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       Uncle Dan was unquestionably our favorite Uncle. He was the one who was there when we needed some small favor of one sort or another. He willingly lent us his pick-up truck, weed-eater, an ounce of turpentine, or whatever. He kept his garage set up in such an orderly way there seemed to be no end to what he had on hand. His dedication to his own family was something as sure as the sunrise but he was also forever willing to lend a hand to someone in the extended family who truly needed his help.

        “I'm willing that lawn mower to you!”  He joked with a niece who was a single mother  constantly having trouble with her old mower. “There is one condition. You will have to use it to mow your grandmother's brother's  plot at the cemetery. Seems like, up to now, I'm the only one to do that.”  He knew he was safe on that order. She was a feminine little woman who really didn't even like to mow her own yard. This was just his way of joking with whoever happened to be within ear shot.

       Uncle Dan had a pet cat who was decidedly the most spoiled animal to ever live. Snoops wasn't a normal cat. He was more like a dog. His devotion was total.  Any evening Snoops could be seen curled up on his master's lap or following him about the house.

      “What do you think about my watch cat?”  Uncle Dan might joke with a visitor.

      “Looks like he needs to go on a diet?”  Someone would  reply.

      “Aw no, he's just pleasingly plump,” He might chuckle.  Or maybe he would laugh, “It's that steak. Prime cuts, you know. Runs the cholesterol up.”

      And then, all at once, Snoops disappeared. He  just was no longer there. No loud insistent meowing  at the back door steps was heard.  His bowl in the kitchen was clean and empty with clean newspaper under it. No one had the heart to take the bowl up. Fresh kitty litter on the back porch waited for that cat but he wasn't around.

      Should someone  ask about Snoops Uncle Dan would look away and not answer. He simply had a far off look in his eyes or he might clear his throat only to look down at his hands which were folded in front of him where the cat once rested on his lap.

       Anyone close to Uncle Dan would not ask him about Snoops, but instead asked his wife.

      “He just didn't show up one day after I  let him out. He plain didn't come back. We thought maybe he would show up sooner or later but he just hasn't. Sure is lonely without him.”

       For months Snoop was gone, actually until everyone was sure he was only history in the family.

       Auntie was telling the story now. “I heard this pitiful crying cat outside the door. I couldn't imagine what a cruel trick someone must be playing. When I went to the door there on the steps was this wild looking cat. He was skin and bones. His fur was all matted and he had a haunted look on his face. When I opened the door, he simply shot into the house. He ran as quick as anything exactly to where his bowl was left out. We had left it where it always was because we couldn't stand the thought of putting it away.”

      “That poor cat.  It was the same color as Snoops, knew where the food bowl was and had cried to come in the house.  It had to be our cat but, Oh My! He was in  sad shape. I don't guess we will ever know what happened to him.”

       It wasn't too long before Snoops was back to his rightful position. He was even more of a companion to Uncle Dan than before. It was like he wasn't going to be caught out of his sight again. The only difference in the cat was his personality toward guests. He had changed. His favorite place now was on a small ledge right beside the back door, eye level to the person entering. The color of the cat blended so well with the wall anyone could walk up and start into the house without seeing him. Just as they reach for the door knob this most unfriendly snarl and hiss catches  their  attention. It was a warning in cat language of some sort.

       What had been a joke before as far as being a watch cat was concerned had now become a reality? He seemed to be saying, “I'm no longer Mister,  nice guy cat, let's get this straight right from the start. We have an understanding, you don't live here and I don't trust you.

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