Who let the cat out?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 14, 2001

For some odd reason, cats seem to still be on my mind.

As I dropped my daughter off at school the other morning, some strange impulse in my brain was triggered about another incident concerning a cat, a school, and the ability of a fifty-plus year old teacher to challenge an Olympic long jump record.

First, a disclaimer.

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It's never been actually proved who really committed the soon-to-be-described deed.

Since the teacher in question is still alive, in good health, and, so far as I know, fairly proficient with small caliber firearms, this is only a recounting of events, not a confession.

It was just about this time of year, when yellow jackets buzz around trash cans and the pull of the outdoors seems to draw young minds away from diagramming sentences and learning the capital of Bulgaria towards more important things like….daydreaming and ball games and….yes ma'am, Mrs. Steele, I'm listening.

Mrs. Steele.

An apt name for a teacher if ever there had been one.

Hair that matched the steel gray of her glass frames, her eyes, and her soul.

She ruled her elementary classroom with an iron fist, an iron will, and a paddle about the size of an oar.

We were at recess (remember that word? Not a break, but a recess.

I built an academic career waiting for A recess) when a cat wandered up.

It was somebody's yard cat, and responded really well to a few potato chips and cheese crackers.

I knew that something was afoot when I saw Marvin and Newton's eyes ( isn't it great when brothers, even though years apart in age, can be in the same class?) light up with a maniacal kind of glee.

Next thing you knew, several

were keeping watch as Marvin, Newton, and a certain chubby ringleader tried to coax a pretty good sized cat into a bottom desk drawer of one Mrs. Steele.

She should have known something was up when the bell to return us to durance vile (also known as back to class) rang and all of us were voluntarily seated.

It should have been a hint that there was a small grin on each face.

Even if the subtle hints weren't taken, that noise that sounded like a weedeater running in a phone booth coming from her desk drawer should have iced the deal.

This wasn't a tack in the desk, or a well-aimed spitball from the back row.

This was a furry rocket that, upon being released from it's chalk-stained prison, proceeded to run up Mrs. Steele's arm, across that blue hair, make two laps around her desk scattering homework papers, take a sharp left and clean out the chalk and erasers in the tray on the blackboard, cut back across the front row, leaving little girls' ribbons and bows in his wake, and made a half-gainer through the opened window.

Mrs. Steele, on the other hand, took one step and cleared two rows of desks in a single bound.

Never have I been so proud of a group of my peers.

Through intense questioning, nobody broke.

Nobody had any idea how that poor cat got in Mrs. Steele's desk, but they thought it was a pretty neat way to teach the rules of physics by letting him out.

Nobody squealed, even when we were threatened with no recess for a week.

For the rest of the year, Mrs. Steele sat very carefully, and always listened before she opened any drawer in her desk.

Looking back, I wonder if we (I mean whoever perpetrated this horrible event) could have gotten a calf in the cloakroom.

Like they say, bigger's better!