Pat Wahler

Penning stories to savor.

Month: January 2017

Just an Ordinary Guy and His Cats

Recently, I finished a book from the tall stack of volumes (also known as the to-be-read pile) sitting next to my bed.

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, by Therese Anne Fowler, is told from Zelda’s point-of-view, and describes her life with F. Scott Fitzgerald. Let it suffice to say the story often shows Mr. Fitzgerald in a less than flattering light.  In an even dimmer beacon, is the author’s portrayal of Fitzgerald’s friend and competitor, Ernest Hemingway.

Reading the story immediately reminded me of my visit a few years ago to Key West, Florida. I toured the beautiful home Hemingway and his second wife purchased in 1928 . Talk about working in Paradise!

Hemingway Home in Key West, Florida.

My first surprise occurred when I went through the gate and discovered the 52+ cats that live on the property. They go where they want to go, as long as its within the compound walls. Apparently, the animals are trained from kittenhood not to run out the gate, which is wide-open during business hours. Right off the bat, my mouth dropped open in amazement. I can’t train my cat, Bogey, to stay off the kitchen counters.

These cats have another unusual quality…their toes.

Legend has it a sea captain gave Hemingway a six-toed (polydactyl) cat named Snowball, because polydactyl cats bring good luck. Delighted with the feline, Hemingway soon became a die-hard cat lover.

Snowball, of course, went on to do what cats in pre-spay and neuter days did. He (or she) began to reproduce. Hemingway favored litters that produced “lucky” polys, and to this day, descendants of Snowball live a life of freedom and luxury at the Hemingway Home and grounds. They sit on furniture visitors aren’t allowed to touch. They frolic in the garden. They play rough as little tigers. One even pounced on my hand and left her mark. It didn’t bother me a bit. How many people can say they were scratched by a descendant of Hemingway’s cat?

Hemingway’s desk. A cat undoubtedly dozed in his lap as he worked. Because that’s what cats do.

So in response to the book’s depiction of Hemingway, maybe he did drink too much, sleep too little, and let the fact that he had a wife at home slip his mind from time to time. I still can’t help thinking that anyone so fond of cats could be all bad.

A poly at the Hemingway Home.

Hemingway, his two sons, and a few feline friends. (Wikimedia Common)

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The Tattle Tale

After several days of near seventy degree weather, we’ve finally settled back into a typical Missouri winter. The temperatures have dropped, and a widespread ice storm has coated trees and sidewalks. Most of us are staying inside.

When cold weather arrives, I buy an enormous bag of wild bird seed and fill up the feeder. We soon have a gathering of cardinals, blue jays, doves, sparrows, and even a red-headed woodpecker, dining right outside the window. This provides endless hours of viewing enjoyment for Bogey the cat, while Winston watches for random squirrels who like to crash our feathered friends’ party. Winston is great at chasing away squirrels.

Birds are fun to watch. I had a few pet parakeets when growing up, and our daughter had a cockatiel. We aren’t alone. Even a number of our country’s presidents were bird lovers. Some of these men included George Washington (parrot). Thomas Jefferson (mockingbirds). James Madison (green parrot). Yet none of them have a story quite as interesting as the parrot of President Andrew Jackson.

Jackson bought the African Grey as a gift for his wife, Rachel. After her untimely death, Jackson became Poll’s buddy and caretaker. Perhaps the president didn’t realize parrots live a very, very long time.

No likeness exists of Poll. This image of an African Grey is from African-Grey-Parrot.com

Poll proved it by outlasting his master.

In 1845, on the day of the president’s funeral at the Hermitage in Nashville, thousands of mourners arrived to pay their respects. Someone from the former president’s circle felt it only fair that Poll be allowed to say good-bye to his beloved friend, and allowed the bird to attend the funeral.

What happened next is best described by Reverend William Norment, the officiating clergyman.

“Before the sermon and while the crowd was gathering, a wicked parrot that was a household pet got excited and commenced swearing so loud and long as to disturb the people and had to be carried from the house.” According to Norment, people were “horrified and awed by the bird’s lack of reverence.”

To preserve the sensibilities of mourners, someone hustled the bird away from the shocking scene without delay.

Our most likely salty-tongued president, Andrew Jackson. (Image from The Miller Center)

The truth is, parrots don’t sit around on their perches making things up. They only imitate what they’ve heard. Sort of like a pre-technology recording device you can’t erase – at least, not humanely. This story has given me a totally new perspective on the personality of our seventh president.

He must have been one *#%! of a guy.

 

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New Year, New Possibilities

January 1 is the day I must observe certain rituals.

1. Eat at least two spoons filled with black-eyed peas. Eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day is considered lucky, as in the old saying, “Eat poor on New Year’s and eat fat the rest of the year”.  Because my mother and grandmother always followed this tradition, so do I, even though the peas taste remarkably like dirt. Note that immense amounts of seasoning can disguise their flavor and make eating them almost palatable.

2. Resolve to organize, economize, and simplify. Apparently, I’m not alone. Look at the ads currently bombarding us to buy storage containers, get rid of processed foods, and bring order to our financial houses. The only thing not on my list is a fitness program. I figure by the time I’ve economized, organized, and simplified, I’ll have become sufficiently exercised, too.

3. Finally, I flip page by page through my trusty paper calendar, and record all the important dates into a new monthly calendar. That’s right. In a world where most people rely on electronic calendars thoughtfully provided on every cell phone and computer in existence, I march out the day after Christmas to pick up my bargain half-price paper calendar. The pages look inviting as a wrapped gift under the Christmas tree. Oh, the possibilities of 365 brand new days!

Using calendars isn’t a modern concept. Even the ancients needed a way to track time. Between 2004 and 2006, archaeologists discovered what may be the world’s oldest calendar in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Dating from over 10,000 years ago, a group of twelve pits appear to align with the phases of the moon, and were likely created as a way to help hunter-gatherers better follow the passage of days and changing seasons.

Image from BBC News. The ancients were far better at understanding what this means than I am. 

I understand. My own life would be pretty confusing without the reminders provided by a calendar. And browsing through a full year of events leads to my absolute favorite New Year’s Day activity.

Reading the scribbled notes is a lot like reading a journal. A map of one year in my life. Remember that surprise birthday party? What a blast. We’ve been married how many years? Wow. Our son’s and daughter’s wedding anniversaries. They’re both hard-working and happy. The birth of our first grandchild. Such joy. Our yearly family pilgrimage to Rockbridge. We discovered a fun new place to stay. Doctor appointments. Ugh, guess it’s time to schedule that check-up (yes and one for Winston and Bogey, too). A writing conference, a contract, a few contest wins.

There were some tragic events, too, marked by funerals and celebrations of life. Family members and friends who left us too soon. Yet still I realize that overall, we were blessed in 2016.

The pristine pages of my new calendar, soon to become a colorful life map.

While I transfer each important date into crisp clean new pages, hope abounds that my calendar will soon be filled with many events to make me smile when I review them on January 1, 2018.

And I wish you the same pleasant fate. Happy New Year!

What are your special January 1 traditions?

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