Ode To Mr. Tibbs

This is a piece I wrote probably about 12 years ago while living in Tennessee. In re-reading it, however, I must say that if I were writing it today it would probably read somewhat differently. Guess it’s true, as my writing professors at OSU in Ohio said all those years ago, you need to write every day. Eventually your writing voice will come through and establish itself. Since this is actually about an animal I have known, and one who was rather special to me, I decided to include it here for posterity or example or whatever.

Where is it written that a woman must always answer every time someone rings the doorbell? And be cordial and kind to whoever is on the other side of the door no matter what time of day or night or whether or not they’d been expected? Whoever it was forgot to tell my southern mama, who would never think of ignoring whoever or whatever came to her front door and, being a good mother, she taught me well by example. She’d stand and chat for hours with whoever chanced upon the dirt road that ran by our house. Whether they were stopping to sell their wares or ask directions, she always asked them to sit a spell in the porch shade. It never mattered what she was in the middle of or how many chores she’d still have to do before the day ended. She would never dream of making anyone feel he or she were an intrusion.

The other day, after my own day of fulfilling myriad obligations to one and all—dutifully taking my vitamins and eating to please the doctor monitoring my cholesterol, etc—I decided to take a shower and put on clean clothes in the middle of the afternoon instead of early morning. I did, and it felt good. My husband was out of town and, needing to watch no one’s clock but my own, I then decided to drive out and pick up a takeout for an early supper. I even bought a forbidden package of Cheetos Crunchies I planned NOT to tell my husband about (they have 18 grams of fat!) and a large coke. Back home I spread my bounty on the breakfast counter and climbed unto the swivel stool clutching the TV remote. I was enjoying my surreptitious and fatty supper while surfing between Oprah, the Simpson trial, and an old Tony Curtis movie when suddenly the doorbell rang. Who could it be? A policeman with bad news about my husband or kids? A neighbor? Or maybe a kid from the track team wanting a glass of water? I was loathe to risk losing momentum in my quest for satisfying only myself for the rest of the day. What was a properly raised southern girl to do?

Tibbs

I looked at my half eaten tuna sub and the forbidden Cheetos scattered on a paper napkin, and remembered Mr. Tibbs, who used to love sharing Cheetos with me years before. Where is it written that a woman, happily married with two children, can’t fall completely under the spell of another male? And who could have known all those years ago when we first met that he would become a role model of sorts for the beginning of my liberation—many years and miles away?

Mr. Tibbs would make a perfect Mother’s Day present, the children decided when they found him in a pet shop on a shopping excursion with their father. They brought him home in a perforated cardboard box, and set him down in front of me. He climbed out, sniffed my face, and then lunged past me to check out his new digs. Obviously impressed with the book lined shelves, he dusted a few books with his tail, then came back and jumped up to tub his tail against my face, thereby marking me his personal slave forevermore. Then he began to purr. From that moment until he died twelve years later, there was no question who called the shots in Mr. Tibb’s short life! Kids in the neighborhood referred to him as Tibbs the Terror, as he lay looking all sweet and innocent until one of them decided to pet him.

Back off, kid!” he’d snarl. Then he’d roll around—innocent once more—scratching his back on tufts of clover. Once, in full view of the owners, he chased a German shepherd from our front yard, hissing and slapping the dog’s face. The jogging owners glowered at me with a “can’t you control your cat?” expression, and the man stooped to pick up a rock and throw it. He missed, but might as well have aimed at one of my kids for the amount of respect I had left for him after that. Mr. Tibbs wandered over to me and brushed against my leg. “Good boy!” I whispered. He lay down in the sunniest spot on the sidewalk, flopped over on his back and rolled around contentedly.

The doorbell rang again, more insistent this time, and my southern mama, still trapped inside my head after 50 years, struggled with my liberated self. I had to fight hard not to go to that door. After a few silent moments I tiptoed to the living room window to peek outside. There was no car in the driveway, but several doors down I saw a well-dressed young man and knew, the “in your bones” way women know these things, that there was a van parked in the shade down the street, waiting for a crew to hawk magazines door-to-door under the guise of working their way through college. Or it might be the nice boys on missions for their church, or ladies who give doomsday prophesy and leave copies of their religious publications, and ask for a donation.

I have bought cleaning supplies and magazine subscriptions from people of every description and color. I wasn’t sure what would happen if I continued to ignore the doorbell’s chime, backed up now with insistent knocking. The TV was still blabbing that somebody was home, but with Tibbs-like resolve, I ignored the imploring knock, and eventually all was quiet again.

I went back to finish my tuna and Cheetos and thought about what had happened. There was no roaring thunder or slaps of lightning, no flooding, no resounding voice of reproach from the great beyond, and by the time I finished my Cheetos, I wasn’t even feeling guilty anymore. Instead I was feeling empowered…liberated! I sensed that the first time was the hardest…that I would do it again in a New York minute.

I got up from the kitchen stool, wiped up the counter and threw the paper wrappings in the garbage. I picked up the remote from the counter and walked over to the couch. Languishing sunshine washed its overstuffed cushions in a soft, yellow glow. In further homage to my long departed feline friend, Mr. Tibbs, I flopped down on my back and rolled around, feeling absolutely and positively liberated. I knew he’d approve.

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3 thoughts on “Ode To Mr. Tibbs

  1. Wonderful story. I’m glad you learned about ignoring the doorbell. I always figure the telephone works.

    My Mr. Tibbs was called Figaro. He looked a lot like Mr. Tibbs. Every time I see a cat with those markings I want another one. Maybe, one of these days.

    • Everyone should have a Mr. Tibbs in their life. I’m glad you had Figaro, Ruthe. I also am very tempted to try to get another cat someday, as every one I ever had, though they may have looked similar to other cats, had such unique personalities. If I get to the point that I can’t get travel anymore and one of my family or friends agrees to be Godmother or Godfather (to finish raising them if/when I die) I still might. They’re wonderful company. Though Mr. Tibbs lived only to 12 years, he was wonderful!

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