Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Pickles the Fire Cat

So, speaking of culling shelves and getting rid of books reminds me of the reverse: those that are keepers.

In the recent sort-out, I came across one book I would never, ever give away or sell or let go: PICKLES THE FIRE CAT. My copy is old and battered and (I just discovered tonight) missing several pages, but to me it's my Old #One Dime.* I think this is the first book I ever owned, having been so taken with it as a child that my parents had to keep checking it out from the Monticello library over and over, until they finally ordered me a copy. According to the neat inscription inside**

Johnny Rateliff 
April 10, 1963

I got it when I was about four and a half -- well before I cd actually read (that came in first grade), yet I knew every word on every page. Later it passed to my eldest niece and to her younger sisters in turn, until I reclaimed its battered remains once while visiting my sister's house after the youngest in her family had long since outgrown such things.

I discovered long ago that some books and songs and movies I liked when I was young I like just as much now as I ever did. I can remember loving "Pretty Women", "The Ballad of Jed Clampett", and the first few songs from the Beatles to hit America during the first burst of Beatlemania (I recall listening to "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and also "Happy Just to Dance with You" in the sandbox), all before I was in kindergarden, and I still like them today. But it's perilous to go back and check old favorites you haven't read or heard in years and years and years (as JRRT found out when he unwisely re-read MacD's THE GOLDEN KEY when in his seventies!). Some turn out to be as good as ever, as was the case for me with Dr. Seuss: THE SNEECHES AND OTHER STORIES had lost none of their old charm when I re-read it in my early thirties.

Such was not the case with PICKLES. I got in nostalgic mood around 1991/92 and began looking for a copy, hindered in those pre-internet days by the fact I didn't know the author (books had authors? that wd have been a foreign concept to my four-and-a-half year old mind: books simply were, like trees and houses). It also turned out I had the name wrong: it's actually THE FIRE CAT, by Esther Averill [1960], one of the I Can Read series. I finally tracked down a copy during a visit Janice and I made to see Diana Pavlac (not yet Pavlac-Glyer) in Branson, who at that time was in the early stages of working on her dissertation (about which we had long, intense discussions: Diana and I talked a lot about Charles Wms and the group, and Janice was able to contribute a really interesting insight into JRRT as a starter of groups and CSL as a joiner). Delighted to find it in a used bookstore we visited, I at once read my old favorite for the first time in many years

And if fell completely flat. Whatever magic the book had held for me then, and in my memory ever since, the book itself cd no longer re-evoke.

That's been a good twenty years or so since then, and during which time I retrieved the old original, lost (or gave away) the newer copy, and occasionally wistfully thought of an old favorite that I cd no longer enjoy reading.

And yet, oddly enough, when I found this battered old copy again a few days ago, I'd forgotten the story so thoroughly (aside from my favorite line; see below) I cd read it afresh, and found it better than I recalled from the previous round. Today I went into Barnes & Noble (shop the big chain bkstores while we've got them, I say) and found a bright shiny and new copy*** just sitting on the shelf in the children's section (and not the only copy, either, so I must not be the only one to remember it w. fondness). Bringing it home and reading it, I quite liked the little piece. It doesn't have the old magic, but I'm happy to make its acquaintance again, like being back on good terms with a childhood friend with whom I'd drifted apart.

And through it all, one tag-line with the book remained w. me all the years, having become a slogan in our family to apply when someone happened to know something you wdn't have expected of him or her: A fire chief knows many things.

So, here's to Pickles: over fifty years old and still going strong:

Pickles, you are not a bad cat
You are not a good cat.
You are good and bad.
And bad and good.
You are a mixed-up cat.

--John R.
current reading: PICKLES THE FIRE CAT

*for those of you so unfortunate as not to have grown up reading Carl Barks' SCROOGE MCDUCK, this is the first coin that character ever earned, which he treated as a lucky talisman: all the rest of his huge Smaug-sized hoard of money was dependent on his keeping this one lucky coin, from which he'd be able to re-earn the whole pile if he ever lost it, so long as he had that old original.

**not my handwriting -- it's too neat.

***although the color scheme of the cover is different: my old original is reddish orange (as befits a Fire-Station Cat) while the new is half blue, half yellowy-orange.  It also seems they've broken down the old "I Can Read" books into four categories, with this being #1.

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