combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 05 Number 01 Winter ©Jan 2007

Q-Tip, the Wartime Cat from Savannah

          Q-Tip's owner was sad all the time. Q-Tip was a short-haired, white female cat. Her owner cried every day before and after work. She had reason to be sad. Her husband of six months was in the Pacific, fighting the Japanese Navy there.

          Q-Tip's owner was a blue-eyed blonde with a ponytail. She worked in a wartime factory in Savannah Georgia making machine gun parts. Her name was Arlene, and she cried for two reasons. One, she missed her husband Frank. And two, Arlene had prayed to conceive a child before Frank left but her prayer went unanswered. She grieved for the baby that might never be and for the husband she might very well lose.

          Q-Tip tried her best to comfort her mistress but evidently a cat couldn't replace human offspring. This was difficult for Q-tip to understand. After all, she was an adorable and loving feline. And petite and soft and cuddly. Shouldn't that have been enough to satisfy any woman's motherly instincts?

          Whenever Arlene sat on the edge of her bed, tears rolling down her cheeks, Q-Tip would show affection in every manner she could think of. But nothing stopped her owner's tears. Eventually Arlene would pull herself together and leave for work, never missing, never late. And never failing to give Q-tip a goodbye pet, never forgetting her food and water bowls. Since Arlene lived in a duplex, she shared a small back yard with her landlady. Q-Tip was trained to that back yard and knew to meow at the kitchen door to get out.

          Arlene opened her front entrance after work one day with a more cheerful demeanor. "Q-Tip," she called. "I have something for you."

          Q-Tip rose lazily from Arlene's double bed and meandered into the living room. Arlene knelt on the carpet and held out a kitten – a long-haired black kitten with a white chest and paws. "Her name's Mittens," Arlene explained. "I'm away at work for such long hours I thought a companion for you would be nice."

          Has she thought about what her landlady would say? Q-Tip wondered.

          "Mrs. Sennicott said she doesn't mind," Arlene continued, as if knowing what Q-Tip was thinking. "She said I'm doing a big job for the country, and I can have another kitty if I want."

          Oh, fine, Q-Tip thought. What if I don't want?

          She laid her ears back, while Arlene watched with trepidation. The kitten occupied itself by playing with Arlene's shoes.

          After a moment, Q-Tip decided the little bit of fluff was not really competition, to speak of. Q-Tip had looks and personality and the affection of her owner already.

          Surprisingly, the kitten did not react in the usual manner to an adult cat. No arching, no hissing, no spitting. She merely looked up, then turned her attention back to Arlene's shoes.

          That kitten doesn't have the sense God gave a dandelion, Q-Tip thought.

          "I started to name her Glory' for Old Glory, the flag," Arlene went on. "But Mittens suits her better."

          Much better, Q-Tip agreed silently. Naming a silly young female kitten after the flag is ludicrous. The white cat shuddered.

          Mittens played all day. She never seemed to tire, but raced around the duplex like a perpetual motion machine. Sometimes she would fall asleep wherever she ended up, conked out on the carpet or the kitchen floor.

          A lap cat she is not, Q-Tip thought. All the better for me.

          By the time Arlene got home, Mittens had exhausted Q-Tip to the point where she couldn't stay awake. If she managed to struggle up onto Arlene's lap, Q-Tip couldn't keep her eyes open. She couldn't even purr.

          How can I comfort Arlene if I can't purr? Q-Tip wondered. But Arlene was also tired after work, and didn't seem to notice. After supper, she and Q-Tip sat on the sofa and watched Mittens whirl around the living room. Eventually Mittens would get older and perhaps slow down, but probably not for years. By then Q-Tip figured she would be totally done in.

          At least Mittens didn't seem to care about sharing Arlene's bed at night, which was fine with Q-Tip. She might have discouraged that anyway. After all, she was first cat.

          Mittens attempted quite soon to engage Q-Tip's tail. Q-Tip's growl merely encouraged the kitten to wilder play. Finally Q-Tip cuffed Mittens so hard she fell over on her back, paws spread, claws extended. It was then that Q-Tip noticed the missing left thumb claw.

          My brother had that too, Q-Tip thought. Could Mittens and I be distantly related?

          When the weather was fine, Arlene put Q-Tip and Mittens in the yard for the day. Q-Tip felt an obligation to watch the kitten and to prevent her from wandering, but this was not a problem. Mittens wasn't interested in leaving the yard. She played with rocks, with bugs, with weeds, and spent a great deal of time running up and down the mimosa tree. Sometimes Q-Tip was dizzy from Mitten's constant jumping and climbing.

          It was nearly June and Savannah was hot and humid. Arlene left plenty of water out and turned on fans as soon as she came home, sweaty and red-faced. Evidently it was hot at work too.

          Most evenings Arlene listened to the radio, which was full of praise for the brave Americans and full of scorn for the cowardly enemy. But Q-Tip instinctively knew the radio and newspapers were slanted to keep up the morale of the American people. America had been losing the war all along. The turning point in the Pacific was around the corner, but history would recognize that much later. It meant nothing to Arlene, who had a visit from a naval officer early one morning. With bad news.

          Frank was missing in action. If Q-Tip thought Arlene had been sad before, it was nothing compared to the way she was now. Arlene sat on her bed rocking and clenching her abdomen, her insides empty and aching for the mythical little Frankie and little Alice. Q-Tip had never been a mother and, after her life with Mittens began, doubted its pleasures. Seemed like motherhood would have been one big headache.

          Friends and neighbors, including Mrs. Sennicott, came over with sympathy and gifts of all kinds of food – cakes, casseroles, salads – Mrs. Sennicott took over Arlene's kitchen and made coffee for everyone. Betty, Arlene's supervisor at the factory, passed out napkins and ashtrays. Before anyone could stop her, Mittens dove into a beautiful platter of fruit and batted grapes around the living room in a feline frenzy – she had grown a little heavier, but she hadn't calmed down one bit.

          "Oh, what am I going to do?" Arlene wailed. "Frank was to have been my life! What am I going to do now?"

          Betty put her arms around Arlene's shoulders. "What everybody does, dear. Keep trudging."

          "I hate those Japs," Arlene spat. "Say! Maybe I'll join up myself. Maybe I'll join the Navy!"

          "Why don't you ladies start putting up the food, and I'll talk to Arlene," Betty suggested.

          "Arlene, would you like me to feed the kitties?" Mrs. Sennicott asked.

          "Oh, yes – their food is in the cabinet by the refrigerator."

          As the room was cleared of platters and bowls, some emptied and claimed by owners, and the food was put away, the other women said their goodbyes and drifted away, until Arlene was alone with Betty and Mrs. Sennicott. Q-Tip ate daintily while Mittens wolfed down her supper, giving everyone a brief respite. Good heavens, Q-Tip thought, as she washed her face, is Arlene crazy? She can't take us with her if she joins the Navy. We'll be orphans.

          "Arlene, honey," Betty began, "what do you think you can do in the Navy that's better than what you're doing right here?"

          "That's right," Mrs. Sennicott said. "You just feel angry and desperate right now."

          "They won't let you fight," Betty said. "You have no nursing skills, or for that matter, any office skills, though you're a smart girl and you learn fast. But we need you at the factory."


          "Of course, dear."

          Q-Tip finished grooming herself and wandered through the living room to the front door, where the daily paper was lying on the floor unopened. She fiddled with it until she had the front page in view. Then she took it in her teeth and dragged it over to the sofa.

          "Well, I declare!" gasped Mrs. Sennicott. "I've seen many a dog bring its owner the paper, but never a cat!"

          "Q-Tip hasn't done that before," Arlene said.

          "Maybe she wants you to see something," Betty put in.

          Q-Tip pointed at the headline with her paw. (Meanwhile there was a loud crash in the kitchen where Mittens was up to something – no telling what.) The three women stared at the paper, which announced in giant black letters: "A New Kind of Woman Emerges in America."

          "'She's been dubbed Rosie the Riveter,'" read Betty. "'These gallant women have replaced the men in uniform by working in factories around the nation making the necessary items to win the war.'"

          "And look at all the pictures!" exclaimed Arlene. "From New York, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco – even here, in Savannah!"

          "That blonde looks like you, Arlene," commented Mrs. Sennicott.

          "More like Betty Grable."

          "Oh, Mittens!" Arlene had gotten up to peer into the kitchen, where Mittens was playing with a box of spilled Ivory Flakes. Betty followed and caught the kitten.

          "You two girls are famous," Mrs. Sennicott said. Betty grinned as she emerged from the kitchen, holding a white-sprinkled, wriggling Mittens in one hand.

          "You know, Arlene," Betty said dreamily, "this war won't last forever. We'll be able to get even better jobs later, maybe in the same factory making something else. I'll be company manager and you can take my place as supervisor."

          Q-Tip could tell Arlene was cheered by this, and gave her a couple of leg rubs.

          "Then it's settled," Mrs. Sennicott said. "What do we need men for, anyway?"

          Exactly, Q-Tip agreed mentally. They're mostly a nuisance, really. Although Mittens is a female, and she equals any nuisance I've ever encountered.

          "This calls for a celebration," Mrs. Sennicott added. "I'm dashing back over to my duplex and bring us a bottle of champagne. I've been saving it for something special."

          While Betty and Arlene waited, Arlene picked up a brush and removed the ivory flakes from Mittens' fur, the kitten howling furiously. "Stay out of trouble," Arlene warned as she let Mittens go. "I have to get the champagne glasses. I think I have four of them."

          Betty got a tray of cheese and fruit back out of the refrigerator and the three women feasted for a couple of hours. Then they called it a night; there would still be work at the factory the next morning.

          Q-Tip curled up beside her mistress in the double bed, both of them happier than they had been for a long time. They listened to Mittens for a while, who was likely doing grievous destruction in the living room, then fell into a dreamless sleep.

          But Frank had not been killed in the Pacific after all. He spent the duration of the war in a Japanese prison camp and came home after the Japanese surrender, thin and pale and weak, but grinning broadly. Arlene continued to work until he was back on his feet and able to find a good job for himself.

          There was never to be a little Frankie or a little Alice – for some reason that just didn't happen. But Arlene had long since learned to be happy for what she had and not to wish for what she had not. The couple bought a little house in the same neighborhood as Mrs. Sennicott's duplex and moved in with Q-Tip and Mittens. The latter developed a fawning adoration for Frank and finally became a decent pet, which was greatly appreciated by all. She met a handsome red and white Tom one spring day and had a magnificent litter of seven kittens, two of whom had missing left thumb claws. So the family trait was continued throughout the whole of Georgia.

          Q-Tip would lie in the sun for hours, watching the kittens play – thankful that only the males were as wild as Mittens had been.

          Q-Tip declined to become a mother; being number one with Arlene was what was important to the white short-haired cat, and she remained number one and slept against Arlene's left hip for many years, while Mittens occupied the other side of the big double bed next to Frank. Arlene kept two of Mittens' kittens, twin calicos (who happened to be the two with the odd family trait), and when Frank retired, he and Arlene opened a seed and feed store in Savannah – offering on occasion a few puppies, kittens or canaries for sale. Of course, this was much, much later. But the skills Arlene had learned during the war, particularly the ability to be happy whatever her circumstances, served her in good stead, both in her marriage and in helping Frank with the business venture they had embarked upon. Savannah and its pet owners were the better for it, and so was the four-legged population there.

by Mary Brunini McArdle
... who is a freelance writer of fiction, nonfiction, poems, and plays, with numerous awards and extensive publication credits; she has also taught poetry and military strategy at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

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