For our second grilled cheese of the year, we chose French Onion Grilled cheese, first caramelizing the Vidalia onions, then deglazing the pan with a splash of sherry vinegar, and mixing the onions with grated Gruyere. Then we spread the back side of the bread with mayonnaise, and grilled. So easy! So delicious! I’m grateful for this different take on grilled cheese, and for cooking with Amy.
The sandwich really couldn’t have been better, even with the addition of bacon, which didn’t occur to me. Everything’s better with bacon. I’ve been laughing since morning, when I opened a Valentine that got lost in the shuffle last weekend, to see a poem written just for me. I’m grateful for laughter!
I’m grateful for books. I’m grateful that my big brother taught me to read when I was just three years old. I remember sitting on the floor in the doorway between the well-lit kitchen and the dim living room where our parents sat, with a book between us, and him teaching me to make sense of the letters. I’m grateful that I love to read, that I have always loved to read, that my parents gave me lots of books, and that I have always had access to anything I could wish to read. I’m grateful that Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1440, and grateful that someone (though it’s not clear exactly who) invented the novel. I’m grateful for bookbindings, libraries, magazines, and Kindle, and for paper and ink, typewriters, and Pages.
Today I’m grateful for the Bibliofillies, a bookclub Ellie started in April 2005, which has always had a cap of ten people, and still retains five founding members. There are currently nine of us, and we all live in the outskirts of our little town. For all those years we’ve met on the first Wednesday evening of each month, rotating among our homes, and our format has evolved through the years but a few things have remained constant.
We start each meeting with an author report by the hostess. OK, one thing has remained constant! There was a time when the hostess often chose to make a full meal for the group, but it’s always been ok to serve chips and dip instead. In summer we’ve met on patios, in winter we’ve carpooled through deep snow. Since Covid, we’ve met monthly on Zoom, and here’s the second thing that’s constant: the camaraderie that has developed among us through the years.
The first book we read was Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady, a novel published in 1881. I remember meeting in Connie’s cozy adobe living room, and there was much dissent about the book. It was a good realization that we can sometimes have even more engaging conversations if we don’t all feel the same about a book. Since then, we’ve had an ongoing discussion on “What is Literature?” One husband calls us “The Smarty Pants Bookclub,” because there’s another book club in town, which many call “The Fun Bookclub.”
I can’t remember half of these, but here’s a (nearly complete) list of the books we read in our first ten years together:
Portrait of a Lady Henry James
Heat and Dust, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
O Pioneers! Willa Cather
A Bend in the River, V.S. Naipaul
Dreaming in Cuban, Cristina Garcia
As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner
The Haunted Monastery, Robert Van Gulik
Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe
The Cave, Jose Saramago
Lady Chatterly’s Lover, D.H. Lawrence
A Thousand Cranes, Yasunari Kawabata
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers
Passionate Nomad, Jane Geniesse
Saving Fish from Drowning, Amy Tan
Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein
East Wind: West Wind, Pearl S. Buck
The Razor’s Edge, W. Somerset Maugham
Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
Dearest Friend: A Life of Abigail Adams, Lynne Withey
Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami
The Blind Assasin, Margaret Atwood
Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, Kathleen Norris
Arthur and George, Julian Barnes
Burger’s Daughter, Nadine Gordimer
The Thief and the Dogs, Naguib Mahfouz
Stories of Anton Chekhov, Anton Chekhov
Herzog, Saul Bellow
Shalimar the Clown, Salman Rushdie
My Name is Red, Orhan Pamuk
The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner
In the Company of the Courtesan, Sarah Dunant
The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan
To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee
Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller
Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett
The Greenlanders, Jane Smiley
The Mambo Kings Play Songs Of Love, Oscar Hijuelos
White Ghost Girls, Alice Greenway
The Optimist’s Daughter, Eudora Welty
Out Stealing Horses, Per Petterson
Mara and Dann, Doris Lessing
The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
The Member of the Wedding, Carson McCullers
Babbitt, Sinclair Lewis
The Ginseng Hunter, Jeff Talarigo
The Leopard, Guiseppe de Lampedusa
The Tenderness of Wolves, Stef Penney
The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery
The Quiet Girl, Peter Hoeg
Rabbit is Rich, John Updike
A Mercy, Toni Morrison
The Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas
The Housekeeper and the Professor, Yoko Ogawa
A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
The Uncommon Reader, Alan Bennett
The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi
Telex from Cuba, Rachel Kushner
Little Bee, Chris Cleave
That Old Cape Magic, Richard Russo
The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene
Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout
The Dream Life of Sukhanov, Olga Grushin
The Appointment, Herta Muller
Vanity Fair, William Thackeray
The Help, Kathyrn Stockett
Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Helen Simonson
Even Silence Has an End: My Six Years of Captivity in the Colombian Jungle, Ingrid Betancourt
Tinkers, Paul Harding
Dog of the South, Charles Portis
Trading Dreams of Midnight, Diane McKinney-Whetstone
Undaunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West, Dorothy Wickenden
The Elephant’s Journey, Jose Saramago
People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks
Reader’s choice: Mario Vargas Llosa
Killing Mother, Rita Clagett
Tiny Sunbirds Far Away, Christie Watson
Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell
The Character of Meriwether Lewis: Explorer in the Wilderness, Clay Jenkinson
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Jamie Ford
The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, Stephen Greenblatt
The Glass Palace, Amitav Ghosh
The Invisible Ones, Stef Penney
Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith & Love, Dava Sobel
State of Wonder, Ann Patchett
The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bolgakov
Room: A Novel, Emma Donoghue
The Dog Stars, Peter Heller
The Cat’s Table, Michael Ondaatje
The Stone Raft, Jose Saramago
Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, Stephen Greenblatt
Strength in What Remains, Tracy Kidder
Mary Coin, Marisa Silver
The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain
Proust at the Majestic, Richard Davenport-Hines
Remembering Babylon, David Malouf
What Maisie Knew, Henry James
Reader’s choice: Books by Mo Yan
The Sumbally Fallacy, Karen Weinant Gallob
The Emerald Mile, Kevin Fedarko
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Kay Joy Fowler
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz
Americanah, Chimananda Adichie
Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere, Poe Ballantine
All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki
The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert
The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey
The Emperor of Paris, C.S. Richardson
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? Roz Chast
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, Jan-Philipp Sendker
Submergence, J.M. Ledgard
The Antagonist, Lynn Coady
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory, Caitlin Doughty
Who can say we’re not fun? Now, I don’t have permission, so I can’t share the screenshot I took of us toward the end of our meeting tonight. It’s not Wednesday, you might be thinking if you’re on your toes: No, but last Wednesday we were derailed by circumstances beyond our control, which several wanted to keep watching on their screens, so this was our makeup meeting. If I could, I’d share the screenshot, and prove to everyone that we are too fun! Last month we read Louise Erdrich’s dystopian novel “Future Home of the Living God,” which started out a page turner, and ended up a colossally distressing parallel, in some ways, to our own current precarious political and societal cusp between democracy and fascism.
None of us gave the book a full Thumbs Up, and several gave it a solid Thumbs Down, and after a record-short discussion there was a pause that cried for some levity. I put on a pig nose and ears, and gave a tutorial on Zoom video filters, and soon we were all laughing. Rosie sat by the seaside with a pirate patch and hat, Candy wore a mustache with the cosmos behind her. Many combinations of backgrounds, frames, antlers, hats, noses, spectacles and hirsute adornments later, we called it a night. Smarty pants indeed! I am indeed grateful for my smarty-pants, big-hearted, open-minded, thoughtful and funny Bibliofillies.
Sugar, née Stella, gone with Spice to live with Pauline way out in the country. Way out.
The kittens have all gone to their new homes. It was a whirlwind adventure helping to raise them to three months. Fred and Mary were the best grandparents anyone could have been. It was a privilege and a delight to participate in their unexpected kitten bonanza. Over the course of their short lives they moved up one box, one room, one home at a time from their humble birth in an inverted wine box, to a bigger box, to a refrigerator box, to a storage room in the shop, to free run of the whole garage. Then a couple of weeks ago, Idaho and Spider went to live in first the tack room and now the whole barn at the Bad Dog Ranch; Stella and Blaze were whisked away to live even farther out past Crystal Creek with Pauline, who recently lost her old cat, and renamed these kittens Sugar and Spice; Sammy, née Oreo, now called Benito, stayed at Fred and Mary’s with his mama, once and again called Shelley now that her Heidi Ho days are over. But not before she went into heat not once but twice after the kittens reached six weeks old.
Fred called one morning while Mary was out of town. “Can cats go into heat while they’re still nursing?” he asked. “I think so,” I said, and turned to ask a friend who happened to know. Indeed they can! Patricia said she once fostered a cat who’d gone into heat when her kittens were ten days old! Fred recited the behaviors he was seeing: snappish to him for a couple of days, then frenzied (for what turned out to be a week) whenever she saw him, weaving around his feet yowling, rubbing her neck on his ankles or hands with her butt in the air, desperate to get outside; a big black tomcat was hanging around the yard except for a few times when a big orange tom with a white face like two of the kittens’ was hanging around the yard. With due diligence we kept her inside with her babies the whole time. She is now recovering well from the surgery. We have put an end to a long line of feral cats on Fruitland Mesa. And four families in the neighborhood have new adorable companion animals. The little all-black boy kitten Ojo, and Ajo, the sweetest girl of all, came to live with me. Things unfold in the most remarkable ways sometimes.
After deciding that morning they were born, after burying the little cold dead one, the eighth kitten, a black and white that surely would have been another boy, that I would not succumb to the temptation to take any kittens, I gradually began to reconsider. Gradually, as in, the next day. I weighed pros and cons for weeks, considering all imaginable angles. On my yes days and on my no days, I always maintained that I would not choose my kittens (if I got them) based on their looks, how cute or how stunning they were. I held off deciding until the whole community was impatient with me. After we celebrated their six-week birthday with champagne cupcakes and adult beverages, I concluded that I couldn’t take any. The next day I was very sad. So I reconsidered again. And again. And we finally settled on this plan: If I could successfully introduce them to Brat Farrar, my dear old diabetic cat, that little orange kitten that saved my soul once upon a time, and assimilate them into the household, I would take two kittens; If Brat would not accept them within one week, I’d return them next door and my good neighbors would find them another home.
And then things became acutely more clear: Doc said it was finally time for Brat Farrar to have some troublesome teeth removed. His blood sugar was good, he seemed strong and stable. I got cold feet, but then agreed to the procedure when I was informed that most kidney and heart failure in pet cats derives from bad teeth. On a Friday I dropped him off; the next Thursday he died. Maybe it was inevitable, maybe some better decisions could have been made. He came home from the surgery in shock and never recovered. With a scabbed mouth he ate a little, but by Sunday morning his vital force was leaving him. Monday afternoon a blood panel revealed multiple organ failure. “So, we’re saying goodbye?” I asked Doc. “Yes,” he said, leaning on his forearms on the exam table. “I’m sorry.” “I know you are,” I said, my voice catching, and I touched his solid shoulder. Some more words, and I took my sweet cat home. I kept him comfortable and witnessed his death with dignity. It was both grueling and peaceful. I came to terms with death in a new way.
All through that painful week I kept in mind that there were two little bundles of joy around the corner that would be mine at the end of this sadness, two new little lives to love and nurture. No one ever takes the place of a companion animal who dies; but in this world of ferals and strays, I’ve realized, there will always be another cat, another dog, a kitten or puppy coming my way, as long as I’m alive. The timing this time could not have been more perfect. As sad as I was I’m now happy.
Benito, who stayed at home with Mama (once and again called Shelley now that her Heidi Ho days are over).
Ajo, one of the two that came home with me.
Ojo, the other one who came to live with me.
Mama at the end of a takedown, after Ojo pounced on her, vigorously washing his face.
Mama washing Stella.
Benito (of the perpetual exclamation point!) and Spider romping.
While I am already enjoying and look forward to years ahead of me inhabiting life with the two new kittens, I’m still unpacking the shocking death of Brat Farrar. Reflections on all that the many facets of the little orange kitten, iCat, Ferrari, Brat Favre, Culvert Kitty, Puma, the complicated cat, brought to the past eleven years of life will continue to churn and settle for some time to come.
The good little traveler: Brat Farrar on his way home from Virginia with me in the Mothership, spring 2005, on the River Road from Moab.
A decade later, last April in the house that matched him. Rest in peace, little one, under the apricot tree.