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Sunday, April 13, 2008

ALL THINGS BRIGHT & BEAUTIFUL (Cat Stories)

Several years ago my wife's family was gathering for Christmas at her youngest daughter's home on Lake Buchanan at Burnet. We arrived several days before the 24th and had some time to ourselves. One afternoon my wife's daughter and husband were busy and a niece took their four children to a local park to play. My wife and I had taken enough reading material to occupy us, but by mid-afternoon I felt the need to stretch and do some walking.

The water in the lake was very low and there was no activity within sight. I noticed the four-car garage open and walked over to look. Besides the usual things found in a garage I noticed a number of pieces of good furniture, which I later learned belonged to our son-in-law's mother. She had closed her house and moved to a small apartment in Houston, making it necessary to leave some pieces of furniture in her son's garage. On top of a chest of drawers was a 1973 set of the Encyclopedia Britannica and a single hardcover book. I rubbed off the dust and saw it was a copy of a James Herriot book, All Things Bright and Beautiful, published in 1973. I wondered if this was the source of the TV series by the same name that ran on our PBS station Channel 8. I remembered watching some of the TV shows years ago on our 17" black-and-white TV. I think they appeared on Sunday afternoon.

Looking at pages randomly, I realized immediately that these were the same stories, some of which I remembered reading in a magazine such as Reader's Digest. I found out later that this was the first of a series of books telling of the author's experiences as a veterinarian in northern England. The original series of four books took their titles from a poem (hymn lyrics) by Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895): "All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small, All things wise and wonderful, The Lord God made them all." The stories from these four books have also been recombined in separate volumes about cats and dogs.

I asked permission to borrow the book and took it to the guest bedroom where we were staying for the holiday. After a glance at the contents I immediately started reading. By Christmas Day I had finished the book, which brought back memories of small and large animals I have known. One story in particular, in Chapter 22, helped me to recall an experience that I had with cats. Mrs. Bond in the Herriot story took in stray cats. Dr. Herriot's description of the odor he encountered when he entered her house for the first time immediately took me back to the early 1970s.

I leaned the book against my chest, closed my eyes, and could sense the smell that overwhelmed me that day. At the time I was still selling and servicing Frigidaire appliances and air conditioners, and the company had just issued a recall on their refrigerator icemakers. A woman from Pinehurst that I'll call Mrs. C.L. (Cat Lover) called to say her icemaker was not working properly, and I assured her it would be replaced at no cost. We agreed on an appointment time and she gave me directions to her home. From the outside, her house was a typical 3/2 home on a tree-shaded lot, but when she opened the door the odor took my breath away. It was a combination of dirty litter boxes, fecal matter on the floor, in the corners and under furniture, plus the smell of tomcats that had not been castrated. By taking only shallow breaths I made it through the living room, the dining room, and into the kitchen. Cats were everywhere: on the refrigerator, on the counter, on the back of the stove, and when I opened the freezer door, more came running. The icemaker was held in place with two screws, which I quickly removed. I unplugged the electrical connection and slid out the icemaker, all while holding my breath. I put the old icemaker in the sink to let it drip, then opened the window over the sink and took several deep breaths while I unpacked the new unit. As I turned back to the freezer, Mrs. C.L. rushed in, slammed down the window and said, "Honey, if you are hot, take off your shirt. I can't let my babies get chilled." I quickly finished the job, hoping I wouldn't have to throw up, and let myself out the back door. Her neighbor later told me that Mrs. C.L. kept over 90 cats in that house.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is a test comment - Sarah Bowie.

James said...

OK, I will try again.

James

Ben the Cook

Ben the Cook
Action shot from the 1970s

RECIPE CORNER

TUNA "SURPRISE"

I recently made Tuna Helper, following the instructions on the box and adding margine, milk, etc. Priscilla and I had generous portions for lunch. When she asked about my recipe, I pointed to the kitchen table where the box was sitting...and only then noticed the unopened can of tuna sitting next to the empty box.

Well, we enjoyed our macaroni & cheese lunch and already have the tuna on hand to make another box of Helper.


HONEY COOKIES

I watched the TV news show "The Eyes of Texas" for years. When in the mid 1980s they announced the publication of a Texas cookbook I wrote down my grandmother's honey cookie recipe. I asked Priscilla to type it, and she mailed it along with several of her personal favorites.

When the book was published Priscilla's recipes were not included but mine was, with a special mention in the cookbook's introduction. I was invited to the signing in Houston, where I got all three of the main Eyes of Texas contributors to sign the front and while standing in line got a number of contributing cooks to sign their recipe pages.


Some might consider the description "somewhat chewy" an understatement. For those who are dentally impaired, I recommend soaking a cookie in milk or hot coffee before trying to chew it. The good news is, these cookies will keep indefinitely.

Eyes of Texas Cookbook introduction:
My great-grandparents August and Caroline Weiss operated the first cotton gin operated by steam, near Salem in Washington County, Texas. They were among the first German settlers in that area. Money was scarce; however, they always had bees and native pecans...consequently, this recipe was a favorite.

1 1/2 pints honey, warmed
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
Dash of salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup chopped pecans or other nuts
1 tsp. baking powder
Enough flour for a very stiff dough

Mix all ingredients well. Roll dough out on a floured board and cut with a cookie cutter, or drop the dough in a greased pan and flatten with a floured glass. Bake at 325 degrees until golden brown, with edges slightly darker. These cookies will be somewhat chewy.

Ben's Bio

I was born in Rose Hill, Texas in 1925 and at age 18 drafted into the Army. After my discharge I settled in Tomball, which although a small town had more opportunities than Rose Hill. I ran my own appliance installation and repair business for many years and in 1977 accepted a position as Plant Engineer and Director of Maintenance at Tomball Regional Hospital, where I worked until retirement in the late 1980s. In the 1970s I served two years on Tomball’s City Council, was elected mayor and served for six years during which major streets were paved and guttered, utility lines were extended, and a new jail and city hall were built. After retirement from the hospital I spent time on a genealogy project that included two trips to Germany to visit relatives and look up archival records. I have also gotten into writing, chronicling my WW II experiences and authoring Growing Up in Rose Hill, published by private press and sold as a fund-raiser for the Tomball Community Museum Center, where I have served as a volunteer, trustee and Chairman. I am still involved with the Tomball hospital as a weekly volunteer and serve as General Manager of Tomball Emergency Assistance Ministries (TEAM), a church-sponsored operation that provides food and other assistance to area families. I continue to be involved in writing about my childhood and personal interests, and I still enjoy woodworking and other handyman projects. My wife and I still live in Tomball and are not far from most of our 8 surviving children and 14 grandchildren.