"Adelaide!" said Mrs. Cornett, "do you mean to encourage that cat to go out and gossip about us in the servants' hall?"
Some of you may remember my post paying tribute to Kurwenal,
Nazi Germany's most famous talking dog.
"But, Undine," you probably asked yourself. "What about cats? If there is any breed of animal that seems a natural for shooting off at the mouth and putting humans in their proper place, surely it would be our beloved masters, the felines. Where are your talking cats?"
Glad you asked.
On June 7, 1963, Mrs. Ruth Deem (some sources say "Deems,") of Lake Hamilton, Florida, heard mewing in some tall grass near her home. When her husband James went to investigate, he found a wet, bedraggled, and very unhappy white kitten. The little creature was in poor health--it was anyone's guess how long he had been abandoned--but veterinary care enabled him to pull through.
And so the Deems found they had acquired a new member of their household. As they already had a pure black cat named "Blackie," it seemed only natural to name the kitten "Whitey."
All was entirely normal until Whitey was six months old. One morning, he jumped on Mrs. Deem's bed and stared her straight in the eye. As is common with cats, he was demanding that his lazy human get up and provide him with breakfast. What is not so common is that, according to Mrs. Deem, Whitey then declared, "I'm hungry!"
"I thought I was hearing things," Mrs. Deem later recalled. "A cat can't talk."
She stared at her pet. "Mama," he said impatiently, "I'm hungry."
"What did you say?"
I'm not sure what you would do if a cat suddenly began asking for a meal, but I would probably react in the same way as Mrs. Deem: get up and give the cat a meal. She said nothing about the incident to her husband or anyone else.
A few days later, Mr. Deem was lying on his bed. Whitey jumped up to join him. "Whitey," James said playfully, "you're a bad cat."
"I am not
a bad cat," Whitey retorted. "I want to go out."
"Did you hear that?"
Mr. Deem shouted to his wife. She then confessed that this was old news to her.
|Whitey and the Deems|
Whitey proved to be quite the chatterbox. Whenever Mrs. Deem returned from the store, he would greet her with "What did you bring me?" He would paw through the groceries until he found what he wanted, and then say, "Open!" One day when he was out by their front porch, he summoned her with "Come! Come! He's a big one!" She discovered that the object of Whitey's admiration was a large snake. When she screamed, the cat snorted, "Mama's a coward." (It must be said that our hero had his softer side. He was fond of telling Mrs. Deem "I love you, Mama.") Whitey was also a big fan of watching TV, although he seemed confused about whether the action he saw onscreen was real or not.
The Deems shared the news about their remarkable cat to the neighbors, who reacted pretty much the way you'd think. One friend, Marshall Ferguson, privately believed the Deems were "loose upstairs," until the day Whitey trotted past him, calling, "Where's Ma?" A few days later, Whitey marched up to Mrs. Deem tattling that Ferguson had once hit him with a newspaper. Ruth went over to the neighbor and asked if he had ever hit Whitey. He recalled that once, he saw Whitey and Blackie fighting. He had struck them with a rolled up newspaper to stop them.
But how did Ruth know about this? Then it hit him. "That damn cat told her."
Unfortunately, Whitey was fond of street brawls. Around this same time, another cat fight landed him in the vet's office. He told the vet's assistant, "I want to go home."
The startled man looked around him. There was nobody else in the room....except that cat. He told the vet what had happened. The vet presumed that it was his employee who really needed medical help. The vet went and took a peek at Whitey. Whitey said, "I want to go home."
Inevitably, word spread that there was something unusual about Mr. and Mrs. Deem's cat. Their home was soon overrun with newspaper reporters, paranormal investigators, and simple pesky looky-loos. In true cat fashion, Whitey generally refused to cooperate with these intruders, staying exasperatingly mute in their presence. There were, however, one or two exceptions. One day, a traveling preacher sought out the Deems, eager to meet their loquacious cat. As he was chatting with them, they were all disconcerted to hear Whitey tell the visitor, "Why don't you go home?" The cat added, "He's a stinker!"
"Aren't you ashamed of yourself?" the embarrassed Mrs. Deem told her pet.
"I am not!
" snapped Whitey.
On another occasion, the Deems were on a road trip to North Carolina. Finding it difficult to get hotel rooms with two cats in tow, the couple slept in their car. One night, as a policeman walked past their car, he heard a voice from inside the car cry, "Help! Help!" When he approached the car, he found two sleeping humans plus a large white cat.
The cat informed this officer of the law, "I want out, please. No one loves me."
Perverse, demanding, manipulative, and utterly indifferent to the feelings of humans. In short, Whitey was said to talk exactly the way you would expect a cat to talk, if it ever wished to talk. The moral is becoming clear: if you have a cat, and he or she stays silent, be grateful.
Sadly, Whitey was a cat who made poor lifestyle choices. He refused to remain an indoor cat. He was constantly demanding to be let outside, where he would wander the world and find trouble around practically every corner. During his travels, Whitey got into fights, was catnapped by strangers curious about this celebrity feline, was poisoned (whether by accident or deliberate malice was never known,) and even, on one occasion, was shot. Poor Whitey was a regular visitor to the vet's office.
On one of his journeys, Whitey was seen lounging around a vacant lot by a neighbor, Joe Rhodes. Rhodes approached the cat with the intention of rounding him up and bringing him back to the Deems.
"You can't catch me," Whitey told him.
We are told Rhodes was so surprised, "he nearly fell down."
In 1964, "Fate" magazine published an article by Susy Smith about Florida's most loquacious feline. Smith wrote that while Whitey had, to date, remained silent in her presence, she was eager to pay the cat another visit. "I will never be satisfied until Whitey speaks to me."
I cannot say if Whitey ever did. As far as I can tell, by 1967 he had simply disappeared from the newspapers. I fear it's possible that around that time, Whitey's many vicissitudes took its toll on him, and he passed away. Hopefully, I'm wrong, and he instead spent many more years happily driving everyone around him stark staring mad.
In 1964, a friend of Mr. and Mrs. Deem, the Rev. Bennett William Palmer, told a reporter, "There is no element of rumor or hearsay or gossip in any of the stories regarding the talking cat. Every story which has gone to press has been vouched for by from one to three witnesses who have claimed to have heard the cat talk. Unbelievable as it is to many, it is as authentic as human testimony can make it."
Every now and then, I come across a story where I simply do not know what to say about it. The Talking Cat of Florida is one of them.