Thursday, January 19, 2017

Genealogical Journey: Grandma's Cat Stories: Part 2 of All My Cats Earned Their Keep

The following is by Mary S. LaGoy edited by her granddaughter Michele Lagoy

In Woodstock ( New York, long before the rock concert) I acquired "Midnight", a black female (cat) which learned to growl like a watch-dog.  She did it spontaneously the first time she heard a strange step at my door; whereupon I praised and rewarded her, while stressing the word "growl."  After a few repetitions, she would sound off on command ( or voluntarily), to the delight of an artist of amorous reputation, who often called on me and spent the evening petting the watch-cat.

"I don't like cats!" insisted Mac; except this one!"


Back in the days when an order for "ten cents worth of liver for the cat" wouldn't rattle the butcher, my otherwise sympathetic mother was somewhat skeptical whenever I brought home sick or injured felines, insisting they had followed me.  They had.  At any rate, mother always cared for the invalids and usually healed them.

One evening, however, I rescued a cat which had apparently been fatally injured.  Next morning, after taking the animal to the Staten Island (Richmond Borough of Greater New York) S.P.C.A. Shelter, I arrived late for morning prayers at parochial school.  For that grave offense, I expected appropriate punishment, but the nun who was my teacher proved surprisingly liberal.  Utilizing my excuse to impress the English lesson on the class, she quoted at embarrassed me from "The Ancient Mariner":

"He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small
For the dear God who loveth us
He made and loveth all."

The first erudite cat of my acquaintance apparently learned to tell time, in spite of being encumbered with the name "Bucil Boney", (spelled phonetically) a corruption of a pet term used for me by a doting aunt.  ( Possibly Helena Lyons or Elizabeth Rogers).  Bucey was allowed to go upstairs a few mornings when I was called for school.  Then he volunteered as a waker-upper, using the step saving method of scaling a front bay window to my room; sitting on the sill, he would rattle the sash by pushing against it until I let him in.

Mother was puzzled about his means of entry until people who passed by regularly on their way to work started ringing the bell to report the precarious (?) position of the animal.  Soon afterward the passersby began to smilingly check their watches when they saw the cat performing his morning chore.

A few years later, when I started to commute via the Staten Island Ferry to a Manhattan office, the same cat found out when I was due in the evening and met me, always on time, between the ferry terminal and our home.

This canny one was instrumental in shaping the literary career of Paul Gallico (*), then a reporter on a New York newspaper, who has since written many short stories and novels; including "The Snow Goose" and the recent best-seller "Thomasina" (The Cat Who Thought She was God).

In those days, my brother was a newspaper camera man and often brought fellow workers home to dinner.  On each first visit of a member of the press, he was initiated through a trick the cat had learned.  At my whispered command Bucey would jump or climb to the sideboard, from which he would stretch his fore paws until they rested on the guest's shoulder, as he vigorously applied his rough tongue to the nape of the visitor's neck.

As the sensation can be compared only to sandpapering, the stooge's hair usually stood on end--and literally--while our photographer, convulsed with mirth, was likely to fall off his chair.

When the then-unknown writer was initiated, however, my brother missed his belly laugh because, instead of being startled, the young man was pleased and flattered by the caress.  As he fondled my pet he aroused my sympathy by telling me he had never had a cat, though he loved them.

"Some day," he predicted, "I'll have all kinds of cats and write stories about them."

(*) NOTE TO EDITOR:  I have Mr. Gallico's written permission.  ( I would have loved to have seen a copy of it Grandma.)

Bucey the cat with Grandma's usually sympathetic mother.  

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Genealogical Journey: A Few of Grandma's Stories in Her Own Words

Grandma Mary Sullivan LaGoy* was an animal lover.  That much was evident in the little that I did hear about her.  Stories from my Aunts and my Dad always seemed to involve her and an animal.
The few  photographs that I have of her also include animals.

Mary S. LaGoy with her dog Echo in the 1930's and on a horse in the 1920's.  

I will start off with two of her cat stories,  Before I do that, it is important that the reader knows that I found these written stories in the roasting pan in the basement along with the photograph of Great-grandma, baby Charles and the cat.  ( See blog post titled "The Back Story")  See what I mean about animals being in our family photos?  Written on indestructible paper, maybe rice paper, but a high quality form of writing paper nonetheless, these stories were in an envelope addressed to her from The Writers Digest.  Apparently they had rejected her story for publication and mailed it back to her in 1964.  As she died in March of that year, it might have been the last thing that she wrote.  I shall publish it here in my blog Grandma, where tens of people will read it.

Returned writing from the Writers Digest.  Found stored in a roasting pan.

                          ALL MY CATS EARNED THEIR KEEP


                                   Mary S. LaGoy

                         approx. 2,000 words- non-fiction

If you've ever wanted to open your heart and home to any cats, but allowed yourself to be persuaded that the pets would not justify their care and expense, I fee sure my fond recollections will make you reconsider.

If you do, you will find yourself in excellent company, because many prominent people appreciate the charms of these graceful creatures.

While I have found that, as in humans, leaning capacity varies with individuals, most house cats can be taught useful things and amusing tricks, provided one has patience and self-control.

Though most of my experience has been with the Domestic short-hair, as the once maligned "alley-cat" is now designated, I admire the other breeds and am duly grateful to two Siamese for helping me get an interesting job.

To a short-haired puss, however, which probably saved my life and that of my sister, I feel truly beholden.

The Siamese were pets of Clemence Randolph, co-author of the play "Rain," (1)  and spent summers at her home in the Woodstock, N.Y. art colony.  Upon learning that Miss Randolph was dramatizing another W. Somerset Maughm story and needed secretarial help, I applied for the job.

While I waited to be interviewed, a mother cat expressed her approval of me by jumping on my shoulder, where she started to "sing" as only a Siamese can.  Her timid, half-grown son ventured only as far as my feet, where he was solemnly investigating my shoe laces when the playwright discovered the three of us in the cozy scene.

"Oh!  My cats like you," she exclaimed.  "How soon can you start work?"  and engaged me at a generous salary, without knowing whether I knew even the location of A S D F G on the keyboard.

What typing I did, however was achieved on an out-moded Oliver, while considerable of my time was spent in soothing the terrified younger cat during Catskill Mountain thunder storms.  In my lap, he would remain calm, instead of endangering himself among the acids and pigments used by Miss Randolph's friend, the late Bob Chandler, in creating his much-sought-after painted mirrors and screens.


(1) NOTE TO EDITOR:  As you probably know, Somerset Maugham's story, from which the dramatization was made, fist appeared in Smart Set, issue of April, 1921, under the title "Miss Thompson".

The life-saving episode ocurred some years earlier, on a winter morning when our mother had gone out early, leaving my younger sister and me in bed; and a pan of oatmeal on the stove.  As the alarm clock failed to rouse us, we wouldn't have gotten to school that day--or probably any other--except that the pet jumped on the bed, poking at my face until, in rebellion, I drowsily ordered my sister:

"Put Daisy out, or some place, so I can sleep!"  Fortunately, the youngster attempted to comply, and in the kitchen noticed gas fumes, as the flames under the cereal had gone out.


* I will pause here to tell another story.  You may have noticed that my last name "Lagoy" has a lower case "g" in it and my grandmother's has an upper case "G" in it.  My Dad said when he needed to get security clearance for a job, they asked for his birth certificate.  His name was handwritten and looked like a lower case "g" to the powers that be.  To avoid further delay in getting it corrected by bringing his elderly, non-driving parents to stand in line at city hall to get it "fixed", he left it with a small "g" and from then on we were the Lagoy's with a small "g".  The same thing almost happened to my niece.  She almost had to have her name changed on her fist day of Kindergarten because the teacher spelled it wrong on a name tag.  The first day of school the whole class started called her by the wrong name!  If my sister didn't work for the school district, we would be calling her Daniella, instead of Danielle!  That's one family tradition we don't want to keep!

The original writing on indestructible paper 52 years later!