January 2014 Review–Julia’s Cats: Julia Child’s Life in the Company of Cats, by Patricia Barey and Therese Burson

~by Michele Gregoire

“Minou kept watch through the night as Julia’s charmed life ebbed away, where she said it all truly began, in the company of cats.”

The Prologue to this little memoir on the life of Julia Child and her cats begins at the last evening of her life with a discussion of what she wanted her final meal to be, and ends with the quoted sentence above. The first chapter then begins immediately after her marriage, at the age of 36, as she and her beloved husband Paul approach Paris where her career will begin. The book is short at less than 150 pages, and includes several photographs of her with cats, making it a relatively quick read. The authors, however, did extensive research into the family letters and many hours of interviews with relatives and friends to create the thorough and accurate view of Julia’s life while keeping the focus on her relationships with the many loved cats that accompanied her through the years.

Julia’s life in Paris and her foray into cooking school are well described as are the many nuances of her relationship with Paul, to whom she was entirely devoted. The difference in this book from another biography is that there is much text dedicated always to the cats, and it starts in adulthood with her marriage. Her relationship with cats begins with her first feline love, Minette, the tortoiseshell she adopts after moving into their first Paris apartment, where they lived for four years. Fortunately, Paul was as much a devoted animal lover as she was and enjoyed having cats in their life. Julia’s term of endearment for all cats was “poussiequette” and she referred to each of them by that name, as well as their own personal names. Cats accompanied her in the kitchen while preparing food and cooking, and often received especially nice treats from the chef. The text is peppered with French terms throughout, as fit descriptively. One comes away from this book really knowing Julia Child and, if an ailurophile, feeling the strong presence of another cat lover.

One event that I found especially fun to read about was the first visit to a cat show in Paris. Julia just beamed throughout the experience and her own natural ebullience was contagious as they moved through the show hall and visited the many cats and their owners. Some of the exhibitors/owners even let her hold the cats, which gave her great enjoyment. At the end of the day she was glowing, “happy to be in the company of so many kindred spirits who were unashamed to publicly adore cats. Attending cat shows became one of her favorite outings wherever she happened to be. Julia Child was now a cat lady and proud of it.”

The major events in Julia’s life are chronicled in this memoir, including: her Cordon Bleu training; the writing of cook books; development of her television program; travels back and forth between the U.S. and France where they split their time for many years; her bout with breast cancer; and the loss of her husband, Paul. The book ends with the Epilogue and plans for her 92nd birthday. But she died peacefully in her sleep two days before. Nevertheless, the celebration went on, in honor of Julia’s love of a good time. Her goal: “Above all, have a good time. Bon appétit!”

This is a very pleasant book to start the New Year’s reading. Barey and Burson have written a quite delightful biographical memoir of Julia Child that authentically captures her personality, life, and love of cats. It takes just a couple of hours to read but is very easy to put down and pick up again at a later time for reading in short episodes. It is the story of a very beloved icon of 20th century television and is quite an upbeat biography that captures the Julia Child that the public came to know so well while also sharing the lesser known but highly important aspect of her life in the company of cats. While Julia was not religious at all, she was a woman with a big heart and a very happy outlook. Her vocation in life, that was so important to her and in which she made such significant contributions, might put one in mind of St. Martha, patron of servants and cooks, who we recall busily prepared food and cooked for Christ (Luke 10:38-42). Julia’s life revolved around the act of continuous cooking. And with her love of cats perhaps the hand of St. Gertrude of Nivelles, patron of cats, gardeners, and travelers, was touching her life as well. Certainly these two saints represent the activities and pursuits of Julia Child through most of her life. Enjoy reading her story!

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Dr. Michele Gregoire has been Chair of the Education Department at Flagler College since 2004 and a member of the faculty since 1988. She came to Flagler College from Georgia College in Milledgeville where she had been Director of Music Therapy for four years and prior to that she spent one year in the same capacity at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. Dr. Gregoire earned her bachelor’s degree in Music Therapy at Florida State University, her master’s degree in Music at California State University at Long Beach, and her doctoral degree in Special Education at the University of Florida. She has conducted research and published articles related to music therapy and special music education, consistently maintains a strong record of professional conference presentations, and her current interests are historical research in music education, special education, and music therapy.

Dr. Gregoire has been involved in several professional organizations throughout her career, and has served in leadership capacities in most of them. She worked for ten years as a clinical music therapist and director of internship, specializing in developmental disabilities, at the beginning of her career and continues to provide consultation in both music therapy and special education to individuals and organizations.

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