This is my column from Friday in our local paper, the Daily Journal Messenger.

Oh Socks, where art thou?

Small losses can leave deep wounds. This is why my son, Elijah, still gets misty when we mention Socks, the cat. Not everyone is a cat person, you see, but Elijah has been one from way back. Socks came to us one Christmas when Elijah was about six years old. ‘What do you want, son?’ ‘A kitten, and some snacks for my dog.’ How do you argue with that?

Well, we didn’t. So Socks, and his brother Barbie (it’s a long story) came to live in our home. We knew they were for us when we found them at Fox’s Nest, lying in a hammock, arm in arm. Barbie, sleek and black, Socks gray and white, with (you might have guessed) a white moustache and white socks on his feet.

Not long after his arrival, Socks slipped outside into the woods. He cried his plaintive meow all night from a tree, and eventually my wife talked him down and eased him into the house where he was comforted with food and petted nearly silly. Since that time he was as content as can be. He slept with the children, ate more than he needed, bathed endlessly, slept like the dead and for fun, bit mouthfuls of fur out of his brother, who returned the favor. In short, he was a regulation cat. Standard issue, standard features.

Of course, Socks was also more than a cat. Socks was deeply religious. Every night, as the children and I sat down to read the Bible and have prayer, Socks would practically run to our side and lie nearby, listening to me read stories of our faith. I don’t know what he understood, not being sentient or literate so far as we know, but perhaps what he recognized was the stirring and soothing nature of the words. Maybe he sensed hope in them. Perhaps he heard the voice of his Maker, from deep in the recesses of time, echoing along the verses I spoke at bedtime. But then, I’m a writer. Maybe he just liked hanging out with everyone!

So it was with sorrow that, one evening in January, I noticed that Socks did not answer the call of rattling cat-food. Sometimes he slept soundly…as cats do. But I could not find him. No matter what I did, he did not respond. Our hearts sank when we realized that he might have slipped outside. He was curious, our Socks, but not the brightest bulb in the box.

We knew he wasn’t hiding when, for days, Barbie roamed the house meowing in the night. I imagined him saying, ‘come out, come out! You win! You’re the best at hiding!’

Later, I put up signs on our road. I knocked on doors, and my wife drove our sad little boy about the area, looking, hoping. I placed an ad in this paper. I had him announced on the radio. There was one call, near our home in Tamassee, for a gray cat. But it was a stripped feline, not our patchy Socks.

We don’t know, to this day, what befell our little buddy. I’ve watched cats before, as they looked out the window at birds and beasts. I wonder if they ever desire a little ‘walk-about.’ Or if, like the dog ‘Buck’ in Call of the Wild, they ever just disappear into the forest to be wild. Perhaps, for some of them, the house is too warm, the food too easy. Maybe they need to find themselves.

All I know is that my son still misses, and likely will always miss, Socks. And Barbie, the lonely brother with no desire to roam, is still lonely. And sometimes still calls out for his pal.

On the other hand, Socks was a cat of faith, it appears. So maybe we will have a miracle. A return of the ‘Prodigal Cat,’ though he really didn’t have anything to waste in foreign lands. And he was neutered, so there’s that.

But I know cats that have returned after years, so as our state motto says, ‘Dum Spiro, Spero.’ While I breathe, I hope. So if you took a cat in over the past few months, and if he could have come from Tamassee, and if he is gray and white, and seems to have an inordinate love of God, please drop me a line. We’ll reward you handsomely, from parents to child to elated feline sibling.

Because a cat is often more than just a cat. Especially Socks. Amen.

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