As Mike was about to enter his teen years, his mom began to recover from her depression. She still needed help, but not as much--which was good because Mike had inherited almost all of the outside chores from his older siblings and also helped his grandmother in her store. Cal & Don both still lived at home—Don was in high school. But they never seemed to be around when there was work to do. Cal had a job and was going to college, so he apparently got a pass on chores. Don was allowed to spend all of his free time at the local park. Either their parents hoped he’d have a career in sports or they felt it best to keep him away from Mike. Maybe it was just easier for them.
Cal was a very gentle soul who found it difficult to stand up for himself or others. Don was a hothead and a bully. Neither one reacted well in a crisis. Their dad tried to motivate Cal to stand up to Don (to toughen up Cal and teach Don a lesson). It didn’t work and he didn’t hide his disappointment. So Mike became the one to backup his father when there was a project or problem to tackle.
That resulted in Mike hearing a lot of lectures—including during the previously mentioned drives to and from church. His dad really went on and on about being honorable, keeping your word, building a good reputation, the importance of family, being responsible. The “responsible” part covered everything—responsibilities to your church, your family, the community, and finally to yourself. Others came first—don’t be a sucker, but help people when they need it. It was a little confusing to Mike since his dad didn’t always practice what he preached. But the lessons sunk in. Mike was very responsible.
One Saturday afternoon Mike’s grey cat came home hurt. It appeared he had been in a fight with a dog, but it could have been any large animal. The fur over his eye and around his mouth was torn and bleeding, fur was missing from the bottom half of his tail and, worst of all, his left hip was broken. Mike’s dad didn’t believe in taking pets to a vet. Whenever an animal got injured, he put it out of its misery. Mike’s job was to dig the grave in the woods—this had happened before. Mike had argued in the past to take the animals to a doctor, but his father refused. Mike had no money for a vet and no options.
Mike dug the hole, carried his pet into the woods, and waited for his dad to come with the rifle so he could leave. He never watched. But this time it was going to be different. His dad loaded the .22 rifle and handed it to Mike. Mike didn’t want to shoot his cat!!! His father explained that doing what needs to be done was hard sometimes, but it still needed to be done—you can’t wait around hoping someone else will take care of it. He gave Mike a choice: let his pet die a slow, painful death or put him out of his misery. Mike was 12 and had read “Old Yeller” in the 2nd grade, he understood. He just didn’t want to do it! His father showed him where to aim to make it painless and then he left.
The cat had saved his mom from a snake once, he was a hero. Mike couldn’t let him suffer. He talked with his pet for a minute and rubbed his back, hopefully where it wouldn’t hurt him. Then he stood up, aimed, and pulled the trigger. It was more terrible than he had imagined it would be. The cat didn’t die quietly. His body thrashed about, like it was being electrocuted. It was horrible. Mike buried his cat and gave the gun back to his father. He told his dad about the thrashing—he was afraid he’d botched it and caused the cat even more pain. But his dad assured him it was “normal”. Normal!!!
Mike didn’t get as attached to his pets after that. He loved them, but it was different...like loving them from a distance. The walls he built to keep people out were being extended to pets now.