Vol. 1, No. 1: The First Pitch photo

Back Nine Claire Hopple

I asked my dad why we weren’t taking the Turnpike to Erie and he said the tolls are outrageous.

You can see it traveling north on the Pennsylvania Turnpike: a beacon of oddity alongside the Oakmont Country Club. This mural of a bright orange tabby cat playing with a classic ball of twine, the words PUDGIE-WUDGIE across it. 

That was the only reason I asked or even noticed which way we were going. I wanted to see it again. I wanted to make sure it was still there on what might be the last trip to see my grandma. She’s survived all the other grandparents. The only one standing. Well, not really standing. 

“What began as a few amazing tricks turned into a life of international celebrity,” says pudgiewudgie.com. The becostumed, toddler-sized cat appeared in National Enquirer and a Dad’s Cat Food commercial, but also on the shows of Maury Povich and David Letterman. 

Pudgie-Wudgie was adopted by Frank Furko in 1986, the same year I was born. Furko used to be a lineman at Plum High School, a Korean war vet, and a musician in a polka band, which totals up to the truest of yinzers. He once played the accordion for Elvis, according to his obituary in the Trib. 

Our black cat was named Midnight, which seemed clever at the time. When Kevin McCallister in Home Alone 2 flaunted his Talkboy on screen, I needed it. And once I got this recorder with its spacey robot aesthetic, one of the first things I did was interview my cat. There was a lot of silence. I persisted with further questions, but he refused even the slightest mewling into the microphone. 

Tiger Woods had to wonder who this cat was. Maybe he even tried a quick Google search when he wasn’t on the green at one of the nine U.S. Opens the Oakmont Country Club has hosted. Did he envision Frank jamming on an accordion for Elvis and Pudgie-Wudgie in heaven? Did they choreograph a traditional polka dance complete with bold sways of their hips? 

We gave away Midnight after only a year or two. My sister was allergic. Somehow the school nurse found out. She was incensed. She always smelled like cat pee and her skin looked like sewn-together rawhide. Why didn’t Erin just get shots, she wanted to know. My sister also found out she was allergic to dust and that meant I was suddenly responsible for swabbing her turtle figurine collection with the duster every few weeks. So maybe I should have taken cues from the school nurse and asked more questions. But if we kept score like that, I’d be on the losing end.