The sun was setting over Hartford, Connecticut. The sky was peach ice cream. The Mark Twain House was lit by a perfect dusk, and the crickets took an encore chorus.
I was touring Samuel Clemens’ home. Which has been a lifelong dream for me.
Tonight, I would be performing my one-man shipwreck in the museum, telling stories, singing songs. Which would be one of the greatest honors of my lifetime except for the time I was an extra in a Budweiser commercial.
Before the show, our tour group was upstairs, in the Billiard Room.
And that’s where I saw the cat.
The cat was sitting on the billiard table, staring at me. He was large, intensely black, with velvety fur, and a faint fringe of white across his chest. The kind of cat not easy to see in ordinary light.
“Whose cat is this?” I asked Mallory, our tour guide.
Mallory was mid-speech. She wore a confused look. “What cat?” she said.
“The cat on the pool table.”
Everyone in the tour group glared at me like my fly was unzipped.
“I don’t see any cat,” someone said.
“Mark Twain was a big cat lover,” said Mallory, dubiously. “But there are no cats here.”
On cue, the cat sprinted from the room like a small-caliber bullet.
“Look!” I said. “There he goes now. Can’t you see him?”
My wife felt my forehead.
So I excused myself. I left the group and showed myself out. I followed the cat through Mark Twain’s 150-year-old old home. Down the dark-wood staircase. Through the ornate entryway. Onto the ancient porch.
It was funny. You could tell this wasn’t an athletic cat. This wasn’t a cat who climbed trees or terrorized rodents. This was a big Bambino, with a waistline the size of a 40-year-old preacher. This was a cat who ate hot meals on bone china.
I jogged after the animal. And I was remembering things. Lots of things.
I was remembering, for example, when I first read Mark Twain’s words. It was my father who introduced me to Twain’s books when I was in third grade.
Sam Clemens was my old man’s favorite author. My father worshiped him. He read and reread every Twain book over and again.
I was also remembering when, for my 10th birthday, Daddy gave me the complete works of Mark Twain, bound in genuine pleather. Illustrated and everything. I remember how much it meant to me.
I can recall it all so clearly. Just as clearly as I can remember the day the sheriff’s deputy told us my father took his own life. The deputy stood on our porch and turned his hat nervously in his hands. I was a boy. “We had to use your daddy’s dental records to identify the body,” the deputy told my mother.
I ran to my bedroom and cried.
That night, I remember opening the book entitled “Prince and the Pauper,” and reading my father’s inscription on the first page: “Happy Birthday, Speedy.”
That’s what he always called me. “Speedy.” My initials are S.P.D. He was the only one who called me that.
So anyway, there I was, tramping through Sam Clemens’ house. A grown man. Chasing an imaginary cat. I finally found the animal near the carriage house.
“Are you lost, kitty?” I said.
The cat just blinked, then licked his unmentionables.
The big cat darted away again. I followed him past the museum, past the underground river, until we were standing in an open field.
And all at once, the city of modern-day Hartford seemed to disappear around me. Little by little, the surrounding convenience stores, the honking traffic, the Domino’s Pizza, it all vanished into the chill February air.
Soon, it was just me and Bambino. We were in a sunlit pasture of tallgrass and fescue. Grasshoppers flitted. Cattle stood nearby. The glorious essence of manure filled all five senses. Hartford was virgin again.
I found the cat seated on a fencepost, staring across the river.
“There you are,” I said.
The cat said nothing.
I came closer and lifted the cat into my arms. He wasn’t exactly enthused to be in my grasp, but he didn’t resist, either. I stroked the fur between his ears because all cats love to be rubbed between the ears.
The cat looked at me with amber eyes. Like he knew me. Like we’d met before. Like we were friends.
I nuzzled the cat. “You’re a good little kitty,” I said.
The cat nudged me back. “You’re a good little Speedy,” he said.
Linda Hubbard - February 16, 2023 10:03 am
Joy Jacobs - February 16, 2023 10:43 am
It’s really too early in the morning to be crying. ❤️
Catherine Luman - February 16, 2023 11:44 am
I had the honor of attending your performance in Hartford at the invitation of gracious Lucinda McDowell. I don’t know when I last laughed that hard and long. I think it safe to say that Mr. Twain and “the cat” both delighted in the joy you brought to both The Mark Twain House and the city of Hartford.
Anne Arthur - February 16, 2023 12:28 pm
And, I would have loved to attend your show, SPD.
Warren Larry Evans - February 16, 2023 11:58 am
A beautiful yarn from one of the best yarn spinners I’ve ever read . I’m convinced that Samuel Clemens would enjoy swapping yarns with you . (And I and that cat would like to sit in on the conversation .)
Molly - February 16, 2023 3:49 pm
@Warren Larry Evans
Don’t forget cats like yarn, too, yuk-yuk.🤓🥸
Jan Linden - February 16, 2023 12:08 pm
You tug at my heart strings…daily. And you make me think. Thank you.
Becky Creighton - February 16, 2023 12:31 pm
Oh my goodness. ❤️💔
Vanessa - February 16, 2023 12:45 pm
So beautiful and well written! You surprised me at the end! Thank you!
Cheryll Novak Woods-Flowers - February 16, 2023 1:00 pm
My husband and I were visiting some family for dinner. I noticed a black cat in the room with my husband I while were watching television. I remarked later to our friends that I didn’t know that they had a cat and my husband said the same since he had apparently seen it too…Our friends both said that they didn’t have a cat and that they had never had one. I can tell you that I am certain that I saw that cat.
Linda Lewis - February 16, 2023 1:26 pm
How precious. God sent you a message.
Bobbie - February 16, 2023 1:44 pm
Sean, You continue to amaze. Your Dad would be sooo proud of you, as all your readers are. I’ll bet the Mark Twain house is one of your best shows. A wonderful setting for spinning yarns. Enjoy your trip up north. Some wonderful sights to see up there, but still would rather be a Southerner. God bless you. Am wondering what those northerners think about this red headed yarn spinner🤔. A real treat for them I’m sure! ❣️👏👏👏👏
Lyn Brown - February 16, 2023 2:25 pm
EPGregg - February 16, 2023 2:55 pm
What a GLORIOUS experience! I can TOTALLY identify with a similar story. God Bless You💕
sjhl7 - February 16, 2023 3:21 pm
So glad you shared this experience with us! You keep me mesmerized with your thoughts and experiences. Hope your trip is all you desire and then some.
Molly C - February 16, 2023 3:47 pm
Don’t forget cats like yarn, too, yuk-yuk.🤓🥸
Molly C - February 16, 2023 3:52 pm
Oops- meant as a reply to Warren Larry Evans. But… while I’m here: yes another tiny masterpiece. 😍
Pubert Earle Bozemann - February 16, 2023 3:56 pm
Great story Pone! We have 2 dogs and 4 cats and we love them all. Your story made me think of a great cat we had that was a Maine Coon. I didn’t know anything about the breed, but he was given to us as a rescue kitten. He was named Baxter but was so dang big that my son Ronnie Earle soon started calling him “Calundus.” Somehow that just fit. He was always very shy but was a loving cat in his own way- about 35# worth. Acted a lot like the cat in your story. It was a sad day around here when he passed. Thank goodness he didn’t take after “Pinky- the pet of the week” on the animal shelter ad. SPEEDY, glad you’re having fun but git on back down here whar you belong! You doing the Lord’s work- I don’t care what they say!
Randall Kemp - February 16, 2023 4:02 pm
Thank you for sharing this story with us.
Judy Kunkel - February 16, 2023 4:04 pm
Gave me chills! Excellent again!
Dennis - February 16, 2023 4:15 pm
No mushrooms for you, Sean. Well,…no MORE mushrooms. 🙂
Marilu Sample - February 16, 2023 5:03 pm
Well that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
Kathy - February 16, 2023 5:37 pm
What an experience! And so true.
Becky Souders - February 16, 2023 6:18 pm
Thumbs up, Sean Dietrich… an adventure! Thanks.
Amy Duke - February 16, 2023 6:58 pm
Frenchie Fortnenberry - February 16, 2023 6:59 pm
When the he cat called you “Speedy”, I immediately had chills!
MAM - February 16, 2023 7:55 pm
Oh, my goodness, Sean. That brought the tears because you just held your daddy again. Chills and tears, what a combination!
Helen De Prima - February 16, 2023 8:00 pm
Chasity Davis Ritter - February 16, 2023 8:10 pm
Ah, Sean…… I wont even blame allergies today.
Charlu Kent - February 16, 2023 8:14 pm
This tale is the reason I read your scribbles every day.😎
pattymack43 - February 16, 2023 8:15 pm
….and all of us “cat lovers” applauded!!! Blessings!!
Linda Moon - February 16, 2023 11:04 pm
I’m thinking about Mark Twain and hand-churned peach ice cream as I’m reading now….and then the cat enters. It don’t get much better’n that. But sadly, several years ago my family’s boys and I were told by a police officer that their daddy had taken his life. We all loved him so. And as a cat-lover I’m so glad you stroked and loved on the cat. Cats know things, Speedy. And I know about little boys who grieved like you did, Sean. Maybe I’m your friend.
Melanie - February 17, 2023 3:45 am
David Britnell - February 17, 2023 4:31 am
Sean, your imagination must run wild constantly! I hope it never stops!!
Patricia - February 17, 2023 4:38 am
Wonderful…You are such a good writer..
Susie - February 17, 2023 1:58 pm
Yes, he is, Patricia. A very gifted writer, indeed!!!!
George Robert Leach - February 17, 2023 2:37 pm
Your visit to the steamboat designed home of Twain was as magical as mine. The stories I was told by a well schooled guide were charming as well as disarming. His home is as magical as the author himself. I hope you enjoyed the adjacent dwelling as well. Charming.
Jim Sturges - February 18, 2023 11:46 pm
B Patterson - February 19, 2023 5:19 am
Im a southerner too. Never been to Connecticut. Never wanted to go til now. I think that trip was just added to my bucket list. You’ve made me want to experience Mark Twain’s home.
Ginny Andersen - February 19, 2023 11:55 pm
I understand why you were asked to speak at Mark Twain’s house. You are a master storyteller. You did him proud!
Diann - February 20, 2023 3:39 pm
I love this story- I love your transparency- I love how God works!
Carol Cleckler - February 20, 2023 7:06 pm
I just finished reading The Incredible Winston Brown, and now I understand. Thank you, Sean, loved the book and love you!
Robert Chiles - February 27, 2023 3:52 pm
A consolation from your dad