In other words…more James Herriot.
I’m now on the third installment (All Things Wise and Wonderful), having just finished the second one, All Things Bright and Beautiful.
Before we get to Blossom and Debbie, first, an aside. In the grocery store check-out line last week, the cashier said, Great book. (I always take a book into the grocery store in case I have to wait in line, which I can’t bear.) I said, I can’t believe these books are 40 years old and I’m just now reading them. Well, she said, people don’t read Tolstoy either and he’s been around a lot longer. I was just astonished–the cashier at Publix is talking about Tolstoy? You’d think that considering what I do for a living, I’d know better than to stereotype. Then she said, the only bad thing about these books is that once you’re finished, you know there will never be another one. Ouch, I said…so true. It’s how I felt about reading everything John D. McDonald and Robert B. Parker ever wrote.
Then the guy behind me in line gets into the act and says Yes, but here’s the good thing. By the time you finish, you can just start over again because at our age, you won’t remember them. All three of us were cracking up. I love these little fly-by social encounters with strangers. It just brightens my day.
Blossom was a very old cow, and all of her parts were sagging (can we relate, or what?) Her hipbones jutted out and her udders were practically dragging the ground. The problem was that when she laid down, her udders spread out over the floor and the other cows would step on them. Since cow hooves are very sharp, they would cut her, and when we meet her, Herriot is there to stitch her up for the fourth time.
The next time he’s there, he’s just in time to see the drover who drives cattle to market arrive to pick up Blossom, because the farmer has decided it’s time for her to become dog food. When the drover calls her she follows him placidly, joining the crowd of other cattle in his charge.
As Herriot stands there talking to the farmer, the farmer says, What’s that noise? It’s the unmistakable sound of cow hooves on cobblestones. And there is Blossom. At the top of a hill, Blossom cut away and came back to the barn via a side path. She goes directly to her stall–like, that was fun, but I’m back now. Shortly afterwards, the drover arrives out of breath and says, don’t worry, I’ll get her back and this time I’ll keep a closer eye on her. But the farmer blocks the way to her stall. NO, he says. Blossom ‘as come ‘ome, and ‘ome she will stay.
We hear this story because Herriot has dreamed about her. He is newly inducted into the RAF. He is desperately missing his pregnant wife and his life on the moors. He says, I know why I dreamed about Blossom. I wanted to go home too.
Debbie the cat is a stray who shows up around three times a week at Mrs. Ainsworth’s house. Debbie has a bit of food, then sits in front of the fireplace for a few minutes, then leaves to go back to her unknown home (if any). Herriot learns of her existence when he is called to Mrs. A’s house on Christmas Day to examine one of her three Bassett hounds. Debbie is an adult cat, but very tiny. Her growth has been stunted.
The following year, again on Christmas Day, Mrs. A. calls and says she needs Herriot to come out, only this time it’s Debbie–something is wrong with her. Debbie has shown up at the house carrying a tiny kitten in her mouth, which she dumps on the rug in front of the fireplace. Then she lies down, uncharacteristically. From the minute Herriot sees her bloodless gums and filmy eyes, he knows that Debbie is dying. He finds a huge mass–a lymphosarcoma–in her abdomen, and she dies within minutes. And I thought to myself, OMG–this is like good human parents, who want a better life for their children than they had for themselves. Literally with her dying breath, Debbie has brought her kitten to Mrs. Ainsworth. Please, Fakename, I scolded myself. Inexcusable anthropomorphism.
And then Herriot writes, “Was it too much to think that that dying little creature with the last of her strength had carried her kitten to the only haven of comfort and warmth she had ever known in the hope it would be cared for there?” So if I’m anthropomorphic, so was he. And I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. What I think is that animals are very mysterious to us, and while the animal behaviorist people may say we can’t prove that animals have emotions and are capable of forethought, I say, we can’t prove they don’t either.
Debbie has now been dead for about 70 years, and Blossom, close to the same. But because of Herriot, they are immortal. The miracle of books.