The vet said Sparky died of natural causes. Aunt Fern said it was probably something he ate. Mildred said that cat had been electrocuted, caught on fire, painted pink, and dressed up as a camel for the Buncam Baptist Christmas pageant- that if that did not add up to nine lives, nothing did. Personally, I think Sparky had finally had enough of this crazy family, got a hold of some pills, and took his own life. He just picked the wrong week to do it.
It was Great Uncle Edsel's 90th birthday and a great cause for celebration since he was not supposed to live this long, having been diagnosed with some rare disease that none of us could pronounce. The doctors had given him a month, two at the most. We had accepted it, and so had Edsel, who had chosen to spend the remainder of his time intoxicated. That was ten years ago and the man had soaked up so much alcohol we could not let him blow out the candles on his cake for fear he'd blow us all up. So nobody noticed Sparky's suicide note or discovered his contorted body until the party was in full swing and the kids decided to play hide 'n seek.
It was Sammy Junior who crawled under the bed to hide, and came eye to eye and cheek to cheek with the dearly departed Sparky whose face had frozen in a wide-eyed snarl. It's safe to say that both of them were equally petrified. Sammy's scream circled the block as relatives ran in to face a situation far more interesting than hearing Uncle Bert's new country song which had fourteen verses and ended up sounding like Hank Williams with a speech impediment. They all took turns peering under the bed and saying, "Yep, it's a dead cat all right." It was obvious that the next step was to remove Sparky from under the bed, and equally obvious that nobody wanted that job.
"You get it," someone whispered.
"I is not touching it. You touch it!"
"I'm not touching it! You touch it!"
And the phrase was passed from one to another until they finally elected Big Ed, who was a cop. How different could this be from the time Old Man Foster passed out in the congealed salad at the little league picnic? Big Ed, with an image to protect, yelled for a broom, hitched up his pants, and bent down to survey the situation. Minutes later, with sweat-laced brow, he swept Sparky and a family of dust bunnies out from under the bed while we hovered behind him with held breath, staring at the cat who lay frozen on his back with all four paws up in the air , just like Aunt Ethel when she fainted during her solo at church. Somebody sneezed and Big Ed's arm jerked the broom and Sparky skidded across the floor, landing with a thud against Mildred's walker creating instant hysteria as people literally climbed over each other to get out. It was a tragic moment that secured the job of every therapist within a thirty-mile radius. Mildred hyperventilated. Skeeter swallowed his snuff. And Aunt Bitsy says that was the trauma that caused her to start eating carbs again. Once they got Uncle Edsel's heart started back up, they decided that they had no choice but to either bury Sparky or prop him up in a wing chair until the party was over. Loretta set off to find a box, because everybody knows the wing chair's reserved for Granny Jean once her medication kicks in.
We tried getting Sparky into several boxes, but his tail kept popping out, causing shrieks of horror every time Ed tried to stuff it back in. Finally we settled on little Emily's Barbie Camper with the side awning that made a great place for his tail. It was appropriate, as Sparky had always loved riding shotgun in Skeeter's mobile party camper with the flashing Budweiser light. The only place we could find dirt soft enough to dig was in the front yard. So you can imagine the dismal scene we presented to the latecomers who were now driving up to the party carting cases of beer – only to find us standing around a hole with Big Ed digging knee-deep in dirt. We all paused, looked up, and Ed announced solemnly, "You're too late. He's already gone." The tardy relatives dropped to their knees, faces washed in grief (except for Vyrnetta who showed no emotion at all, not from womanly grit, but the botox injections she had received earlier that day.) We found their reaction to be somewhat overdramatic until we realized they thought the hole was for Great Uncle Edsel.
We cleared up the confusion, showed them that Great Uncle Edsel was still alive, and let them get one last peek at Sparky. And except for that moment when Sparky's burial robe (a silver sequined super hero cape with an "S" on the back) got caught on Erma's oxygen tank, the rest of the funeral went without a hitch. And that was the day dear old Sparky left this world. Great Uncle Edsel lived another ten years before deciding he'd had enough of this family too. We found him under the dining room table. At least he was dressed this time.