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Friday, March 16, 2012
St. Patrick and the Cat's Pajamas
3:32 pm edt
Yesterday afternoon, while paying for my haircut, the young cashier sees my name on my credit card
and wishes me a Happy St. Patrick's Day. "Ah," I said, "thank you. And the same to all of you, too!" The
beautician who did my hair responds, "Means nothing to me. I'm Italian." "But," says the cashier, "so was
he!" And, according to urban legend, he was. But, alas, he wasn't from Italy, as we know it, as is generally thought. Actually, St. Patrick was born in the part of Roman Britain now known as Wales. In essence, because he was under the
rule of Rome, he was a "Roman" citizen—but of modern-day Welsh descent. And if that makes him Italian—it
s a stretch, to be sure—then so be it. Regardless of his origins, he will always be—first and foremost—Irish
I have on my mantle a small 6" x 4" volume, National And Historical Ballads, Songs, And Poems (1869) , bound in Kelly green cloth and embossed with a small golden harp on the front cover. And while
the date of the introduction is "20th April 1846", a bit of research has revealed that this slim volume by
Thomas Osborne Davis (1814-1845) was first published in 1869. My copy of these Irish songs, poems, and balladic ditties—with an
additional bit of historical text—unlike the first edition found in the California Digital Library with a date of 1869—does not have a publication or copyright date. It does have, however, the text A NEW AND REVISED EDITION under the author's name on the title page. So I have no idea when my edition was first
issued. Hopefully, in the 1870s…However, if memory serves me correctly, I have inherited this collection from my father
and have had it on the mantle of every home I've lived in—a place of honor all these years for a reminder of my
paternal heritage. Regardless of whether it is a first edition or not, it is priceless to me.
Be that as it may,
this small pocket-sized book contains poems as well as original ballads by Osborne. They are co-mingled with many "standard",
traditional, and historical Irish songs and poems, including Tipperary,
A Ballad of Freedom, Annie Dear, Blind Mary, My Darling Nell, and my personal
favorite, The Boatman of Kinsale1. Now, I could spend
all day tomorrow and most of Sunday—as I typically do every St. Patrick’s Day—reading and attempting to
recite and/or sing all of them, but I won't. This year, I'll probably savor a few as I skim through the book, sipping a wee
dram of Irish Mist before dinner after yet another, hopefully, sunny afternoon on the tennis courts. If nothing else, I go
through this ritual every year to remind myself of greener spring days with my Dad, to honor St. Patrick, and to revel
in a bit of nostalgia.
And by way of celebrating St. Patrick's Day along with my long ancestral line of Irish
I am pleased to announce the release today of Cats of Nine Tales2, a collection of short stories about cats whom I have known—and currently know—who have
owned me. It took a goodly five months—at the brilliant suggestion of a very, very dear to me, young neighbor and
friend, who will turn the big ten-oh (10) on Sunday (Happy Birthday, MLF!!!)—to crank out these tails, er, tales, but
I am happy to say that it was a most enjoyable time well spent. I hope that you will honor us—Sebastian, who is on the
cover and my primary inspiration, and my young friend, as well as the other eight cats I've written about—by clicking
the link on the left pane of this Web site and ordering a copy or two. Or three. Buy one for yourself, your kids, and all
the avid cat lovers in your life. And, please, pass the word(s) along. I hate to brag—but I'm going to—these
are really delightful tails, er, tales I am sure you will , hopefully, enjoy.
Sláinte and Meow!
1 "But money never made the man
Nor wealth a happy home.
with love and liberty,
While he can trim a sail,
He'll trust in God, and cling to me--
The Boatman of Kinsale."
2 This link will take you to the www.CreateSpace.com store,
where you can order the book directly from the publisher. Cats of Nine Tails will
also be available in a few days on amazon.com and Barnes and Noble (bn.com). I plan on publishing an ebook edition by early
April. Watch this site for details.
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Bubbles and Rice Cakes
1:17 pm edt
Retirement and vacation are when you can just "let loose" and indulge yourself.
Unfortunately, most vacations end quickly, lasting only a week, maybe two; retirement, hopefully, lasts a long time—time
enough for lots of indulgences. A biggie for me is that I can get up and go to bed whenever I feel like it,
typically sleeping in until late morning and staying up until the "wee" hours. It's a very freeing feeling. I now
indulge—as we all know—in reading, much more often than I had in my being a slave-to-work past, now
spending hours on end lost in one of the myriad of books scattered and stored throughout the house—not to mention
the ones I cart home from the local library. As I mentioned in an earlier posting, I have even learned to read while walking
FrankieBernard, who is, in himself, a delightful indulgence.
One particularly gorgeous afternoon last week
was warm, bright, and sunny, with just a breath of a cool breeze—much like today. We started out for what I thought
would be a long walk around the complex and through the adjoining parkland. I, of course, had a book in hand (Love in the Time of Cholera , which I am still reading) and FrankieB was bouncing
on his paws, eager to savor the fresh, new spring smells. We didn't get too far. All three of my neighbor's children
were on their front lawn, chasing with abandoned glee hundreds of bubbles that were pouring out of a portable “Gazzillion”
bubble cannon. The eldest boy yelled, "FIRE!" as he worked the lever to dip the bubble wand into the soapy
mixture, varying its speed to make the bubbles bigger or smaller, longer or shorter. The youngest, still in diapers,
raced around trying to catch each and every one before they popped. And the middle child, espying FrankieB, called him over
to join in the fray.
It was a wonderful slight, watching my hound trying to catch his first bubbles. At first
he looked bewildered, having not seen floating bubbles before. He could see the flimsy, filmy, transparent shapes, but couldn't
figure out where they disappeared to when they hit the ground or were lost in the trees. He wildly chased large ones
as they wafted higher and higher around the corner of the house; he pounced upon the smaller ones closer to the ground,
thinking he had "captured" them, only to have them burst soapily into his mouth. Laughing, the kids chased
him chasing the bubbles for a hour or so, totally exhausting themselves and my hound. I sat on the stoop in the
sunshine, watching the melee, munching on rice cakes, occasionally feeding bits of them to FrankieB, who, having never
tasted them before, thought they were manna from Heaven. Again, another first for him and the beginning of yet another
Children's stories and books are often like bubbles and rice cakes. Most titles enjoy fleeting
popularity, then pop out of favor—and flavor—once another new title comes along. And those that write
them, like myself, come and go, most of the time barely noticed by the vast majority of kids and their parents. Only a handful,
like Cressida Cowell (author of the How to Train Your Dragon series), Dr. Seuss (we all know the titles), or
J.K. Rowling (creator of Harry Potter) ever reach long-lasting prominence in the kiddie-lit world. As an adult,
though, one of my major indulgences is collecting and reading children's books. So I was particularly delighted that
night when I came across a 1906 hard back edition of The Queen's Museum and Other Fanciful Tales by Frank R. Stockton (illustrations by Frederick
Richardson), first published in 1887 by Charles Scibner's Sons, New York, NY, in a stack of larger books on a corner
shelf in my upstairs library.
Okay, you are asking, "Who is Frank R. Stockton?" Remember back when in
ninth grade English we had to read the enigmatic short story, "The Lady or the Tiger"? Well, Stockton
wrote it, as well as a whole host of other stories; mostly for children, some for adults. And while I knew he was
the author of "The Lady or the Tiger", I was not aware of his other writings for children, the most popular ones
contained in the volume I had stumbled across. So, onto the internet I go to learn a bit more about this late 19th Century
author. Turns out, there are quite a number of Web sites devoted to Stockton, attesting to the fact that not only was he was
quite popular in his own time, but has retained his appeal for well over 100 years, well into our own time. He has, as I have
discovered, quite a large niche of children and adult readers. Rather than duplicate the details of his life and writings,
here are a two of the better links that you can peruse at your leisure: stockton bibliography (a complete list, with links, to all of his works), and wikipedia. An added bonus is this link, the full text of "The Lady or the Tiger", should you care to (re)read it.
My copy of The Queen's Museum and
Other Fanciful Tales is in almost pristine condition, with only a few minor scratches on its cover. It even smells
new, with just a hint of that just-beginning-to-age scent so common—and heavily evident—on books of its vintage.
It is hard to believe that it was published 106 years ago—well before ISBNs and LCCNs were invented—and
that it has survived this long. I am not sure where I had obtained it, but was, as I said, delighted to have found it
in my possession. And in its pages, I found its delightful, unknown before treasures, including the title story, complete
with a moral, a la Aesop and Grimm.
These are tales to be savored, and not devoured in one sitting, as I was almost tempted to do. Sometimes,
being indulgent means not being a gluttony gourmand, but a discriminating gourmet. And so, every other evening or so,
I tenderly nibble one—just one—of the stories with such fanciful and imaginative titles as "The
Christmas Truants", "The Griffin and the Minor Canon", "The Clocks of Rondaine", and "Christmas
Before Last; or the Fruit of the Fragile Palm". I like the Christmas stories the best; there is something about
Stockton's straightforward style that brings up vivid childhood memories of the Holiday. Each story is, indeed, a
Some children's books and their writers, unlike fleeting bubbles and airy rice cakes, do
have the capacity to withstand the tests, trials, and tribulations of time. They are enjoyable to read, yet subtly instruct.
The stories are written in such a way that once started, the reader just cannot put them down. Each one has that certain
eternal essence of good literature that lasts almost forever, enabling children throughout the ages to indulge in
the greater pleasure of reading, well into adulthood. Just like the fanciful and fun tales of Frank Stockton.
J. McInerney, the host of this Literary Blog, is
an author, poet, and librettist. Her currenty published works include a novel, a book of spiritual inspirations,
volumes of poetry, stories
for children (of all ages) and
a variety of children's musicals. Her titles include:
Monster: A Novel of Phoenixville in 1978
The Prisoner's Portrait: A Novel of Phoenxville
during World War II
Rainbow in the Sky
Meditations for New Members
of Oreigh Ogglefont
The Basset Chronicles.
Cats of Nine Tales
Water: A Collection of Poems
Exodus Ending: A
Collection of More Spiritual Poems
We Three Kings
Beauty and the Beast
Peter, Wolf, and Red Riding
Originally from the New York metropolitan area, June currently lives near Valley Forge Park in Pennsylvania with her constant and loving companions, FrankieBernard and Sebastian Cat. She
is currently working on her fourth novel.