Ya’ll might of heard about Oscar the ‘death cat’. He’s the furry nursing home
‘therapy’ animal up in Rhode Island that likes to be there at the end. Some folks claim
he’s got special powers that give him the inside dope on a patient’s passing. Shoot, a
doctor even wrote about him in the high brow New England Journal of Medicine.
It all may be true but I sure wouldn’t bet my last dollar on it. Speakin’ of dollars that
reminds me of my daddy’s friend Delmar Judaculla Moses and his dancing cat, Tootles.
Now Delmar was always the fast talker—willing to trade for just about anything.
He usually got the best end of the deal too. Delmar ran a produce and souvenir stand
just outside of Dillsboro on Highway 441. When he wasn’t fleecing tourists at the stand
he was installin’ indoor plumbing for the snooty town folks.
One day after school I went over to Delmar’s house to go huntin’ squirrels with
his two boys Elbert and Willie. Delmar had a big cardboard box up under the porch and
said “you boys ken take a look if yore real quiet like.”
We poked our noses up under the porch and lo and behold the box was full of
kittens! They was all black ‘cept for one—a scruffy lookin’ gray with four white
slippers. Lookin’ closer, the girl-kitten had something we’d never seen before—a blue
eye an’ a gray eye. After a bit Delmar told us to git and to leave the critters alone.
The next year was a dry spring an’ not much rain a ‘tall throughout the summer.
Hershel Greene, who’d been drilling wells for the folks that just couldn’t cotton
to perfectly good spring water was havin’ a hard time findin’ water for some of ‘em.
Delmar heard about it and called up Hershel sayin’ he figured he had just the thing.
Hershel, knowin’ that Delmar had studied up on some geology when he’d gone to
college figured that Delmar might could help him out, said to come on up to the
drill site near Cashiers.
Delmar drove up bright and early the next morning and got out of the beat-up
Ford pick ‘em-up he drove with a cardboard box that had a bunch of holes poked in it.
“What’ch got thare Delmar?” Hershel said with a big grin on his mug just
knowin’ that Delmar was gonna pull some sort of trick.
“Oh just this here cat I trained to find water Hershel,” said Delmar.
“I know you ain’t trying to mess with me with some kinda foolishness Delmar.”
“Naw, it’s the real thang Hershel. I’ve been trainin’ up this cat for the best part of
a year and she always hits it right on.”
“Now this is somethin’ I’ll just half to see,” said Hershel with a look a pure
skepticism that woulda made one of them college types proud.
Delmar reached in the box and pulled out a scruffy gray queen with white feet
and said “Tootles, its time to go to work.” Delmar pulled out one of those cat toys, a fake
mouse on a string, that you could buy in the dog and cat section of the hardware store
downtown and commenced to dangle it above the cat’s nose. Tootles half-heartedly
batted at it a couple of times and gave Delmar a look as if to say, “is this what you
brought me here for?
Delmar said “okay Tootles you always want a treat first, here’s ya one. Now
dance for me and find the water,” as he threw the gray a sardine out of a can he’d opened.
Tootles leaped for the sardine, ate it and suddenly started to jump up and down
like she was on a hot stove. “C’mon now find it girl,” Delmar urged as Hershel looked
on in total disbelief. The cat continued to bounce around on its back paws for about a
minute and suddenly sat down and began to wash its paws. All of a sudden Tootles quit
washing, jumped over to a spot off under a bush and began howlin’ like she was in heat.
“Hershel, that thares whare yore water’s gonna be at—probably purt close to the
surface, the way she was howlin’ and all.”
“Now if that don’t beat all,” said Hershel disbelievingly. “Jus’ how in the name
of all that's holy does that cat now whare the water’s at?”
“That’s were it’s at Hershel and if ya don’t believe me and Tootles well you ken
jus keep hittin’ dry holes” said Delmar as he picked up the cat and got in the truck. “Oh
by the way Hershel that one won’t cost you ‘nothin’—but the next one, well me an’
Tootles charge by the job,” said Delmar as he took off towards Tuckaseigee. It weren’t
but a day or two ‘fore Delmar got a call from Hershel.
“Darned if you weren’t right Delmar. I didn’t drill twenty foot ‘fore we hit a
gusher. I got a ‘nother couple of drill sites up near Highlands if you’d like to brang that
Pretty soon word got around that Delmar had a cat that could beat the dowsers
with their sticks just about every time. One afternoon a big fancy Cadillac pulled up
and a flatland city-slicker got out smoking on a big cigar.
“How’re you doin’ today Mr. Moses? My name is John May Pettigrew, pleased
to meet you suh.”
Eye’n the city-slicker up and down, Delmar noticed the Florida plates on the
caddy. “Well I ‘spect I’m doin’ fair to middlin’ Mr. Pettigrew. Kin I get ‘cha some o’
these ripe ‘maters I jus got in?”
“No thank you Mr. Moses, I’ve come to see about buying that amazing Felis
silvestris catus you’ve been using to find water here in these magnificent Smoky
Well I’d be real put out to part with such a valuable cat Mr. Pettigrew,” Delmar
said as he looked the flatlander up and down and knew that he had ‘em in the palm of
“Mr. Moses, would $1,000.00 make you more agreeable,” said Pettigrew as he
pulled out a fat wallet?
“I might re-consider let’n you take this here cat off’n my hands for say
$2,000.00,” Delmar said as he scuffed the toe of his beat-up Redwings in the dust.
“Done, Mr. Moses,” Pettigrew said excitedly as he fanned out a sheaf of bills.
Pettigrew tore out of there with Tootles like his pants were on fire. Delmar laughed all
the way to the bank!
‘Course ya’ll know how the story ends. Delmar had trained the cat to dance and
howl when he made a little signal with his hands as folks would be too busy watchin’
Tootles do her bouncin’ and howlin’ act. What happened to Tootles, you say? Well after
the word got out that Tootles was just a good performer Delmar gave her to me. Two or
three kittens in each one of her litters would come to have those strange blue and gray
eyes an’ at least two white paws. They got to be right smart mousers too. Least that’s
what them snooty town folks I sold ‘em to tell me.