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The Observer, Dec. 13

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We have only one book left over from our childhood. Why that particular book survived the years, we don't know. But we know it was ours, because we scrawled our name and our phone number, Mohawk 6-1562, in it.

It is a picture book, “The Contented Little Pussy Cat,” by Frances Ruth Keller, about a happy cat named Abner whose contentment confuses his troubled pals, who include a rabbit who's worried that it might rain — rain messes up her fur — and a crow who has lost a shiny feather.

We used to read the book to our daughter, hoping to prevent her from being a chip off the old block. We're a worrier, see. Content we're not.

But we couldn't pass on the cat's wisdom. The page on which he gives his most valuable advice on how to be happy was ripped out, circa 1957.

This drove both The Observer and daughter crazy.

Oh, we knew this much. Abner was never sad about what had happened yesterday or worried about what might happen tomorrow. That was good advice. But we knew there was more. We knew, in our hearts, that the missing page held the secret to life, one we couldn't ever come up with ourselves.

We moved away from picture books, and “The Contented Little Pussy Cat” went on the shelf.

But last Christmas, The Observer got the gift of a lifetime. The daughter, in a spectacularly thoughtful gesture, found the book online and ordered it. She found the exact same edition, same orange cover, an un-mauled, un-crayoned and complete “The Contented Little Pussy Cat.” We were bowled over.

We raced to the last page.

Are you on the edge of your seat?

Here it is, here's how to be happy even after you've lost your best tail feather.

“No good thing was ever learned without practicing.”

Abner was a Buddhist! The hero of a Zen tale from 1949! Work at it, Mr. Black Crow! Practice, Mrs. White Bunny.

It was an answer The Observer would never have reached on our own. We had to have the book.

***

If The Observer never gets another gift, we'll be just fine.

Then there was the Christmas, several years post-pussy-cat but still a very, very long time ago, when The Observer's mother hung a hash pipe on the Christmas tree.

Yep, as in hashish. See, it was the '60s, and The Observer's mother was down with the Hong Kong flu while teen-agers partied downstairs. One of them fashioned a hash pipe out of tinfoil, using a pencil, a pin and great dexterity.

Our mother found it on the coffee table. She hung it on the tree. What did she know?

At least, that's what we thought.

Years later, we were hanging ornaments on the tree with our child. Christmas music playing, hot chocolate, the fire in the fireplace, the whole bit.

“Hand us the hash pipe,” we said, carelessly. The child's eyes grew big. “The what?”

Oops. We forgot to think before talking.

You've got to practice that, too.

***

In these days of too-grown- up teen-agers, it's nice to know that some of them can act like kids.

Like the boy we know. “He's such a boy,” the girl we know complained. What else would he be, we wondered.

She explained. Seems that this 16-year-old is late every morning for his ride to school. So he decided to brush his teeth in the car. The girls who drive him thought that was pretty ewwww. But when he tried to spit the toothpaste out the window, it got blown back on him. Ewwwwww!

Then, the girl we know continued, he wiped the toothpaste off his face with the banana peel left over from the breakfast he'd eaten in the car. Ewwwwwwwww!

You ask us, that's how 16-year-old boys are supposed to act.

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