it landed right on top of the master’s toy kite!  The ground beneath her still rumbling; her own sudden mixture of royal fear and adrenaline united to drive this trembling two-ton tabby straight up into the Mulberry tree. Before she could even get her eyes open again, Benjamina could hear Mrs. Franklin’s concerned voice calling out from below.

“B-e-n-j-a-m-i-n Franklin! Ben, dear…are you alright?” she hollered out into the darkness from the doorway.  No answer.  Just the sound of raindrops splatting on the ground.

Benjamina listened intently too, straining to hear above the noise level of her own heart pounding. In the silence that followed, she deduced right away who must have lost this game of heavenly tug-o-war.  No doubt, her master by now lay as a pile of dust and  ashes; garnished with only a house key and a smoldering kite frame left as the tell-tale signs that he indeed had been there.

After displaying a split-second of cat-sorrow, her royal instincts drove her back down the tree and across the yard; bolting toward Mrs. Franklin and the door she’d been waiting to open up for her all…night…long.

“Benjamina?  What on earth are you doing out in this storm?”Mrs. Franklin asked.   “Oh-h-h…you poor, poor dear!” she added, her voice now dripping with sympathy.

“Meow…” Benjamina responded in a very untypical, timid fashion. Wrapping her drenched skeletal body around her most loyal servant’s ankles, she allowed Mrs. Franklin the grand privilege of doting on her for a time. But about the time Benjamina decided to melt into this little heavenly moment of her own; she heard the master’s voice ringing again in her ears.

“The mad scientist lives?”  she puzzled in silence, stopping dead in her tracks.

Though she would never admit to fearing him or having done anything wrong; something… maybe the nearest thing to respect a cat can have, drove her back to the safety of her warm hearth.

“Deborah…Deborah …Tis true!” Franklin managed to spill out to his wife before collapsing on the front step to catch his breath.

“I can’t tell thee how excited I am.” He said, his chest still heaving and his right hand tingling and swollen. “Twas the most electrifying experience one could ever encounter in a night’s time! Most incredible!” 

               “Franklin…slow thee down dear. Why on earth did thee choose a night like this to run beneath the stars?”  she asked frowning.

Taking his muddy shoes and stockings from him, she reached for a small quilt just inside the door and wrapped it about his dripping wet torso.

“Come into thy house now.” she urged, nearly pushing him into his rocking chair to doctor his hand.

“Deborah, this discovery shall change the course of all mankind!”  Franklin continued through chattering teeth.

“I’m sure it will, dear, but all mankind needeth its sleep too. I shall be surprised if thou doest not catch thy death of cold this night!  Thou knowest thee takes thine experiments far too serious sometimes.” she carried on without taking a breath in between words.

Seeing her scolding only as her frantic attempts to make him comfortable and warm again, Franklin knew it would do no good to try and share the monumental details of his kite-flying scheme with her tonight.

“I supposeth mankind shall wait til morn, my dear.”  He offered her, smiling and patting her hand as she handed him a glass of warm milk.

“Good night, dearest Benjamin,” Deborah whispered, kissing the balding spot on top of his head.

“The Tabby and I shall be drying out a bit here by the fire.” Franklin answered, raising his eyebrow at Benjamina for the second time tonight.

Though Benjamina remained fully aware of her master’s presence in the room; she chose to remain in her preferred state of royal-anonymousness.  This is the condition whereby a cat’s involvement in their world is kept at the barest minimum. Hearing is optional too. Such a state only allows for the opening of one tiny slit in one eye.  And it is through this slit, Benjamina now observed Franklin’s every move.

His eyes were squarely on her, too.  She could feel the intensity of them scorching her eye-lids; just like earlier, before he dethroned her as queen and deemed her his lowly mouse-catcher. Though she moved not a muscle, mentally she raised her chin high, turned, and flashed him the Royal Rump again.

Hearing the shuffling of feet under Franklin’s chair, Benjamina half-way expected a deserved royal-boot coming her way.  But instead, he leaned forward and spoke softly while stroking her water logged paws.

“My little tiger-on-the-hearth…” Franklin began softly. “The master is not the ogre thou makest him out to be. Sometimes thou needeth only to engage in the work that is his purpose for thee; before soon realizing how even one simple tug-o-war in time, may indeed changeth the world forever.  For me tonight, ’twas tussling with a kite string in the heavens. For thee, Benjamina…perhaps tugging on a mouse’s tail in the night.  But if thou doest love life then do not squander time. For that is the stuff life is made of. One findeth his purpose in that “stuff.”  Idle paws only preventeth such a thing.” He finished.

“How dare he address her in such a manner.  Such big words…such high thoughts! What did this mad-scientist know about an angry-cat anyway?” she rationalized in silence.

Benjamina tried revving her engines another notch to purr-tect herself from the unwanted sounds of his voice drifting her way. She knew full well what might happen if his sounds reached the translation zone!  Should the master’s words start making sense to her…what then?  Acknowledging those sounds might mean trading away the safety of all the things she understood best.  Namely…the purr-tecting of her own throne.  She could not fathom trading her warm hearth away for the purr-fecting of this task the master seemed to have planned for her to do from the very beginning!

Oh, how she longed for the master to leave her be. She had only one desire tonight.  To remain tucked away inside this self-induced, catatonic state. Her royal comfort zone.  The place she retreated when life stepped all over her paws instead of serving them. A grudge-holder at heart, and her royal-fluff now ruffled; she had no intention of making amends with this storm-tosser of a master of hers.

“Not tonight…purr-haps not ever!” she mulled over in silence; still viewing Franklin through her slit.

In the midst of preparing to mentally flash him a third Royal-Rump for this evening; Benjamina watched Franklin backing away from her with an almost respectful nod.  Then he turned and walked straight for her empty dish by the hearth. Following his every move, she saw him do the unexpected. He poured his own warm milk into her empty saucer.

“Sh-h-h-h…tis our own little secret, Benjamina.” Franklin whispered in her direction.

“Did the master find this a-mew-sing?”  she wondered.  Had he known of her great weakness for milk? Especially milk blended with just a touch of honey; like the master always drank it. How could he!” she grimaced.  (If cats could grimace.)

Curiosity, now painfully tugging against her eye lids, and the muscles in her brow beginning to twitch; both eyes flew open like sprung shades loosed on a window. The milk looked even more enticing with both eyes wide open. Though her legs rose ever-so-slowly; her heart raced at the very sight of it.

Yawning once more to give an appearance of disinterest, Benjamina pried herself up from the hearth and stretched-a-mile in the direction of her saucer.

Franklin tried squelching his grin at the sight of Benjamina approaching him in such a nonchalant manner. Looking at her from the front, exactly half of her fur remained matted and flat from lying against the warm hearth; while the other side appeared electrified, pouffed, and frizzy from the rain.

“Benjamina…Thou art truly a perfect picture of the struggle going on inside of thee. An untainted version of a  tabby in turmoil!” Franklin added.

In the next few seconds, Benjamina’s paws came to a grinding halt at the saucer’s edge.  Here she entered her greatest struggle yet. Curiosity’s hand still shoving her royal rump from behind, and Stubbornness trying desperately to hold her back, she stood there quivering from head to tail at the master’s feet.

“Come…taste…see for thyself.” Franklin whispered, reaching a gentle hand down to stroke her back.

Though it went against every grain of reason in her royal thought process; she found herself dipping her rough pink tongue down into the luscious white, frothy liquid.

Never before had she tasted anything so wonderfully sweet before…ever!

“This is more like it…” she thought, purring louder with each swallow.  “This milk is truly a mixture fit for a queen.” she noted, lapping up the very last drop of milk from the bottom of the saucer.

But as soon as this thought entered her mind, she found herself gravely aware of her wrong perception.

“What think ye now of the master’s milk and honey.” She heard Franklin ask her.  Feeling his hand again on her back, she realized for the first time ever, the incredible warmth emanating from both his hands and the tone of his voice.

“Had it been there all along?” she wondered, glancing back towards her own throne for a moment.

“Pur-r-r-r-r-r-r-rrrrrrrrrrrrrrr” roared her engines, warming up to the master’s touch.

It is at this precise moment that a second lightning strike occurred on the Franklin property on that summer’s eve in 1752.  Though unrecorded by history, a giant unseen spark ignited the invisible line of communication that is strung between a cat and its master.

Phinnickus-imaginus! In the glimmering light of this exact electrifying moment, Benjamina acknowledged her task of becoming a lowly mouse-catcher. But not just any mouse-catcher, mind you.  She was now the Master’s mouse-catcher. His crumbs were her concern now. His mice were now her tails to tug-on in the night!

Though Benjamin Franklin took this cat tale with him to the grave many years later; his discovery of electricity that night continues to light our world even today. The tale of Benjamina’s own sweet discovery lives on too, illuminating the minds of her readers; inspiring them to seek greater purpose and softening even the hardest of hearts in this day and age.  For from these two great discoveries from years gone by; springs not only Benjamin Franklin’s proverb, but one more sweet and undeniable Truth for each of us to live by.   In Benjamina’s own words…

Purr-haps being filled and warmed from the inside out by a taste of the Master’s Milk and Honey; makes the thought of our own royal purr-tection, grow strangely dim in Light of the Master’s Loyal-Purr-fection.


“O taste and see that the Lord is good…”

   (Psalm 34:8 NAS)