September 12th, 2012 at 5:00 am
Authors Patricia Barey and Therese Burson have written about this life-long love affair in their new book, Julia’s Cats: Julia Child’s Life in the Company of Cats.
“About six years ago, I read a biography on Julia Child and was intrigued by a black and white photo of her in Paris with a kitten in her lap,” said Burson. That curiosity spawned a whole book.
“When Julia and her husband Paul moved to France,” said Barey, “a maid brought a cat into their home to be a mouser, and Julia fell in love. At first she called the kitten Minou, which means ‘kittycat’ in French, but when they found out it was a female, she became Minette. Most of her cats were named some version of Minou.”
Pat and Terry pored over Julia’s papers at the Schlesinger Library in Cambridge, MA, where they found hundreds of pictures of cats taken by Paul, an amateur photographer. “We also found a treasure trove of correspondence,” said Terry. “Both Julia and Paul were wonderful letter writers and wrote about everything, including the antics of their various cats.”
I asked Terry to share her favorite story of Julia and her cats. “Julia traveled so much that she didn’t always own a cat, but always doted on them. One day, her housekeeper in Cambridge brought her a kitten. That house had a rather elaborate alarm system, and Julia couldn’t seem to train the cat not to set off the burglar alarm. She reluctantly gave the cat to her sister, Dorothy, in California. But every time she called Dorothy, Julia would ask to be put on speaker phone so the cat wouldn’t forget her voice.”
In fact, that became Julia’s calling card of sorts. When she would reach a friend’s voice mail, she would leave this simple message: “Meow.”
When Julia retired to California, the apartment she lived in didn’t allow pets. She abided by the rules for a while, but at age 91, she got a kitten. When Julia Child passed away later that year, they found that cat, also named Minou, curled up on her bed.
Related Picture Books
Minette’s Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat by Susanna Reich
Les Oeufs Verts au Jambon: The French Edition of Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss