Years ago, on Opening Day of the then-new glass-and-steel Library in downtown Seattle, my husband and I happened to be on the scene together with literally THOUSANDS of enthusiastic people who were thronging the street outside the edifice (and my writer’s heart was gladdened to see so many readers who couldn’t wait to pour through the front doors…) We got inside, with the rest of them, and we wandered around and inspected the place, and then we sat down to rest a moment, together with a bunch of other people who were all strangers to one another, on a chair which was part of a grouping of seats in the foyer.
One of the other people there was a young parent with a small child, and the child was having a picture book read to it, out loud. It might have been any picture book, but the words were familiar, familiar, familiar – and not just to me. So while the kid listened, rapt, those strangers at the group of seats began to smile and their heads began to swivel.
And the picture book came to,
If the area window was found ajar
And the basement looked like field of war,
If a tile or two came loose on the roof,
Which presently ceased to be waterproof,
If the drawers were pulled out from the bedroom chests,
And you couldn’t find one of your winter vests,
Or after supper one of the girls
Suddenly missed her Woolworth pearls.
And some six or seven of us, unbidden, unrehearsed, supplied the next two lines in a Greek chorus:
Then the family would say: “It’s that horrible cat!
It was Mungojerrie-or Rumpleteazer!”- And most of the time they left it at that.
That kid’s eyes, as they lifted off the book and onto us, were wide and awed. We made a lifelong convert to the world of books that day, probably – because it was utter magic, how these people who didn’t know HER and apparently didn’t know ONE ANOTHER all knew how the next line went. And the grown-ups all smiled and nodded at each other across the space between the seats. Readers, all. THank you, Old Possum and all the Practical Cats.
And there’s more where that came from.
Jellicle cats are black and white
Jellicle cats are rather small…
It’s been a week since my Jellicle left me. I lost my Mungojerrie, and Rumpleteaser, the cat I have left out of my matched pair of black-and-whites, is lost and bereft and cries piteously at midnight when the humans go to bed and she feels keenly the loss of her feline companion.
And I… I’ve also been crying on and off for the whole week. There’s a hole in my life where Boboko used to live. I miss him, so badly – his goofiness, his playfulness, his loving nature, his imperious demands.
From now on… in this house… it is ONLY Rumpleteaser. Mungojerrie has gone to wreak his gentle Jellicle havoc someplace else while he waits for us all wherever it is (at the Jellicle Ball?) that loved souls wait for those with whom they shared their earthly lives. And in time, maybe, I will learn to leave it at that.
But I still miss him. Bleakly. With unutterable loss.