Brutus and Hoppy: Two voices, one heart
This is the story of the ties between an ordinary man and an extraordinary cat
By KATHLEEN KEANE
Special to The News Journal
WILMINGTON — This is a simple story, uncomplicated, and life-affirming. A story about an old man and his best friend, which happened to be a cat
Earl Hopkins Sr., or Hoppy as he preferred to be called, was an ordinary old man living out his days on the back porch of his house on a tree-lined street in Trolley Square, drinking non-alcoholic beer, watching John Wayne movies on TV, and listening to music on the radio his daughter bought for him last Father’s Day.
He saw nearly everything that needed seeing, done nearly everything that needed doing. His life, without digging too deeply, was ordinary. Married a few times, widowed, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, he spent his working life as a long-distance hauler, driving rigs from Florida up to Canada. He served his country as a Marine in the South Pacific from 1942 to 1946.
An ordinary 86-year-old man waiting for the end of days.
His days came to an end on July 15. Hoppy died of complications of a stroke. He will be missed by his family, his neighbors and his friends. He will be sorely and sorrowfully missed by his extraordinary feline friend, Brutus.
Though his pedigree is a bit murky, Brutus resembles a rather fat Siamese.
“We look kinda alike,” said Hoppy in an interview only weeks before he died. “We both have blue eyes and a big chunk of our ear is missing. He lost his in a catfight, and I lost mine to cancer.”
Brutus was a present to Hoppy from a daughter, who worked at Faithful Friends and took a liking to him.
“We figured he was about 6 years old, and he came into the house, and took over the place, and adopted me. He follows me wherever I go. Likes to be outside on the front porch, just sits there and watches folks go by when he’s not following me around.
“I was in the hospital a few weeks back, getting my blood pressure under control, and you would have thought the world had come to an end, as far as Brutus was concerned. He went around the neighborhood looking for me, crying and hissing, and generally making a nuisance of himself.
“I’ve always had pets, raised Dobermans for a while, and had all sorts of dogs and cats over the years. But this guy, Brutus, he is something else, almost human. Knows all the kids on the street, I call him the Mayor of Gilpin Avenue. Knows everyone, talks to everyone, and yeah, he goes out at night, and I don’t ask where he goes. That’s his business. When I call, he comes. That’s all that matters to me.
“People walking down the avenue call out, ‘Hey, Brutus,’ and he goes bounding off the porch to be greeted. He is so darn popular, I had my son-in-law erect a wooden stand on the corner with a beautiful picture of him along with his biography for the enjoyment of the neighbors. (see photo, right)“
“Brutus knows all the regulars who walk on this street,” said Hoppy’s daughter, Dot Nead, 63. “He knows the time of day each one comes by, and he actually waits on the front steps for them. A runner comes by daily and of course, Brutus is waiting for him. The runner stopped me one day and asked if he was special, because the cat always made such a fuss over him, and I told him, no, everyone is special to Brutus.”
Although Brutus’ lineage is unknown, Hoppy and his family have been in these parts for generations.
“I was born up in Forty Acres; do not confuse Forty Acres with Trolley Square. Trolley Square is a shopping center; remember when it was the old trolley barn. My grandfather delivered mail in the neighborhood, and my father was a city firefighter.
“Brutus eats the same food as I do, give him a filet now and then, and he loves the inside of my sandwiches.
“He’s my baby and my friend. We love each other. And sure, he sleeps with me. At 7 a.m. on the button, he puts his nose right up to mine.”
Hoppy will no longer be wakened by his pal Brutus. And Brutus is distraught. He either roams about the house looking for Hoppy, or sits likes a sphinx on the porch waiting for the master who will never arrive.
Brutus will still greet his neighbors on Gilpin Avenue. He is simply moving his perch several doors away to take up residence with one of Hoppy’s neighbors, who lives with her 8-year-old grandson Matthew and his bunny, Pichu.
But cats like Brutus don’t forget. Brutus won’t forget the days on the back porch with Hoppy. Or he nights they snuggled close.
Brutus is waiting.
Waiting for the day to come when they will again sleep together. Brutus and Hoppy, faithful friends, forever.
The Hopkins family has allowed this reporter to become Brutus’ new caretaker. Brutus has had no comment.