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Coffin: Paving Over Memories

In my early years, a four room back apartment on Woodstock’s Pleasant Street housed my parents, myself, twin brothers, and later a younger sister.

Behind the house a lawn sloped down to a level area with vegetable and flower gardens. We skied and slid on the gentle hill in winter, and in spring, summer and fall we often picnicked beneath a soaring butternut and pines. My mother read to us the adventure stories we loved. We helped Poppa in the garden, and he taught us to play ball. Many evenings we watched the moon rise and the stars emerge.

In one corner of that back yard was our play place, and it also became the favorite place of an addition to the family that arrived before our sister. He was a black and white cat, ever friendly, who kept the premises relatively free of mice, and was a constant companion of us brothers while at play.

Scamper was well loved by the Coffins; even my father, in his quiet way, patted him every chance he got. One spring day our neighbor, Aunt Ada Maynes, came breathless to the door. Scamper was trapped on a narrow ledge below Kedron Brook bridge. But father lowered a bushel basket on a rope, and Scamper hopped in to be raised 30 feet to safety.

Childhood days that almost seemed endless always included Scamper, and he often purred me to sleep at night.

I suppose he’d been with us three years when my grim-faced parents told us that Scamper had died. They led us down to our play place and, there he was, seemingly asleep. We wrapped him in a blanket, Poppa dug a hole in the garden, and we buried Scamper as everyone wept.

For decades when visiting Woodstock, I’ve sometimes walked down behind the old house to that place so rich with memories, now bordered by what have become monster pines. I’ve gone to that spot where we gave that beloved cat his final rest. Then, the other day, I found that the old garden had become a parking lot, excavated and filled with gravel and pea stone. Once again, the internal combustion engine had triumphed over landscape.

Still, I knew the place where my first pet had been buried. And standing there, by the back end of an SUV, I wondered whether the people working the big machines had noticed, in some scoop of ripped up earth and grass, the small, delicate bones of something that had once been deeply loved - a middle-sized cat that had lived way back in the Forties. He was, for a precious span of time, an important part of one small-town Vermont family that did some wonderful things together – cat and all.

Howard Coffin is an author and historian whose specialty is the Civil War.
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