Viola Smallwood, 85, hadn’t written much since her school days, but the escapades of her spunky cat Missy were a story to tell.
Now the story of her cat is tucked inside the pages of a children’s book, The Saga of Missy the Cat, making Smallwood, a retired Jackson Memorial nurse, a first-time author.
“I never had any intentions of writing a book,” Smallwood said. “I am an old lady. I just wanted to see if I could actually do it.”
And so she did. Smallwood was bright-eyed as she signed copies and read excerpts of her “cat book” during a book-signing Saturday at the Palace Suites, a retirement community in Kendall.
Marilyn Rolfs, 67, whose uncle is a resident at the Palace, brought her grandchildren to the signing. Her grandaughter, Ava, 6, arrived with her face painted as a cat and got a copy of the book signed by Smallwood.
“A lot of seniors think that they can’t do a lot of things, but like we tell the kids, just try and see what happens,” Rolfs said.
Maia, 11, whose grandparents live in the retirement community, said she’s going to add the book to her reading list, adding that one day she herself could write one. “It doesn’t matter how old or young you are,” Maia said.
Smallwood inherited her cat, Missy, from another Palace resident who became ill and later passed away. When Smallwood became sick, Missy remained a source of support and companionship. The story is told from the cat’s point of view, and, in the book, Smallwood refers to herself as the “keeper.”
“Missy was quite a cat,” she said. “When I was sick, she never left me.”
The book is a collection of Missy’s life in the retirement community. Smallwood would tell the stories to her friends at dinner. On a few occasions, her friends would write down stories and pass them back to Smallwood.
“One day I came across Missy’s folder, and thought, ‘Gee, I better do something with these,’ ” she said. Over the course of two years, the book took shape.
Smallwood then started contacting publishers, “but most of them weren’t interested in cat books.” Eventually, Dorrance Publishing Co. in Pittsburgh agreed to put her book on the stands. “I thought, when they find out how old I am, they’ll rescind their contract,” she said.
But they didn’t, and a few weeks later, Smallwood received her own stack of copies. The book hit the stores Aug. 6.
What became of Missy the cat? One day, while Smallwood was in bed recovering from her illness, Missy “got out” and never made it back.
“She had never been out. I know that she didn’t go out to the streets of Miami, Kendall Drive, and live,” she said. “I cried for days.”
In a way, the book was able to capture the essence of Missy.
“I saw that cat come over and kiss her when she was in bed,” said Rose Pollock, a fellow resident at the retirement community and a friend of Smallwood. “Every word is very authentic.”