I feel compelled to continue with my theme of death.  At the same time, I feel like things need to lighten up a bit around here.  And so I submit to you the following tale.

For as far back as I can remember, I wanted a kitten.  Farther back than that, I remember that my father hated cats.  My father was a Vietnam Vet and a raging alcoholic.  He did not mince words.  He once told me what he wanted to do to all cats.  It was clear to me that it was best that we did not get a cat so long as he was around.

I think I let the news of my parents’ split rest for about 45 minutes before I started in about how now we could get a cat.  Finally, the only thing stopping us was gone and I wanted a kitten.  I’m sure I did the requisite whining and promising to care for it and clean up after it and, wait, what else do cats need?

One afternoon, my mother surprised me with a kitten.  A neighbor had found a stray near her job but couldn’t keep it.  We got the litter box, cat food and some toys.  We learned the hard way that we needed a scratching post.  I named him Pumpernickel.  He was gray with a white patch, so his name made little sense.  I thought it was a cute name, I wasn’t  going for grain accuracy here.  I took care of the cat, all by myself, just as I had promised, for one entire day.

I used to put him on a leash and let him roam around the back yard attached to the clothes line.  I didn’t want him to get away or anything.  When he wasn’t outside, he would sit in the kitchen window, seeming to long for escape.  In his attempts to leave us, he would climb up the screen and get stuck in between it and the window.  We’d have to pry the screen out, carry him back inside and then help him get his claws out of the mesh.  It was far too long before we decided to start blocking the window so he couldn’t get up there in the first place.

Pumpernickel was the meanest cat ever.  He scratched and bit every chance he got. I tried to love on him and play with him, but he was 100% uninterested in human companionship.  If I made him angry, it was simply in my efforts to win his affection.  One Christmas morning, as my brother stood at the stove flipping bacon, Pumpernickel casually walked by, leaped into the air and bit the back of his upper thigh.  We don’t know why, it was completely unprovoked.  If I hadn’t watched it happen, I would never have believed that nothing had caused his attack.

One afternoon, just before my 12th birthday, he unleashed his fury on me.  He was looking out the window in the kitchen and he looked so sweet.  I went over, he looked at me and then went back to surveying our land.  I put my arms around him and hugged him gently.  Then I noticed that what he had his gaze fixed on was another cat who had wandered into the yard.  He was not looking out the window pensively, he was giving the look of death to the intruder.  I guess I must have scared him because he bit me in a way that I had no idea cats were capable of.

The next moment went so slowly.  As I turned around to run, Pumpernickel was still attached.  His front paws were wrapped around the wrist of my right arm.  Even as I held my arm up at shoulder level, he kept his face buried into my forearm with his back legs kicking like a bunny.  I managed to loosen his front-paw grip with my left hand and push him off of me.  He stood there, on the kitchen floor, hissing at me, blood on his mouth.  I grabbed a kitchen towel and fashioned a makeshift tourniquet, but not before I looked down and saw the inner workings of my arm.  There was blood all over the floor, my shirt and now the towel.  For the first time, I realized I was screaming at the top of my lungs.

It was then that my mother emerged from the basement where she had been doing laundry.

“Pumpernickel bit me!” I shrieked.

My mother, calm and seemingly oblivious to the blood everywhere replied, “Oh.  It sounded like you were being murdered up here.  That’s why I didn’t come up right away.”  To this day, I have no idea if she was kidding or not.

She looked over the wound and was angry that it was going to need stitches, which cost money we didn’t have.  We went to the urgent care center and I received 2 stitches to partially close the gaping hole.  I was told it had to be left open so as to prevent infection and this was standard practice for animal bites.  They cleaned out the Freddy Krueger style lacerations across the underside of my upper arm and across the palm of my left hand where I had peeled Pumpernickel’s claws from me.  I was told how lucky I was that we knew the offending animal and I didn’t need rabies shots in the stomach.  Yes, I felt lucky indeed.


Years went by and Pumpernickel had become even more antisocial.  He never attacked again, but no one would get close enough to give him the chance. We thought he might be sick.  He didn’t do anything but sleep.  There was some talk that maybe he needed to go to the vet.  There was talk that it may be a one way trip for our feline friend.

It was a Friday night and my now-husband and I went out on a date to catch a quick movie.  We returned to my house to find my mother, in her usual position on the couch, crying.

“Pumpernickel is dead,” she sobbed.  I looked around because, due to her disease, she was pretty immobile and if there was something dead lying around chances were I was going to have to clean it up.

“What?  What happened?  Where is he?” I was completely confused.

“I heard his ball with the bell in it jingling and I looked over and he was having a seizure. He’s dead.” She was gesturing towards the dining room.

Kris and I turned, there was no cat.  Then, with the same calm manner as the night the cat went crazy she said, “Grandpa came over and buried him.” There was a pause. “Oh, did you hear Nixon died?”


Kris and I were talking the other day, many years later now, about just how odd it was that in the span of less than 3 hours the cat died and was buried.  We’ve talked about that night many times over the years, imitating my mother’s voice, imagining my grandfather coming over in a huff to tend to the chore with his “get it done” attitude.  I have never understood how my mother could transition to crying about the cat, whom we were all a bit afraid of, to asking us about current events.

I realized that I didn’t remember when exactly this all transpired.  The good thing about your cat dying on the same night as a former president is that if you ever forget the date, you can just Google it.  I grabbed the laptop and searched “Nixon death.”

April 22, 1994.  Exactly 16 years to the day before my mother died.  Now if that is not the weirdest of coincidences, I do not know what is.

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53 Responses to “Pumpernickel.”

  1. Sandra Crook says:

    I think we may have owned Pumpernickel’s brother. Enjoyed this – reminded me not only of our cat but my mother too. :)

  2. Freaky coincidence and great story-telling as always. Good read, Erin

  3. christina says:

    man, it’s these stories that freak people out about cats- understandably, too! yikes!

    i have to say i chuckled at the comment your mom made when she was in the basement and P was attacking. just cuz… wow, you know?

    and the date thing? way crazy.

  4. woah. very odd! my dad’s birthday is Sept. 11th, and on *the* Sept 11th our dog was also viciously attacked by a neighbor door and had to be completely repaired, it was a bloody mess. every year for my dad’s birthday, we celebrate a different day. a do-over.

  5. Robbie K says:

    i was never a fan of cats and now even less so.

    • My husband is terribly allergic so I never have to go down that road of wanting one again. We’re dog people now, though I’m still not sure why I choose to live with a large animal who could kill me if he wanted to!

  6. Heidi says:

    Wow! That is fascinating.
    Can I say I’m surprised everyone kept the cat after attacking you like that?
    You are a great story-teller. I really enjoyed this piece.

  7. Mysterious. So your mom and grandpa didn’t do away with the cat? Your tale brings that into question though you don’t seem to believe that, so it must just be one of those strange occurrences. I assume Pumpernickel was a neutered male? I have so many questions, don’t I? Obviously a good story to bring up all these queries… well done.

  8. Stacey says:

    Oh, that IS an odd coincidence! When your mom mentioned Nixon, I thought maybe she was crying over him, not Pumpernickel (which is definitely a cute name for a cat). :-)

  9. Ado says:

    Pumpernickel, what a name. What a cat. And what a story.
    I can’t get the image of your mom coming up the stairs and saying she didn’t come rushing because you weren’t being murdered or anything…oh but you were!
    And yes, big coincidence!

  10. Gia says:

    Ha! This story makes me feel not as bad about not being able to get a cat in my new apartment.

  11. Wily Guy says:

    I’ve met cats like that. I’ve always called them lucifer after the cat in Cinderella.

    We’ve a cat now who is sweet to few, antisocial to most and downright doesn’t like my daughter or our other cat. He’s lately been trying to pick a fight with the dog… That won’t end well for either.

    Great story.


  12. Wow, Pumpernickel sounds exactly like the kind of cat that might make me give up my Crazy Cat Lady ways.

    Great story, by the way, and you told it so well!

  13. We had a very similar cat to Pumpernickel growing up. His name was Domino. Meanest thing, but we all loved him. He lived a hell of a long time and when he passed we ALL cried. My dad included. So weird about the dates…oohweeoohh. That’s me making my creepy sound. Great story!

  14. Kendra says:

    What an intriguing (and creepy!) cat story. I can honestly say that I didn’t know what to expect as the outcome but it all reminds me of a stray cat my older brother and I decided to feed as kids. We fed it for a week and then it wouldn’t leave our back yard. It would sit on the fence post, peering into our kitchen while making this human-like wail. Soooo creepy. I’m SO not a cat person.

  15. Kim says:

    YIkes! THat is one seriously demonic cat. I have to say I was surprised you all kept that cat around. This kind of affrims my “dog person” status. What the heck was going on in that cats mind??? I also had to chuckle a bit at what your mom said about why she didn’t come when you were screaming, just because, what the hell was that all about!?!?!

  16. You tell a very good story. Cats can be strange creatures. I have two that are loudly whining outside my bedroom door at the moment – as though they know I just read an evil cat story and want to show they can be even more annoying :)

  17. Delilah Love says:

    We had a cat like that. His name was Pooh Bear and he was a feral kitten that we rescued from a dumpster at our college dorm. That cat was insane. We used to walk him on a leash too and he was as antisocial as one might expect from a feral cat. Pooh Bear ran away one day about 3 years after we got him. Sometimes I still wonder what happened to him.

  18. I do not get cats or the attraction to them, but you made Pumpernickel interesting, Michelle. Just curious why you didn’t get rid of him after the incidents with your brother or you?

    Loved your mother’s response to why she didn’t come upstairs sooner :)

    • Thanks! I would imagine that if you asked my mother why we didn’t get rid of him, she’d say it was because she thought I would get upset. That’s probably true, but I’ve always said you shouldn’t let 12 year olds be in charge. Well, not always, I was ok with being in charge back then :)

  19. That was a great story! Have you adopted a more social feline friend in the years that followed?

    • No more cats for me. My husband is deathly allergic and he and I have been together since I was 14 so I always knew Pumpernickel was to be my last cat. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  20. jamie says:

    Oh, so beautifully written. Pumpernickel is so engaging 😉

  21. This was a riveting and disturbing story….I cannot believe you kept Pumpernickel after he tried to murder you!!!!

  22. Suzie says:

    My aunt had a cat named Dolce. They lived across the street from us and Dolce was a perfect substitute for the pet I wanted so badly. Too bad Dolce was much like your Pumpernickel, that cat ended up scaring the bejeesus out of me. Fortunately, I’ve got a sweet and good natured kitty in my life now, one I know I’ll miss when the sad day comes that she checks out. Beautiful story, I figured Pumpernickel would get the boot after he mauled you-your family was very forgiving.

    • I’m not sure if we were forgiving so much as lazy and poor, it’s expensive and took work to have him put down (and we would never have just opened the door to let him leave). Thanks for reading, glad you have a nice cat now!

  23. Mama Finch says:

    Great story! Your mother’s reaction to your your attack & injury was interesting and a bit disturbing I must say! I too can’t believe you kept him after that.

    • It was such a typical reaction for my mother too – she was definitely an interesting woman! I’m sure I would have been angry if she said we had to get rid of him, but I would think normal people would probably insist he go!

  24. Oh my gosh. I don’t know what I would’ve done with a cat that had attacked me and wouldn’t let me touch it or get near it. I may have thrown it outside and let it find it’s own meals…

  25. Jackie says:

    You are a far better cat person then I. If Pumpernickel were my cat, after that incident he’d be at the big farm in the sky!

  26. Great story! You mother sounds…interesting! :)

  27. Stephanie says:

    SOunds like Pumpernickel never learned to not be a stray. This story actually made me really sad…I can empathize with a little girl who wants a pet to love, but the pet refuses to be loved.

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