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I had only known Willie Morris through his books. It was his words, read in faraway places like Colorado and Manhattan and Nantucket, that helped me realize how southern I really was, that I wasn't the only Mississippian to be stung by northern condescension, that you can, and often should, go home again.
I read "My Cat Spit McGee" right after I returned in 2001. In it, I found a love story of the tallest order—that of a confused Mississippi writer, divorced, returning home and meeting the love of his life. The Cat Woman, JoAnne Prichard, would teach Willie much about love, I think—not the least of which is that you don't have to choose. You can love Mississippi and New York. Your work and your partner. Yourself and others. Cats and dogs. Skip and Spit.
Soon JoAnne burst into my life—a captivating Cat Woman with her hands a-flutter who adores life, and people, and Mississippi, and words, and optimism. When I first visited her house on Crane Boulevard, Spit was sunning out back. I approached him slowly, as he turned his blue-and-gold gaze on me with sleepy half-interest. I reached to scratch his head. He let me, as Bessie and Mamie, the skittish little thing, appeared to be loved, too.
JoAnne and the cats would live in the other side of our duplex after she sold the Crane house, a creative time when the JFP was born amid marathon conversations and inspirational Willie stories. He had always told Spit to "guard the house" when he and JoAnne went out, and Spit did for us, too. For days after JoAnne moved into her new house a block behind us, Willie's snow-white sentinel returned to his post in front of our place, gazing intently.
Spit was my dear friend for two years. He was a superb listener. He attended meetings, and our staff holiday party, and would doze with me on JoAnne's sofa as she and Todd talked late into the night.
Through Spit and JoAnne, I grew to know a great man a little—a writer who chronicled our state with love, and with honesty. Willie wrote in "Spit McGee" that he believed Spit "had been dispatched in the spirit of Old Skip by the Almighty to make sure I am doing okay."
Spit died Aug. 10 at age 14 from a dog attack. Let it be written that Spit McGee did a damned fine job.
In response to requests to honor Spit, we are setting up the Spit McGee Memorial Fund to benefit Jackson Friends, a group that rescues strays; call 362-6121 ext. 5 for more details.
The version of this story posted earlier was muddled, with part of it left out. It's now been corrected.
If you wish to make a donation in honor of Spit McGee, please send checks to Jackson Friends Cat Program, P.O. Box 5922, Brandon, Miss., 39047. Jackson Friends is a no-kill rescue service that found homes for 985 stray cats in Jackson last year, in addition to helping individuals pay for spaying and neutering. Call Fiona LaCroix at 601-825-3214 if you need more details.
AP ran a story about Spit today:
Bless his heart.