Catty Me!

By Erika Hoffman

Catty Me!

“I hope you write that story, Erika. You owe it to your readership,” Susana emailed. “I think an issue of a magazine on cats would give you just the prompt you need to write down that wonderful story you recounted so wittily, fluidly, vividly and spicily.”

When I related my tale, we were floating in a pool at Hotel Jaguar in Santa Clara, Cuba. Last year, I journeyed on a People to People Cultural Exchange to the island nation where we American writers met Cuban authors for an exchange of ideas. Sounds lofty, huh? What we ended up trading were stories about famous folks we’d encountered in our lives. My sole celebrity encounter happened decades ago – Aunt Bee.

Cuban TV programming is limited. Susana’s a millennial. When I mentioned Aunt Bee of Mayberry, I drew a blank stare. I explained that the Andy Griffith Show was a popular sitcom during the ‘60s, portraying life in rural North Carolina.

At 28, I moved with my husband to Siler City, North Carolina. He’d completed medical school; the public health service assigned him to a place in need of an internist. Our home was near that of actress Frances Bavier aka Aunt Bee. When I met folks, I’d ask if they knew her. Most shook their heads and explained that she was a recluse with nine cats. Occasionally, she’d be spotted in the store buying filet mignon for her kitties. “Only person she allows in her house is her yard man who sleeps in the basement,” said a neighbor.

Months passed. I resigned myself: I’d never meet Aunt Bee.

One afternoon the telephone rang. My husband was summoned to the ER. As he grabbed his keys, the phone sounded again. He listened patiently until he finally announced he couldn’t make a house call at that moment, but he’d send his wife over.

“HUH?” I was ponderously heavy, expecting our first child.

“She needs someone to keep her company,” he said.

“Huh?”

“She’s gone through all the physicians in town. I’m new so she’s calling me.”

“Who?”“You might find it interesting.”

“But, I’m pregnant and tired and …”

“It’s Aunt Bee.”

I hustled out the door.

Star-struck, I approached her two story stone and brick house. I heard a shrill voice hollering: “Pussy! Pussy! Pussy!”

I saw a gray-bunned head poking out the side door. Cats scurried toward the screen door she held open.

“Mrs. Hoffman, I never use the front door.”

This actress looked exactly as she had on the show – a sweet, rotund, maternal-looking, elderly woman.

Expecting to enter a Southern kitchen like on the set, I was startled when I stumbled into a dark, shuttered room with peeling yellow stained wallpaper, a dirty linoleum floor with chipped tiles, scattered bowls of old cat food and air thick with nicotine and cat urine. I dialed back my surprise at the overflowing ashtrays. I coughed. My eyes watered. She directed me toward the den where her TV blared and cats lazed on the sofa and chair. I hesitated remembering how my OB-GYN advised against coming in contact with cat litter boxes, and there was one – overflowing. Nervously, I explained I was a fan of the Andy Griffith Show.

“I never watch it,” she said. “Only public broadcasting is worth watching.”

“Oh.”

“I like to stay up late at night and sleep during the day.”

“Oh.”

I was an actress on Broadway first. I’m a New Yorker.”

“I thought you were Southern.”

“Heavens no. I never spoke with a Southern accent.”

“Andy Griffith was from Mount Airy.”

“Yes.”

“You stay in contact with him?”

“No.”

“Anyone from the show?”

“Only the make-up artist.”

“Oh.”

“Andy was a womanizer!”

“OH!”

“But a talented man. He could sing. And he was a writer. He wrote many of the scripts, like the one about the pickle contest.”

“I’d love to hear more about…”

“Mrs. Hoffman, I need a favor.”

“Sure. Anything.”

“I need you to administer medicine to my sick cat. I can’t catch her. That vet…well, that vet in town, well, I need to fire him.”

“Where’s the medicine? I’ll put it in a bowl of milk and…”

“NO! You must give the pills by mouth.”

“Oh.”

“She’s the large, orange one. Usually atop the piano.”

Aunt Bee, following close behind me, surveying every nook and cranny, yelled, “There’s my sick pussy!” For an ill cat, she leaped high off the piano when I reached for her. I laughed. Aunt Bee shot me a withering look.

“Hurry Mrs. Hoffman. She must have her pills.”

I chased the cat and finally corralled her. She hissed as I hoisted her atop my large belly.

“Put the pills in her mouth!” demanded Aunt Bee. “Take this syringe of water and squirt it down her mouth.”I balanced the fat cat on my hip, shoved the pills in, and grabbed the syringe to squirt water into the cat’s mouth when the cat screamed, “Meow” and clawed up my body to my shoulder and then jumped off.

I squirted myself in the eye.

I laughed.

“Mrs. Hoffman, you think a dying cat is a laughing matter?”

My eyes grew wide.

“No, No. Miss Bavier. I don’t,” I stuttered.

“Then why are you laughing?”

“Well, um, um, um.”

“You are nervous? It is a nervous laugh? A habit of yours?”

“That’s it. Yes.”

“We’ll have to find my pussy again and get water in her.”

I got down on all fours peering under dust bunny inhabited beds and sagging armchairs. To my undying relief, we never located that old cat.Sneezing, wheezing with a pounding headache, I took my leave, while expressing my regret at not being more help in healing her cat.

And I fled.

That day so long ago cured me of being taken with fame and celebrities. It let me know there is a bit of truth to tabloid stories about eccentric, reclusive, old movie stars and their houses full of beloved cats.

About this writer

  • Erika Hoffman Erika Hoffman views most travel experiences as educational experiences and sometimes the lessons learned are revelations about oneself.

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17 Responses to “Catty Me!”

  1. margaret says:

    Great story and so full of humor, but also a huge dose of truth! I love Erika’s stories, as they not just capture your attention, but take you there, so you become a part of the story. Such fun! Hope to see more!!

  2. Donna Atwater says:

    I love this story because there is no better comedy series than the “Andy Griffith Show” with the whistling tune. I am fortunate to have a broach Aunt Bee wore on the show she gave to an auction, which I treasure along with this story. It is a great story and glad Erica is sharing this true life experience.

  3. Jane W says:

    Yes, you did it again, Erika Hoffman. I could visualize your EVERY word. Thanks for sharing. You made my day!! Meow…

  4. Trudy Walters says:

    Ms. Frances lived across the street from my folks and she surely did love her cats….and, as Erika says, she stayed up late, slept during the day. Great writing, as usual, by Erika….I can hear her telling this story as I read the words. I love to read her tales—hope she keeps writing!

  5. Barbara Margolis says:

    I guess celebrities are nothing more than ordinary, and sometimes eccentric people. What a wonderful story to share with your children and grandchildren! I enjoyed it immensely and will be smiling for the rest of the day.

  6. Loved how the dialog moved the story along. Another well told tale. I’ve known cat-ladies and certifiable hoarders but this came as a surprise. Poor Miss Bavier. However, the Aunt Bee character, as script written, remains a favorite.

  7. Linda O'Connell says:

    Your story was hilarious and revealing. I met a high profile celebrity. She sat down beside me, kicked off her heels after a performance, rubbed her feet, and said, “My dogs are barking.” She had no puppies or dogs. They are all human.

  8. Elaine Crigler says:

    What a funny, funny story and so well written. I could just picture her down on her knees with that huge belly looking under the bed for that cat!

  9. Rose Ann says:

    So funny! Who would have thought? Impeccable Aunt Bea. And, I always wanted to have milk and cookies at her house. Loved your story!

  10. Erika Hoffman says:

    I appreciate everyone for leaving a comment. This story I told friends for years. You know I never put much store in tabloid news until I read a piece about Aunt Bee and her penchant for cats in the National Enquirer. After that, I thought: Well they do have investigative reporters after all! LOL

    • Janice Andrews says:

      A great story with your humor. When you tell someone that you live in our small town, quite frequently you are asked about Aunt Bee. I think you answered that question. You always make me laugh.

  11. Carol Trejo says:

    After a long week of work, and looking for some fun reading, I opened up Sasee. I was so happy to find this story by Erika Hoffman. Gave me a great laugh! Such a fun story. The Andy Griffith Show was a big part of my youth, so I could definitely relate to her desire of meeting Aunt Bea! Thank you, Ms. Hoffman, for sharing.

  12. Claudia Frost says:

    I’m glad you got to meet “Aunt Bee”. I enjoyed your description of your encounter and found myself laughing at your difficulties with the sick cat.

  13. Betty Richardson says:

    This is a great story! You did your part for tending her cat and meeting a celebrity. I read somewhere that Ms. Bavier’s garage stored a rare Studebaker Golden Hawk..whose upholstery was said to be ruined by her cats.

  14. What a hysterical, true-life story! I could visualize the entire thing. In fact, I found myself cringing. Having tried to shove pills down my own cats’ throats so many times, I can only imagine how hard it is to do with a strange cat, and while pregnant!

  15. Ann Goebel says:

    I was transfixed from beginning to end of story. What clear pictures you paint with descriptions and dialogue.I want to read everything you write!

  16. Ann Goebel says:

    I was transfixed from beginning to end of story. What clear pictures you paint with descriptions and dialogue. I want to read everything you write!

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