Spooky Black Cats and Rhoda

   Mrs. JingleBells seems to be the only cat left in our yard. The others have gone to find more deserving homes, no doubt, where no crazy bichons will terrorize their every move. The strangest thing happened this week. I told Mrs. JingleBells, while petting her as she sat on my lap in the grape arbor, "I miss all your kids. Where did they go? At least bring back Moe-fee to see me; he was a pretty silly boy, who loved me." He's been gone for about a month and a half. I was just talking. She was just purring.
   The next day...the very next day (!) who showed up! Moe-fee; he still has his baby mew...for some reason, while his siblings acquired a full depth 'meow', his was always a tiny 'mew'. So, how odd, but then his mom was  nowhere around that day. What's up with these silly black cats? He was gone the next day, and his mom was back. Spooky.
  Speaking of spooky, it, being today, I was trying to remember the creepiest thing I could remember about my childhood, but the only thing I came up with, was our cellar. We lived in Olean, NY, on top of the levee of the Olean Creek. From my Dad's memoirs, I learned that his uncle Dan, a tugboat captain, had built our house in the mid-1800's. It was a fine old house, built over a basement which was crudely dug into the ground. There were no real concrete walls, perhaps a few stones lined the wall here and there, the floor was just  flattened, tamped down dirt. It was dark, the air was dank and cool, there was one 40 watt light bulb hanging near the stairs. There were several rooms down there, of which I never dared go into; it was sufficient enough for me to peer into the first room where decrepit shelves were lined with old, old canned goods, from who knows what generation, and where thick, ancient cobwebs draped everything.  Actually, I never wanted to venture down there at all. Just getting down into the basement was a very creepy challenge. First a huge very old door had to be lifted and secured, which was built into the cement floor of the closed-in back entryway to the house. One day, out of sheer curiosity, I decided to explore, so, peering down into the gloom, and cautiously feeling down into it with one foot, finding the icy cold hard cement step, then the next, and next, while trying to duck under where I thought spider webs might be lurking. Just then my brother showed up with a flashlight which flooded the whole stairwell where we immediately spotted several families of spiders roosting everywhere! GAH! We've never seen spiders like this in our lives! They were completely white. They looked like their bodies were made of a cellophane-like filament filled with puss!  Even their eight legs! We just stared at them, horrified, frozen where we stood, until a couple of the larger ones started moving about. We were then OUT of there! 
   Our Dad was nonplussed about it; he said they wouldn't bother us, if we didn't bother them. We saw them occasionally over the years. My Dad would send my brother down there to put something, or bring it up. Since he was a brave teenager at that point, he didn't seem to mind.
   Because it was such an undertaking for the electric meter reader, since he'd gotten older, my Dad decided to just leave the cellar door open. Still, the meter guy wasn't happy about having to get down those stairs trying to avoid those white spiders and finding his way around down there in the dark...he said he never did like that place. Well....who did?
  Adjacent to our house, there on the levee, was our family owned sign shop. It was western New York's oldest sign business. Our great-great grandfather started the business by hand-lettering stagecoaches. The business grew, whereby many types of signs were built by our sign company. As such, there was always some odds and ends that had to do with commercial art stashed here and there in and around the old sign shop. Many of the 3-dimensional art objects ended up in the house, as well. One of these was a mannequin. My dad brought her in during his lunch break and named her "Rhoda" one hot and summer day.
   My grandmother scolded that we had enough stuff in the house already and to take his 'date' elsewhere, but we three teenagers, my young aunt Bev (same age as I am), my brother and I, all thought that Rhoda was the coolest thing we'd seen in awhile, so persuaded Grandma to let us keep her.
   "Well, just keep her out of sight when company comes," ordered Grandma, lightly dusting off something with her lace-edged hankie.
    Rhoda might have been out of sight of company, but we dragged her everywhere. Although she had no hair, Bev being a beauty school student, fashioned her with a scull cap, much like "flappers" in my Dad's younger days used to wear. So, Rhoda looked just fine, we thought, for public display. We packed her into our friend's car and cruised around town, one time she showed up at my brother's band practice, anywhere my grandmother would not be caught dead, we took Rhoda. It was "The Summer of Rhoda".
 My Dad, our friend, Paul, Rhoda and me.
 Me with another black cat, Rhoda, Paul, and Bev with her dog.
   Rhoda, Paul, Bev and me. We all had a wonderful summer with her that year. We loved her shock value, as well, of course. That was her charm.
    Well, Fall set in and so did the rigors of school, so Rhoda kind of got left to go her own way. Grandma got disgusted with her being in the way all the time, she said. We put her in our bedrooms, but she kept getting in the way there, too.
   Sadly, we never realized that we hadn't seen her around for awhile. We were busy with school and after school activities.
   One quiet afternoon at the end of October, we heard a tremendous SHRIEK from somewhere in the house and a thundering coming up the cellar stairs, followed by the back door slamming HARD, as wailing was heard all across the back lawn and into the distance.
   A true mystery. It was solved somewhat later, as the meter man refused to come read the meter for six whole months, when he retired. It seems that his nerves were already frazzled as he slowly crept down those dark stairs into the cellar. He shined his dim flashlight around to find the archaic cobwebbed meter, then suddenly had a strange feeling on the back of his neck that someone was watching him. "Impossible," he thought, turning his flashlight to find himself face-to-face with Rhoda's cold dead eyes staring into his, as she stood, hidden in the corner just inside the door where Dad had put her for safekeeping. 
  The meter company had to send somebody out to fetch the poor old guy's flashlight and writing pad, in whatever direction he had tossed them in his haste to escape our "dungeon".
  Good Ol' Rhoda, she still had one good adventure left in 'er. She was, of course, then banished from our house, but we always hoped that wherever she was, she was still havin' the time of her...well...Life?


...And Thanks for all the Fish!

     Our beloved neighbors and good friends, Jude and Sonia
 own a camp down in the gulf marshes of South Louisiana, where they often go to relax and enjoy the wonderful coastal waters of our beautiful state.  The fishing there is among the best in the country. More often than not, they catch their limit of redfish, as shown here in the photos. These huge fish are no match for this li'l Cajun gal, Sonia! She hauls in monster-sized fish, right alongside the guys.
We've been blest on several occasions to be the recipient of some of their prized catches. Last month, they brought us an ice chest filled with three of these massive redfish, and the most beautiful flounder...we should have taken photos because they were all just that gorgeous...not to mention DELICIOUS!
Another fishing trip later and "here come da judge" with another two big beauties! (Jude is a judge by the way.) Can  you imagine? Words can't describe our appreciation for having such wonderful neighbors such as these.                                       
Thanking Jude, Sonia, and the Lord, we set about cleaning them, freezing some, and cooking some. None of it went to waste. Once everything was taken off the fish, we put the skin, bones, head...everything into a huge pot and boiled it, then discarded the bones (into the compost pile, which then will contribute to our gardening efforts). This "dirty broth" was then used to make dogfood, so even our "boys" benefited from the generous gift.
  What follows is another of the of the many ways we "honored" our gift fish with a hearty fish stew.  First, I cubed the succulent redfish into bite-sized pieces. By seasoning the fish in advance, it draws out excess moisture, which helps the fish to hold together while it cooks and keeps it from flaking apart.
Next, I added a li'l thick bacon cut into small pieces to grease the ol' black iron pot.
Once it's nice and browned, I added a couple of pounds of chopped yellow onion.  A trick I use when browning onions, is to season them with our own blend of Cajun seasoning.  The salt in the seasoning helps draw the water from the onions, which helps them brown quicker.
If the onions threaten to scorch as they slowly brown, I occasionally deglaze the pot with gluten free beer, wine, or water.  In this case, wine.
Once the onions are browned down to the point of caramelization, in goes an assortment of chopped bell peppers
and green onions from our garden.  
    Developing Cajun dishes is a slow process; it takes a little time, a little patience and a lot of love. After it finally "cooks down", we carefully stirred in a bit of cornstarch and water to thicken the gravy, then we added the seasoned cubes of redfish.
  When the fish was cooked, the dish was finished.  We plated a double serving over rice, with a side of green beans from our garden, and carried it across the street to Jude and Sonia, completing the cycle of the gift fish.
Thank God for good neighbors and great friends who occasionally catch too many fish. Now, I ask you: where else could we ever had come across seafood any fresher than caught-the-same-day fish? We couldn't have, unless we "judged the situation for ourselves".