by Joyce Sammons
(Hodges, SC, USA)
This feral family reminds me of the Wal Mart cat
About 15 years ago I was going full force as a traveling photographer. This was back in the day prior to Wal-Mart having permanent studios in their stores. I eventually managed one in Easley, SC but from my hire date with American Studios (the official company at the time) in 1991 to 1993 I would travel from town to town for 5 day shoots.
Most of my subjects were infants and families. I was really great at getting the babies to smile. Pets were frowned upon because of several regulations by both Wal-Mart and American Studios. I don't think the corporate ranks knew about the store cat in one of the smaller towns I loved to work in.
I met her on my first shoot to a small town in Georgia, USA. I would arrive at the store around 7 a.m. to unpack my equipment from my Datsun B210 hatchback and set up my studio. This was in the days before the stores went to 24 hour stores and didn't open until 9 a.m.
I thought I heard a cat's meow as I was loading my first shopping cart with my equipment. I looked down and there she was. A small gray and white tabby with the sweetest expression on her face. We began a friendship that lasted for the 3 years I traveled. Every 6 weeks I would be at that store and always looked for her smiling face. Sometimes I wonder if she would look for my car because I would no sooner pull up and she would be there. If anyone ever thought it strange that I was talking to a cat they never said anything.
It didn't take long for me to learn her story. She was a feral cat who took up residence in the fields behind the loading docks. Employees began keeping an eye out for her as she had a litter of kittens. A few of the employees were ready when the kittens were old enough to adopt.
A collection was taken up to have the mama tabby spayed and to furnish her with food. She would sneak in and walk the aisles of the stockroom looking for rats. In a way she was showing she was both useful and loving and didn't mind working for a living.
My studio closed before the store closed. Every night at 7 p.m. I would turn off my camera and cover it and enjoy the rest of the evening at the one motel the town had. Most mornings I would find the Wal-Mart cat asleep either on top of or under the table I sat the kids and babies on. The table was draped with a furry blanket which hung down to the floor on all sides. Tabby decided this was an excellent place to camp out each night while the store was closed.
Usually she would get up and move without any coaxing. Sometimes a customer would be waiting for me to open up and ask if the cat could be in the picture. I wasn't allowed to do that but I believe the secret Wal-Mart cat wasn't much of a secret in that small town.
One morning she was asleep on top of the table and refused to move when I woke her that morning. She gave me one of those 'leave me alone I want to sleep' looks that cats are famous for. So I picked her up and took her back to the stockroom so she could do her rat hunting for the day. I didn't think twice about picking her up because I owned several cats and this cat knew I was a cat person. I think all cats know who likes them and who doesn't.
I took her through the double doors into the stockroom area where the manager was working at her desk. I put the cat on her desk and explained the cat had been sleeping on my table and I didn't want anyone to get into any trouble.
I was getting really concerned with the way the stockroom staff had all turned around when I came through the door. I wonder if I had broken any company policies because they were all looking at me like I'd grown an extra head.
As it turned out I was one of only a handful of people successful in picking up the store cat to pet her. I'd walked through the door cradling a feral adult female cat who hated being held.
We continued our relationship until I went off the road in 1993 and haven't returned to that store. It's in another state and to be honest I hate to travel these days because I traveled so much during that time in my career. I've often thought about that cat.
As long as she stayed away from the road I like to think she lived a long happy live both in and out of the store. She was a feral returned to her hunting grounds with a little human contact mixed in for good measure. I also feel if the cat was ever discovered and put on trespassing notice an employee would have stepped in to adopt her.
She was one of the most memorable cats I ever met.
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