By Chelsea Vollrath
As Paige and I sat in Restaurant 101, we both gazed out of the restaurant’s big front windows, taking in the sites of Mocksville while enjoying our lunch. Our eyes traced the main street as far as the windows would allow based on where we were sitting. We watched as a steady stream of men and women walked by, some stopping in the various shops lining the street, others continuing on to destinations unknown to us. One man in particular caught our attention. The metal knee brace on his left knee inhibited his walking ability and caused him to linger in front of the window longer than most passersby. Hadn’t he passed before? Wasn’t he just on this side of the street?
Considering the speed at which he was walking by the window and the number of times I saw him pass, he held my attention throughout most of the meal. I wondered why he kept walking by, seemingly without a specific destination in mind. I wanted to talk to him and find out more about him; dressed in a tattered denim shirt with a six inch rip down the back, acid-washed jeans, the knee-brace, heavily-worn work boots, and a backwards hat, he just looked interesting. I was too timid to approach him, though, so when we finished our meal we didn’t pursue finding him to start a conversation and just began our exploration of the town’s small shops and businesses. After leaving the first store and heading to the second, we passed him sitting on a bench on the sidewalk. We smiled politely and intended to keep walking, despite my interest in him, until he stopped us.
“Hey! Hey girls,” he called out to us. “Come here, I need to tell you something.”
Paige and I exchanged a skeptical glance, questioning if we should go talk to him. We chuckled, and turned around.
“Hello, sir. What’s up?”
He motioned with his index finger, encouraging us to come closer; we obliged.
“I want you to make me a promise.”
Again, Paige and I looked at each other, laughed, and nodded our heads in agreement. “Okay, what is it?”
“Stay beautiful. Just, stay beautiful. You’re both beautiful girls…and, and I just want you remember to stay beautiful.”
His words were muffled and difficult to understand, but his message was clear. We thanked him for his kindness, quietly laughed to each other and proceeded to walk on as he continued calling out after us.
We walked into the bookstore and talked to the storeowner, but when we left, the friendly townie was still sitting on the bench where we’d left him. We walked by him again, and this time as we were approaching, he initiated conversation. He asked us if we remembered our promise to him. We stated we did, but he proceeded to repeat himself. When he finished babbling about our promise to stay beautiful, we seized the opportunity to learn more about him; well, as best as we could. We asked how long he’s lived in Mocksville and he quickly responded he’s lived in the town for his entire life, calling himself “The Town Cat.” Yet again, Paige and I exchanged confused glances. The town cat? What does that mean? When we asked him, he seemed surprised we didn’t understand. He explained everyone calls him cat because he can’t remember people’s names so he calls everyone cat. “Cat” continued to tell us that, due to an accident that occurred when he was 16, he is paralyzed on the right side of his body and doesn’t have a good short-term memory. I was tempted to ask him to tell more about the accident but, afraid of offending him, I didn’t press the issue. I was still processing his explanation of being “The Town Cat,” anyway.
We tried to get him to comment on Highway 64 and its influence on the town, hoping he’d have more incite than most considering he’s lived there his whole life. That was wishful thinking.
“This is what I can tell you about Highway 64,” he began. He turned his hat around to be facing forward, before continuing. Pointing to his left, and then to his right, he explained, “It goes that way, and that way.” Again, we laughed. He hadn’t given us much information, but he certainly was amusing. We needed to move on, but before we did, Paige asked to take his picture. He agreed, but first insisted that he turn his hat backwards to show the hat’s message: “FBI: Forever Believer in Jesus.” He formed the shaka on his left hand. “I want you to get a picture of how I always am,” he explained, and then Paige took the picture.
I shook his hand, told “Cat” it was nice to meet him, and wished him well before we continued on. He continued gesturing with the shaka, rotating it back and forth for emphasis, and reminded us, yet again, to stay beautiful.