A neighbor drove by a couple of days ago. She slowed, stopped and rolled down her window.

“Do you want a kitten?” she asked.

Rather than answering her directly, I changed the subject.

“How many cats do you have right now?” I asked, thinking that that kitten was her kitten.

“Three,” she said. “The kitten makes four.”

It’s rare for anybody to have just one cat in our neighborhood. Cats come in multiples or they don’t come at all. Some neighborhoods have packs of dogs, we have cat gangs.

People classify their cats downtown. There are inside cats, porch cats and garage cats, a designation I hadn’t heard until recently when a neighbor told me she had one that lived in her garage.

Our last inside cat was Callie. Everybody has a Callie if they have had cats. A cat that shows up, sticks against all odds and when the kids move away, becomes the cat the kids ask about before they ask how you’re doing.

Callie is the cat that steals your heart and then breaks it when she dies at 18.

When Callie died, the breed died with her. She is not replaceable. When I go, Sue will be more likely to remarry then get another cat.

We’ve had porch cats since. The last ones were Blueberry and Marshmallow. Blueberry had bluish markings and you can guess what color Marshmallow was.

They lived on the front porch. They had comfortable beds, snappy silver water and food dishes, and since people tend to hang out on the front porch, had plenty of affection.

The drawback to front porch cats is they might be nursing a quiet grudge because they are outside cats rather than inside.

I can’t speak for garage cats. That seems like a different breed. A garage cat may be more like one of those guys who holes up in the desert and doesn’t have much use for civilization.

Porch cats are independent and tend to roam. They can cover the neighborhood in ways that would make Fuller Brush man envious.

Porch cats have some outlaw in them. They lean toward being high spotters, poachers and midnight ramblers.

Porch cats can be like wise guys in the mafia who have several aliases. We knew Marshmallow as Marshmallow, but Curt and Robin, our neighbors down the street, called him Homer. Our neighbor two doors down, referred to him simply as that big orange cat. Marshmallow probably had two or three other names, which we won’t know until we meet neighbors with whom he has decamped.

Porch cats have a tendency to disappear for long periods of time. Disappear for so long that that you give up on them and the day you empty and clean their bowls and get ready to write their obituaries, is the day they return, tail waving proudly as if they never left.

Marshmallow has been gone for months, his other people haven’t seen him either, so he’s probably done, but having said this, Marshmallow will likely show up tomorrow.

“Dad, we’re trying out a new porch cat,” Thomas said the other day. “He’s the gray one.”

I’ve seen the gray one. He is skittish, but will pause for a minute to “Here, kitty, kitty” before he disappears over the the porch wall.

“How’s the tryout going?” I asked.

“Pretty well,” Thomas said. “The only problem is that he lives on Jack’s porch and he’s one of their favorites.”

Jack was a neighbor, a good friend and here we were having a porch cat tryout with his cat.

“How many porch cats does Jack have?” I asked.

“Five.”

Five? Favorite or not, I’m not sure Jack will miss that cat.

If he does, there is a kitten down the street. A cat in his future. A cat moving his direction whether he is looking or not.

•••

The only thing we love more than our veterans is singing to our veterans. We get both with "A Salute to Our Veterans," a concert given by the Bakersfield Master Chorale. The concert will be held 7 p.m. Saturday at St. John's Lutheran Church. 

It's almost my favorite concert of the year. Talk about a rousing feel-good experience. This one will produce tears of joy. 

Guess what? It's free but the Chorale will gratefully accept donations. 

Herb Benham is a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at hbenham@bakersfield.com or 395-7279.

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