During my stay aboard a sailboat, docked at the marina at Nick’s Fish House in Baltimore, I expected to run into my old friends Ned and Kay Uhler, who used to drive down from their home everyday to feed the feral cats that call Nick’s parking lot home.
The cats, who I wrote about a few years ago, are still around — this black one tried to cross my path last night — but I’m not so sure about Ned and Kay. Somebody’s still feeding the cats though, and maybe it’s them. Perhaps I’m just not waking up early enough to catch them in the act.
Ace, when we get off the boat for walks, usually spots one or two, and seems eager to get closer and meet them, but I don’t let him. I doubt he’d get the same reception from them that Ned and Kay always did.
My story about Ned and Kay feeding the feral cats was the only one, during my newspaper career, that I wrote entirely in verse. This was well before I became a professional writer of “highway haiku,” which is much harder to write, especially for one who has been accused of being long-winded — at least on the written page.
Be that as it may, with thanks to the Baltimore Sun, in which it first appeared — and still appears, though interrupted by advertising — here, in a slightly edited, minorly rewritten version, is …
“A Feral Cat Carole”
The cats were quite hungry that cold winter day
But Edwin L. Uhler was well on his way.
Ned left Owings Mills, his wife, Kay, at the wheel
Driving 25 miles to deliver the meal.
They got to Nick’s Fish House, where Ned keeps his boat
And then something happened that’s worthy of note:
‘Twas a gaggle of cats – a feline regatta –
Appearing from nowhere upon hearing his auto.
One cat, then two cats, then three and then four
And then after that there came even more:
Black, tan and gray cats, they trotted and waddled
Some long-haired, some short, some solid, some mottled.
From the rocks on the shore, from beneath a trailer
They crept and they scurried to greet the old sailor.
Ned wore a cap – a Greek sailor’s hat
And got out of his car with a big plastic vat.
With a wood-handled spoon, they laid food on the ground
Some here and some there in big heaping mounds.
And no sooner than that did the cats start to nibble
On Kay’s special mixture of canned food and kibble.
Until he retired a few weeks ago
Ned, 80, came daily – rain, sleet or snow.
Kay joins him on weekends, and when the job’s done
They go out for breakfast and coffee, and fun.
Kay plays video slots, and Ned drinks a beer
Then they go home, all filled with good cheer.
They once sailed the bay, but those days are past
And their boat now sits empty, no sail on its mast.
Ned lost a leg about six years ago
A stroke left Kay’s right arm quite weak and quite slow.
But together, Kay said, they can meet most demands.
It’s a trade-off of sorts: “I’m his legs; he’s my hands.”
Ned ran a company that dispatched big trucks
Kay worked in the office – now how’s that for luck?
Kay liked him right off, partly based on this fact:
“He can’t be a bad guy, if he has a cat.”
They married, years passed and more pets they raised
But the last one that died had left them quite fazed.
The death of their cat had left them bereft
So the Uhlers decided they’d have no more pets.
But not long after that, at their front door one night
Two cats showed up, both of them white.
One they named Blanche, and one Crackerjack
But not long after that they were taken aback
To find Jack was a Jill — now what’s up with that?
Back at the marina, they tend even more
Though the days that they go there they’ve reduced to four.
It’s a long way to drive and they need to cut back
On the money they spend on big cat food sacks.
Between canned food and dry, they’re paying high rates:
Forty-five dollars a week, or so Kay estimates.
“Forty-five dollars!” Ned says with a hiss
“Forty-five dollars? I did not know this.”
It all got started three years ago June
When the owners pulled out of the Dead Eye Saloon.
There were two cats they fed; one left there with them
But the one left behind faced quite a dilemma.
His name was ol’ Smokey, a friendly feline
With no rightful owner and no place to dine.
That’s where things stood when ol’ Ned stepped in
Not thinking that one cat would soon become ten.
Apparently Smokey had girlfriends, you see
And one became two, and two became three,
And three became four, and four became five
And the cat population continued to thrive.
As a marina, and a restaurant at that
Nick’s had some problems with occasional rats.
Now the rats are all gone, and some boaters like that
But still others complain about the number of cats.
Some even admit that the cats drive them bats
And soil their boats with nasty cat scat.
One boat owner said they look cuddly at first
“But when you put food out you’re making it worse.”
They leave paw prints on cars, and they stink up the joint
Leaving stains on boat cushions they choose to anoint.
One would be fine; maybe two would be cuter
But much more than that and it comes time to neuter.
And though it might make the soft-hearted pout
Some think the cats’ ranks need a good thinning out.
One-legged Ned doesn’t see it that way
And you can rest quite assured that neither does Kay.
Starving the cats is not a solution.
(And don’t even mention cat execution.)
Whatever their numbers, the cats need to eat,
And Ned will keep feeding come cold or come heat.
Ned rose from his barstool after sitting a bit
He straightened his cap to secure a good fit.
He pondered a question: Why not just quit?
And he said only this: “They appreciate it.”