Howard began the sesquicentennial series on a Wednesday morning walk in October 2006. He decided to challenge the familiarity of his environment; to see the ordinary and the everyday with fresh eyes.
Taking a circuitous route from home to work—from his apartment* near the Darrow School to the Plantagenet offices on Broad Street, which should have been four blocks and no more than ten minutes—he left home at 7 o’clock and arrived at his desk about 10:30. Sure there was a breakfast at the Koffee Kup and a half dozen brief conversations with friends along the way. All told, it was a productive morning.
He walked southwest toward the Krause Foundry and Syndicate Mills; past Luke, the Physician (our hospital), the old interurban depot (now the power company headquarters) and Adam’s Restaurant (resolving to return for rhubarb pie at 3:00); past his grandparents’ old home and the Episcopal and Catholic churches on the way to the cemeteries. Making mental notes along the way, Howard outlined the first few articles and arranged to have lunch with Hal Holt, family friend and head of the local historical society.
I’d love to have been sitting at the next table. Few people had a greater command of local history than Harold Holt, who died in 2008. So by press time on Frinday afternoon, Howard had a sense how the series would proceed, and his first column appeared the following Saturday morning.
In it, not incidentally, there was mention of a cat.
Mrs Schoenfeld’s Cat
Somewhere between the Christian Science church and the synagogue, Howard was startled by the sudden appearance of Clara, an American short-hair cat belonging to Agnes (Mrs Seymour) Schoenfeld, an acquaintance of Howard’s aunt Phyllis. What he didn’t notice, though—bending over to stroke the cat behind its ears and breaking his stride for a minute or so—was the near collision a block ahead between a UPS truck and the very nearsighted eccentric Forrest Fahnstock, whose license should have been suspended years ago. Without that unplanned interruption, Howard would have been in the thick of it and might easily have become a pedestrian casualty. Howard believes in God and the prospect of Divine Intervention (one of the many differences between us), while I’m far more inclined to credit the cat.
Other than the occasional watchdog at my dad’s gas station—like Ol’ 66 that I wrote about some months ago—I didn’t have pets as a child. We call them “animal companions” now, but my grandmother would have had nothing to do with them in her house. She did have canaries before I arrived on the scene and a parakeet or two while I was very young. Four-footed critters, on the other had, were forbidden; it never occurred to me to ask why.
In the last twenty-five years, however, I’ve made up for lost time: five dogs and two cats, all of them refugees from the pound. Not to mention my friends’ pets: Eddie and Kya and Alfie and Gunnar. One thing I’ve learned is that animals have senses we humans lack: more than intuition and a hair’s breadth shy of second sight. They see things we don’t. They smell things we can’t. They hear things in a range beyond human ability. They experience the world directly, a world in which they could be our intermediaries, if we would but let them.
So what about Clara the Cat? Do you see her on the stair landing? I think she may have intervened in many more lives than Howard’s.
*Since then Howard and his partner Rowan Oakes have moved to the old Wasserman Hardware store on Broad Street and James (northwest corner). The rest of the second floor is a bed and breakfast, while the ground floor houses The Periodic Table, Agincourt’s newest eatery.