Looking for a Peace Camp, Finding a Friend

By Delany Dean

It was a cold spring morning, 10 years ago in Kansas City. Sam Day's idea was that we would find a nice farmer who owned land surrounding a missile silo, somewhere out in the country. The farmer would let us put on sort of a peace camp on the property. This would be a totally different type of activity from our previous intrusions into actual silos; the arrests, detentions, releases, trials, and imprisonments. So Sam and I got in his car early on a spring morning, with our trusty Nukewatch silo map, planning to visit as many nearby property owners as possible. My apparent function, since I was a lawyer, was to lend some type of legitimacy to our request. I found this part of the plan highly questionable, but went along anyway. Going anywhere with Sam Day was guaranteed to be some kind of adventure.

Mary Knebel packed us some snacks, oranges and bananas, and we had some coffee. Off we went. Each time we approached a missile silo, we'd look for the nearest farm house, trying to find the farmer who owned the property surrounding the silo. When we found that house, we'd go up the driveway, park the car, and head for the front door. Since we were out in the country, of course, this process was nearly always interrupted by the resident dog, who would greet us, check us out, and accompany us to the door. Some of these dogs were friendlier than others (same for the people who answered the door). Most of our chats with the homeowners were interesting, because Sam made them so. But we had no genuine takers for our plan.

This went on all day. At one point, we slowly drove past a house that had frozen shrubs draped entirely over the front door. There was a strong sense of abandonment and emptiness about the whole place. I suggested that we move on. Sam insisted we give it a try. So, up the driveway we drove, and stopped. We sat for a moment. Great stillness greeted us. No dog bustled toward us. It was clear to me that nobody had lived there for a while. We got out of the car anyway, and stood beside the car for a bit. Then we saw, in the place of the usual dog, a different kind of creature approaching us up the drive. He was a very small kitten, and he walked deliberately up to my feet. Fearless. He placed his cheek on my ankle and rubbed, giving me the universal cat gesture of friendliness and supplication. He was no more than six weeks old, and terribly emaciated. Obviously, he was starving. I reached down to pick him up, but he leapt from my hands back to the ground, clearly unused to being held by a human. Then he circled back to me, quietly meowing, looking into my face, rubbing my leg with his face, beseeching.

I steeled myself to his entreaties, putting off the necessary decision. Sam and I walked around the place. We saw that the doors were boarded up, the porch had been broken into, and discarded clothing was scattered around out back. Kitten followed us. Clearly he owned the joint, all by himself. No other cats of any age or size were about. He was charcoal striped, with white stockings, a white chest ,and a brick red nose with a white stripe. He was handsome, and had a marvelous dignity in his need.

"Sam, we have to take the kitten with us," I finally said. "He's starving."

"We have some food in the car," Sam replied. "We could give him something."

"Sam, we have oranges and bananas. Cats won't eat fruit. We have to take him with us."

God only knew what I was going to do with him. I already had one cat at home, and two dogs. That was enough cats, for sure. I vaguely hoped one of the fuzzy-minded, soft-hearted Peace Planter folk would happily take him home. There would be a bunch of people at Mary's that evening, at dinner. I'd palm him off on somebody then.

Sam agreed, and off we went, again The kitten sat on my lap, loudly purring, gently biting my fingers. I was acutely conscious of the need to feed this little fellow something, but the next silo was closer than the next town, so we made one more stop. Up another long muddy driveway we went, then stopped to find a diligent Airedale performing his guard duties. My own experience as the childhood companion of an Airedale told me that it would be by far the best if this dog never saw our kitten.

Fortunately, the kitten seemed happy enough to stay out of sight. We cautiously got out of the car and had a stilted chat with the woman inside the house. We learned that she, like nearly all her neighbors, was extremely supportive of the United States air force and all its missions, strategies, and tactics, including the use of nuclear missiles outside her side door, and she had no desire to learn more about any possible peace camp of any description. All this didn't take very long, and we stayed out on the front step throughout. I remained acutely aware of the presence, then the absence, of The Dog. Usually, on these visits, The Dog stayed near the strangers. This Dog, however, for some reason, found it important to further investigate the car that the strangers came in.

Oh, NO! He saw the kitten, and the kitten saw him! A terrific row ensure, with much barking, a ferocious leaping at the car windows. Sam and I quickly said good-bye and hustled back to the car. We managed to squeeze inside, while also refusing entrance to The Dog, who fervently wished to join us inside the car. By this time, the kitten was nowhere in sight, but this hardly mattered any more. The jig was up. Sam got the car going, but we still had that very long muddy driveway ahead of us. He gave it the gas, then he gave it a lot of gas. We found that the mud would allow no more than maybe 2 or 3 mph, which The Dog could easily manage on three legs, leaping and snapping at the car windows, snarling, barking, frothing, and using his other leg all the while to swipe at the paint on the car doors. It was a genuine nightmare, complete with slow-motion.

While our wheels spun during an eternity down the driveway, I took a look back at the front door of the house. The nice lady was not calling her dog. The nice lady had a smile on her face.

Eventually we got out of that slippery driveway, away from that dog, and into a convenience store that sold Tender Vittles. Kitten stuck his face into a packet and inhaled the whole thing, then one more. We continued our rounds of silos till the day was done, then headed back to Kansas City.

At dinner that evening at Mary Knebel's, I offered Kitten up for adoption. As it turned out, I was the only fuzzy-minded, soft-hearted Peace Planter who would take him. He's lived with me for ten years now, grown into a grand and beautiful tigerish cat, and I often tell him how glad I am we found each other in that frozen driveway back ten years ago His name is Winston. I often wish I'd named him "Sam."

Delany Dean was a Nukewatch volunteer attorney and represented several Peace Planters in court.