Cat has time to memorize Da's 'Atomic Library'

March 30, 2006|by TIM ROWLAND

Colonel Sanders doesn't know this - he doesn't need to know - but for the past three weeks I have been helping to look after another cat.

The Colonel doesn't play well with others, so instead of doing the logical thing and bringing my mom's cat, Holly, to our house while she (Mom, not the cat) visited her sister in Seattle, my Uncle Bob and I have been providing a feline assisted living service at her house in Berkeley Springs, W.Va.

Holly was a Christmas present to keep Mom company after Dad passed away on Thanksgiving at the age of 91. My other chore in Mom's absence was to clean out Dad's so-called "Atomic Library," a collection of books that really defy description.

On my first visit home early this month, I fed the cat and took one look at the Atomic Library. At first glance, it appeared too overwhelming a task to contemplate, but I've always believed in the adage "never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow," so I shut the door and left.


Three days later, Uncle Bob called to report that Holly was missing. Six days later, still no cat. Food untouched. We concluded she must have slipped out while Mom was loading her suitcases and put out an APB (All Pets Bulletin) in the neighborhood and got reports of possible sightings up to a mile away.

You would have to know Dad to understand his library. Last summer, I happened to glance at his outgoing mail, and saw he had addressed and stamped a letter to John Quincy Adams. I didn't give it anymore thought, but apparently it raised a "red flag" to Andrea that all might not be normal.

"Did you see that?"


"He wrote a letter to John Quincy Adams."

"Yeah, so?"

"And that doesn't seem odd to you."

"He writes to a lot of people."

"Is he going to expect a response?"


"And when he doesn't get it?"

"The Whigs can forget about getting his vote."

Nine days after my initial visit, Uncle Bob called to report that the cat turned up. I had accidentally shut her in the Atomic Library. So instead of caring for the cat, I had almost killed it.

If nothing else, it got me moving toward cleaning out the room once and for all. Dad related spirituality to atomic energy, so the library was crammed with books on Einstein, Marie Curie, Enrico Fermi and the great Hopkins physicist and distant relative Henry Augustus Rowland. There were 36 Bibles, not including two copies of the Torah in original Hebrew, untold biographies of America's epic leaders, encyclopedias of botany, chemistry books, biology books, everything ever written about World War II in the South Pacific, histories of railroads and the robber barons, detailed studies on organic gardening, thick tomes about the world's great religions and, for some reason, the autobiography of Anita Bryant.

The value of these books was diminished somewhat by the fact that anytime Dad disagreed with the author, he would cross out a passage, type up a replacement passage and stick it between the pages.

In his papers, there were responses he had received to his letters, usually written by the poor aides to people as diverse as the artist DeGrazia to Tipper Gore. He was pretty certain that there were Evil Forces and enemies of The Truth in this world that spent sleepless nights trying to figure out how they would get their hands on the Atomic Library, so he would not allow anyone to come in to perform any routine maintenance, such as dusting.

It was into this that I waded over a long weekend, not necessarily assisted by an attention-starved cat whose chief recreation was climbing on my head - trying to sit on me so I couldn't go anywhere, I suppose. With the exception of her oversized claws, Holly is quite small, and these attributes allow her to climb a standing human being. Swatting her off was of no use, because she would climb right back to my shoulder, headbutt my chin and rasp urgently into my ear.

But seeing as how she had been locked in the Atomic Library for nine days, I was not about to believe one thing this cat said.

Except her apparent sentiment that we will both be better off when Mom gets home.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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