Grandma and the Cat Litter Beatdown

This is another largely true story.  This is my Mothers Day story, because it involves someone’s mother.

I knew all the folks involved, so  I guess I believe every word of it.  Like any event I write about it, I hope it’s true.  If not, it is certainly based on a true story, and that’s good enough for me.  I’m not using names in this story, because those involved may not appreciate it.  I hope it doesn’t make the reading too awkward.

I had two or three close friends most of my childhood.  Like most kids, my friends would come and go with the school year, people moving, etc.  I had one friend who was a constant . He lived a few blocks from me, and we spent most of our free time together.

Despite what you’ve seen or heard, Eastern Kentucky is not just shacks and run down trailers.  There are nice little neighborhoods in almost every town.  I lived in one of those.  So did my friend.

My friend lived at the end of a street in a garage apartment next door to his grandmother.  Grandma lived alone in a small but nice house.  That is to say that Grandma lived alone until my friend’s cousins moved in with her.  The cousins were teenagers, probably 15 and 17.  They had moved from “up North.”  Typically, up North meant Michigan or Ohio, where the people talked funny.  The cousins talked funny, too.

The cousins were odd lads.  They didn’t go school.  I never found out what happened–if anything–to their parents.  The cousins just arrived one day.  They delivered the morning newspaper for a while.  When people stopped getting their papers, Dick Russell, owner of a the store where the papers were picked up in the morning, spied on them one morning.  When the papers were dropped in front of his store,  Mr. Russell watched the cousins take the bundle and toss it in the river.  When they didn’t throw them in the river, they dragged the papers along the ground crying as they made their rounds.  Like I said, odd.

My friend was always regaling me in stories of his cousins’ antics.  The cousins were several years older than us, but we took great delight in terrorizing them.  Once, we told one of them that we had put grass and sticks in the gas tank of his car.  Oh, did he get mad.  The joke was almost on us as he lit his cigarette lighter to get a better look in the tank.  Our screams of terror made him drop the lighter.  Again, odd birds they were.

One of the cousins, in particular, was a bit of a thorn in the side of his uncle (my friend’s father).  Now, I don’t know if he actually did anything to merit this or if the Uncle was just generally disagreeable.  Regardless, it was a bit of ritual for the Uncle to castigate the Cousin when got home from work.  Usually, this centered around the Cousin being lazy and good-for-nothin’.  I witnessed this several times myself.  Normally, it started with the Uncle getting out  of his truck and greeting the Cousin with something like, “What in the hell have you been doing all day?  Pick up this stuff up out of the yard!”

So it went one fateful afternoon.  There was a driveway leading from the street to the garage on the left side of Grandma’s house.  The drive was about 75 feet long.  The Uncle parked his truck right in front of the garage.  He got out of the truck and slammed the door.  He immediately spotted the Cousin reclined at the bottom of a tree enjoying a cigarette.  “What the hell are you doing? Clean all this up!”  The Cousin had been working on some type of project requiring the dis-assembly of various small engines.  Apparently, he had lost interest or direction during the project and abandoned it.  The Cousin only responded that he was “working on it.”

This did not sit well with the Uncle, who glared but said nothing.  The Cousin–perhaps emboldened by the silence–yelled “You can’t tell me what to do!!”  The Uncle would have no more of his insolence.  A great shouting match ensued with each hurling threats and invectives toward the other.  Finally, the Uncle removed his glasses and headed toward the Cousin.  It appeared that the Cousin was about to get taught a bit of a lesson.

The Cousin hopped to his feet and looked about for anything with which to defend himself.  There were no weapons to be found, only random engine parts.  What would he do?  Then, he spotted Pedro, the family cat.  In a move which can only be described as a combination of madness, desperation and admirable creativity, he scooped up Pedro with one hand.

There was a bucket beside the tree.  I know this is true, because I had seen that bucket many times.  It was like a big paint bucket or maybe a drywall bucket.  It was full of water.

Often, heroic acts are performed not because the person is brave or fearless but because the person is in a situation where only a daring act can spare him.  Such was the case here, I believe.  By the time Pedro was in the Cousin’s grasp, the Uncle was mere 10 feet or so away and closing quickly.  The Cousin spotted the bucket, and without any apparent thought, dunked Pedro into the stagnant water.  In one motion, the Cousin pulled Pedro from the water and threw him at his would-be attacker.

By all accounts, Pedro hit the Uncle in the chest, claws out, tearing into his shirt.  This did nothing to stop the Uncle’s advance.  The Uncle wrenched Pedro from his shirt and tossed him on the ground.  The Cousin, though, had made a run for the back door of Grandma’s house.  He was not quick enough, and the Uncle cut him off.  The Cousin now ran to the other side of the truck.  The combatants were on opposite sides of truck.  Each move by the Uncle was met with a counter move in the opposite direction by the Cousin.

Grandma, being advanced in years and hard of hearing, had missed most of the action; however, she now emerged from the backdoor.  (As an aside, in all the years I knew my friend, I only saw her once or twice.  I had images of Norman Bates’s mother in her rocker.)  She tottered down the three or four steps to see what was happening.

The Cousin was in again dire straights, trying to keep himself on the opposite side of the truck from his uncle but the Uncle was relentless.  Underneath the steps which went up to the garage apartment were several bags of cat litter.  The Cousin grabbed one and ran from behind the truck. Here came his uncle. Like an Olympic hammer thrower, the Cousin twisted sideways with the bag at arms’ length.  He then swung forward with a mighty heavy toward his uncle, letting the bag fly.

The Uncle ducked.  Grandma, again being advanced in years, did not.  The cat litter bag caught her right in the old bread basket.  I was told that you could hear the air come out of her on contact.  Doubled over, she folded in half and hit the ground.

Say what one will, the Cousin loved his Grandma and was horrified.   He ran toward her, screaming “GRANDMA!”  This was a mistake.  The Uncle caught him with a really nice punch right in the middle of his face, breaking his glasses in two.  He fell to the ground and cried quite a bit.

Oh, Grandma.  She was okay.  Just had the wind knocked out of her.  Surprisingly, there were no broken bones or internal injuries.  She didn’t even go to the hospital.  Pedro was fine, too, although I’m sure he was traumatized by the whole experience.  I’m pleased to say the both Grandma and Pedro lived several more years after this. As far as I know, Pedro was never again used as a weapon and Grandma was never again violently assaulted.

Over the years, I came to realize that the cousins were alright.  They weren’t even all that odd.  Just a bit different. 

So, I guess that’s the end.  I don’t really have an interesting way to end the story.  The late, great Michael O’Donoghue once  noted that poor writers don’t know how to end their stories.  When stumped, he suggested this sentence: Suddenly, everyone was run over by a truck.

 Since my story is set in Eastern Kentucky, here is the ending:

Suddenly, everyone was run over by a coal truck.  The end.

© 2012

March of Folly


This story may well be true.  It also may be completely false.  In all likelihood, it’s partially true; thus, I consider it to be based on a true story.  This gives me literary license to fill in blanks and outright fabricate portions of it.

This is based upon a story I’ve heard twice–from two different sources.  One was a person I know well and trust.  The other was someone I barely know.  The essential facts were the same, but there were differences in time, location and other minor details.  It could be that the whole thing was made up.  I don’t know.  But I do know that I like the story, so I’m going to tell it.

As with my other blogs, I’ve changed the names of those involved.  So, if you have a relative called June Bug, that’s not who I’m talking about it.  One name I didn’t change is “Lonzo.”  Lonzo is a shortened version of Alonzo and is a fairly common name in Eastern Kentucky.  In fact, growing up, I knew several people named Lonzo.  Once I left Eastern Kentucky, I never met anyone else by that name.  It’s a good mountain name and fits the character in this story.  The story would lose something if I changed it.

Much of the dialogue is mine.  Some was recounted to me in the story.  Other parts, I made up trying to fit it with the characters involved.

Finally, do not interpret this tale as glorifying or promoting animal abuse.  That’s not what it’s about, although there is a tragic accident at the heart of the story.  I know a lot of folks who like animals more than they do people.  I’m fine with that.  BUT, if you suffer some sort of trauma and go mental reading this, please do not direct your bile toward your author.  I am merely your narrator.  Thank you.


Purdy was a mule or probably a mule.  He could have been a donkey or jackass for all I know, but they called him a mule.  “They” were the Harringtons, which was pronounced “Hairnton.”  There were three Harrington boys:  Lonzo, Terry (pronounced “Turry”) and Junior (also known as June or June Bug).  They lived with their daddy, AC.  No one knew AC’s full name (if he had one), although June Bug was in all likelihood named after them.  The boys had a mother, but no one knew where she was.  Rumor was that she just left them, but some folks said there was an incident with her being hit with a shovel.  It doesn’t really matter.  She was gone, and it was just Daddy and the boys.

They lived on the Poor Fork of the Cumberland River in what most people would call a shack.  The house was down off the highway on the other side of the river.  They had about a half-acre of land connected to the highway by a bridge.  The bridge was one of those homemade bridges you see in the mountains.  It consisted of a couple of I-beams with wood laid across for the driving surface.  It spanned from creek bank to creek bank and was supported at each end by cinder blocks.

The house itself was three rooms, a bathroom and a kitchen.  The front room was sort of a sitting area with a TV.  The kitchen was in the back toward the left.  The two bedrooms were in the back to the right.  Daddy had his own room.  June Bug and Terry shared a room, and Lonzo slept on the couch in the front room.

None of these folks had jobs, of course.  Daddy had worked in the coal mines at some point in the distant past.  Lonzo had been in the Army for two years before he was unceremoniously discharged for some disciplinary reason.  Terry and June Bug pretty much did nothing.  Between Daddy’s disability check and Social Security, they got by.

Daddy had one possession that he valued–Purdy.  As I said, Purdy was a mule.  They also had a few chickens and, from time to time, a hog.  But Purdy was a constant having been around for many years.  At one time, he was used to plow Daddy’s small garden, but he had foundered at some point and didn’t do much of anything now.  Daddy didn’t have much use for his offspring, but he loved old Purdy or at least really liked him.


Daddy made fairly frequent runs to town for various things, picking up a check, buying groceries, etc.  It was a Saturday in October, and Daddy left in the morning.

The boys rarely went anywhere.  They mostly sat around and drank.  Lonzo was the oldest by two years.  Then came Terry, and two years after him, June Bug.  Lonzo would have been considered the brains of the group, but that’s only because of his ill-fated stint in the Army.  He was about 6 feet tall and wiry thin (we called it “squirrelly-built”) with long, greasy black hair pushed straight back behind his ears.  He had that hard, flinty look that only people in Appalachia have.  Terry and June Bug could have been twins.  Both were short with beer bellies and a penchant for going shirtless most of the time. They had fat, red faces and bushy blonde hair.  There were substantial paternity questions regarding Lonzo, but no one ever asked.

The boys also rarely got out of bed very early, and this Saturday was no different.  Lonzo rolled over on the couch when he heard a commotion outside at around 11:00.  He got up, lit a cigarette and walked out on the porch just as June Bug was running from the back of the house toward the creek with a coil of rope under his arm.  Terry came running from the other side of the house.

“Hey!  What the hell’s goin’ on?”  Alonzo inquired.  Terry stopped, breathless of course, and said “Looky yonder!”  He nodded his head toward the creek.  In the middle of the creek, still as a statue, stood Purdy with water up to his belly.  “I’ll be flat damned,” Lonzo muttered. “How in the hell did that happen?”

Terry responded:  “Don’t know.  June just seen him out the winder.  Just froze up right there.”

“Well, what are you boys doin’?”  Lonzo asked.  Terry said, “June’s made a lassoo and’s gonna lassoo him!”  Lonzo rubbed his beard stubble and took a long drag off his smoke.  “I reckon that might work.”  Terry headed down to the creek with Lonzo right behind.

By the time they covered the 100 yards or so to the creek bank, June Bug had already fashioned a crude lariat with a slip knot.  He was unfurling the rope.  “I’m gonna lassoo his ass and haul him in.”  He twirled the rope as he had seen cowboys in movies do and tossed it toward Purdy. He missed.  He tried again.  He missed again.  Over and over he tried, but with no lucky.  Finally, Lonzo lost patience and said “Gimme that damn rope!”  He, too, tried and tried with no luck.  It should be noted that Purdy stood a good 40 feet from the bank, and the rope was no more than 30 feet long.  This bit of immutable physics was lost on the boys.

They all sat down on the bank and stared at Purdy.  “What do we now, Lonzo?”  Terry asked.  Lonzo responded:  “Hell fire, I don’t know.  All I know is that we better get that damn mule outta the creek before the old man gets back.  He’ll raise nine kinds of hell.”

“You reckon he’s sleepin’?” June Bug asked.

“The damn mule?  Hell, no.  He’s standing up” said Lonzo.

“He’s sleeps standin’.  I seen him do it.”  June Bug said.

Lonzo turned at looked at June Bug.  “Is that what you do with yoreself?  Stand around watchin’ a damn mule sleep?  I don’t know if he’s asleep, but I do know he’s in that damn creek, and, by God, we gotta get him out.”

Terry then observed, “He got hisself in there.  I figger he’ll find his way out.”

This was the last straw for Lonzo.  “This right here is what’s wrong with you fellers.  Quitters.  I ain’t no quitter.  I’m gettin’ that bastard outta there!”


After being chastised by Lonzo, the boys just stared at Purdy for a few minutes.  Then, Lonzo saw the answer and stood straight up.  “By God, I’ll ride his ass out.”

Terry said:  “How you gonna do that?  Wade out there?”

Lonzo snapped:  “Hell, no!  I ain’t freezin’ my ass off in that damn creek!  I’m gonna shimmy over the side of the bridge and jump on him.  Once I’m on his back, I’ll just ride him out! Let’s go!”

All three got up and headed to the bridge.  When they got to the middle of the bridge, Lonzo looked down and determined that he could, in fact, hang down and drop right on Purdy’s back.  Even if he missed, the drop wasn’t that far, maybe 10 feet at most.  If he landed in the water, he wouldn’t be in it very long anyway.

Lonzo sat down in the middle of the bridge with his feet hanging over.  “You boys lower me down.  I’ll grab aholt of that beam.”  So, the boys did just that. With Terry taking one arm and June Bug the other, they lowered Lonzo over the side.

Lonzo was facing the wrong direction.  He could grab the beam and hang down, but he would be facing away from Purdy.  Riding a mule was likely to be difficult under the best of conditions.  Facing the wrong direction, it might be impossible.

Once he was lowered into postion, Lonzo swung his right hand under to hold both sides of the beam.  Now, he was sideways.  Then, he saw it.  A length of cable ran the entire length of the bridge just inside the beam.  This was perfect.  He grabbed the cable with his right hand and swung his left hand over.  Now, he had a perfect grip and faced the proper direction.  He was perfectly positioned.

Hanging down from the cable, Lonzo was about 10 feet from the water and maybe seven feet from Purdy’s back.  He started to swing back and forth on the cable to get proper momentum for his leap.  After three or four swings, he was ready.  One last swing forward and he let go.

Falling through the air is a funny thing.  Usually, you don’t have time to think about it.  You just fall.  Sometimes, though, you have a moment to consider what’s happening.  I imagine this might have happened with Lonzo.  He may have seen Purdy hurtling toward him, instead of he himself falling to Earth.   At that moment–and just for a split second–he might have realized that this plan was not, in fact, well-conceived.

Ah, but the plan worked–sort of.  Lonzo landed square on Purdy’s back.  There were two sounds:  First, the loud, unmistakable sound of a mule’s back breaking.  Second, Lonzo emitted a long, mournful scream which could only accompany a shattered testicle.

Purdy folded up like a lawn chair pinning Lonzo.  Lonzo, still wailing, slowly slid sideways until he dropped into the water, which was as cold as he feared.  The cold water, though, shocked Lonzo into full consciousness and he stood straight up, only to be doubled over again in pain.  He repeated this cycle as he struggled to the creek bank.  From their vantage point on the bridge, Terry and June Bug thought he looked like one of those toy birds that dips its head up and down like it’s sipping water.  Lonzo made it to the bank and collapsed, doubled over in agony.

The rest of the story is uneventful.  A watery grave for Purdy, a trip to the hospital for Lonzo.  Terry and June Bug did have to get Purdy out of the creek, and they got to use their “lassoo.”  Daddy was mad, as expected, but he got over it.  Lonzo lost a testicle.


So, there you have it.  This could have happened.  I knew people who would have done such things.  I hate to think of a mule dying under those circumstances, but life’s not fair.

Oh, what about the title of this blog?  A close friend of mine was so taken by this story when I first told it to him years ago that he wanted us to develop a screenplay based upon it.  He titled our project March of Folly.   I see Adrien Brody as Lonzo, maybe.  Robert Duvall as Daddy.

Sadly, the thought of stretching this out to even a 90 minute film is daunting.  I haven’t given up hope, but we really need to get on it.  Hollywood awaits.

© 2012