For first-time author Anna Burger, reflecting on the experience of writing her debut children’s book, Pea Soup and the Seafood Feast, can best be described as a labor of love. It was Burger’s deep love for her friends and family, paired with an unshakeable sense of nostalgia for times past, that was the catalyst to the writing of her first book. Her writing desk, situated in front of a window, overlooked the dock behind her house that floats on Onancock Creek. “When I was sitting there with writers’ block, I looked around me and thought, ‘what could I write about?’” and that’s precisely when it hit her. Burger gazed at the scene before her and realized that the answer was as simple as her childhood days, spent on the water with her father and grandfather, learning how to fish and crab, all the while gaining a unique love for the water that would connect the three of them for years to come. Burger states matter-of-factly, “Every writer has heard, ‘write what you know,’ and that’s exactly what I started with.”
In the spirit of writing what she knows, when it came time to find an illustrator for her project, she immediately called upon artist Laura Craig, a long-time friend. After all, Burger had known Craig since they were small children growing up in the same coastal town. Craig, who hadn’t thought of herself as an illustrator “until this particular moment” says, “I was motivated by my friendship with Anna, honestly…and I just thought it would be such a fun and sweet project. It’s sort of a romantic idea, too—a children’s book illustrator.” And with that, Burger and Craig became partners on a quest to convey the same love for marine life that they gained as children. According to Craig, their “lives have intersected and diverged through the years,” but both Burger and Craig seem to agree that this particular moment of intersection is a very special one.
Pea Soup and the Seafood Feast tells the story of young Jack, as he journeys out on a boat, intent on catching the makings of a seafood feast. He has decided that he simply cannot stomach even one bowl of the pea soup his mother has prepared for dinner. As Jack embarks on his adventure, he keeps his grandfather’s teachings and previous instruction about boating and fishing in mind. He catches a flounder, a spot, a clam, and not one but six blue crabs, a true cross-section of the rich marine life found on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Craig illustrates each of these creatures vividly, using watercolor as her medium of choice. She says she wants the images she created to help young readers understand and see the beauty of this marine life that she and Burger know so well.
As Jack encounters one creature after another, he reflects on the true splendor, singularity, and importance of each, and decides that he cannot bear to take any back home with him to eat. However, Burger wants to be clear, “I certainly think it’s important to be aware of the creatures and their environment, but I never wanted to convey that it’s wrong to eat seafood. I eat seafood. I’m from a community where a lot of people are watermen and participate in aqua-culture. That’s not the message of the book.” Rather, it seems evident that Burger’s intention was for her young audience to receive a message about the importance of understanding aquatic life and appreciating the natural wonders that one can find living in or visiting any coastal community.
Indeed, one of Burger’s main purposes in writing Pea Soup and the Seafood Feast was to convey how an appreciation for something as beautiful and vast as the marine world can strengthen and even create ties between generations. Burger uses her current proximity to the water to create memories with her own young son, much like the memories her father and grandfather created with her when she was a child. She says, “We go out in the yard and we will catch little minnows in our minnow pond and catch crabs on the docks, and I’ll show him how the crab moves and what’s out there.” Burger knows how impactful creating those memories has been in her own life, and she intends to do the same with her little one. And now, the love and appreciation that she has for the water will be forever memorialized in her book.
From the inspiration behind her story, to the decision to ask her long-time friend Laura Craig to illustrate her book, Burger certainly seems to be motivated by love above all—her love for her family and her love for the water. “My grandfather, who I dedicated this book to, is no longer living, and the reaction, specifically from family members, has been that he would be really proud of it, and happy that the activities he did with me have made such an impression on my life all these years later.” No doubt a most meaningful reaction to the lovely tribute that Anna Burger has written. pl
By Nuala Galbari Images by David L. Justis, M.D.
A few days ago, I decided to have a gardening day, if only to attack the overrun Virginia Creeper and the invasive English Ivy along with the trimming of some shrubs that had chosen to join their neighbors, forming a hedge. As I worked around the edge of the woodland, I needed to tackle the animal memorial garden where my cat Tinky is buried, his white wooden marker having become rather faded and in need of attention.
While there, I paused to remember my feline friend with affection and took a moment to consider this angelic gift and how he had blessed my life for over seventeen years.
Tinky, a Siamese Snowshoe, was born on Senator Daschle’s farm in South Dakota, a little stray who had wandered in one cold November day, weak and thin with a respiratory infection. I had been seeking a kitten for a friend who had recently lost her old cat and when my veterinarian called to say there was a kitten in need of a home, I asked her to make arrangements to transport him to the clinic for me. Tinky was less than three months of age, and what I didn’t know at the time was that he would be flown to Minneapolis via Mesaba Airlink, his medicines packed with him, to arrive the following night.
It was a snow-covered November evening when he arrived at the cottage, kept warm in layers of small blanketing, in his carrier. Senator Daschle’s niece delivered him, and when I unzipped the carrier, two cerulean blue eyes stared up at me, the little tyke purring loudly with a raspy voice. I was lost from the moment I saw him and I confess to the fact that I didn’t want to part with him. My friend arrived the next day and when she looked at him she said, “What happened to him?” I told her he had escaped one night on the farm and the family searched for him in the cold but he couldn’t be located. With temperatures plummeting to -10F, they feared he would not survive. The following morning, he was discovered sleeping with a calf in the barn, his life apparently having been spared by the warmth of the companion animal, although he was scraped, had some missing fur and had lost the tip of his tail to frostbite. He looked rather frightful and my friend smiled and said, “Perhaps you can keep him? Thank you for the offer.”
After my friend left, I felt so relieved. I realized that she was looking for a cat that would match her sofa, something along Persian lines with a pedigree. I called the veterinarian the next morning and told her Tinky would stay with us, and I wrote to Senator Daschle and advised that the kitten had a new home. The senator’s family had plans to travel south for the winter, and they had been very concerned about the kitten, ensuring he had veterinary treatment for his respiratory ailments.
Tinky required several veterinary visits and was placed on bubble gum-flavored antibiotics for about two weeks to clear the infection. Each night, I would tuck him into his basket, put a nightlight and the radiator on for him, and sing him to sleep. It took months to bring him back to good health, and soon he began to grow stronger.
At only three months of age, Tinky would sit on my knee and watch me play piano—always purring along. On some days, I would take one paw and touch the keyboard, pressing it lightly to the key. He would purr even louder. He quickly learned to communicate little requests through music, and music seemed to be a joy in his life. I would often pick him up and dance with him; he would purr loudly in my ear, his paws pressed firmly into my shoulder.
In 2005, we moved to Virginia and Tinky traveled with his friend, a rehabilitated crow named Reginald, from Minneapolis to Gloucester. Each night during the journey, we would stop at a hotel and smuggle the two guests in quietly. Once inside the room or suite, Tinky would tear around with his customary aplomb, bouncing off the walls, sliding over tables, and knocking things down, releasing all the energy before he dozed off; he made himself quite at home in the Marriott and Hilton hotels along the route. He was never a stickler for perfect grooming—especially on the relocation trip—and always seemed to miss a few of the white patches. His paws betrayed his love of running wild in the garden and getting into mud, leaves and spider webs. Life was too full of excitement. He had better things to do than sit and wash all day like common cats; he was a combination of pirate and intellectual snob.
Once settled in Gloucester, he spared no time in discovering the new piano and he was soon giving concerts to friends, reveling in the applause he received for his mini-etudes. A gathering of friends would only need to sit down quietly and say, Tinky, give us a tune! With each round of applause, Tinky would gather enthusiasm. He didn’t walk on the piano like most cats; he stood on his two hind legs, stretched away up and placed both paws on the keyboard, usually playing first with his right paw, then with his left. I taught him to strike the keys in a clean manner by withholding applause if he struck two keys at the same time. It wasn’t long before he would work his way up an octave, and then hit some bass notes with the left paw, at the end. He always attempted his own version of perfection, having grown up on Mozart.
Another passion of Tinky’s was Dame Judy Dench. Well known for her warm, affectionate voice, Dame Judy had a wonderful effect on Tinky, and on PBS BritCom nights, he would take off at an energetic gallop around the house, coat fully fluffed with excitement, until he was completely out of steam. He also loved Masterpiece evenings, and would jump up and position himself on a knee for Downton Abbey.
Tinky loved loblolly pines, and he had a particular tree he loved to climb to about six or seven feet, before descending backwards and then flipping sideways onto the ground. Autumn was his favorite season and he would dive into a wheelbarrow of leaves, or bury himself in a leaf pile on the ground, waiting to spring out and pounce as I walked by. He was naughty and always learned how to escape in wet weather, snow, or on a summer’s night when the crickets were serenading in full chorus. He was a brave little cat and feared nothing.
Tinky would welcome any cat that arrived at the house, and he always took care of newcomers. One day a new Red Point Siamese arrived, adopted from nearby friends, Bob and Ray. The new infant, three months of age, was named by all four of us: Henry Henkel Harpo Beauregard Booth. Tinky took young Henry in paw, and together with another Siamese, named Bianco, the two taught the little tyke to defend himself, play and learn a little music. By now, we had added a second piano and while I never took Henry near it, Tinky became his teacher and Henry learned to communicate his wishes through music. There was a code of course: A few notes pressed carefully and slowly usually meant a desire to be fed promptly; part of an octave played loudly, signified that they wanted to go outside, and a longer session with more keys involved often seemed to mean they wanted attention or just wanted to play. Failure on the part of humans to respond to their requests translated to a much louder concert that could not be ignored.
During the day or when we were out, Tinky always listened to WHRO 90.3, and I think he picked up a few cues from the station. He was a feline musicologist in his own way.
He left us in his sleep one afternoon, while I read The Wind in the Willows to him, and my friend Dr. Barbara King helped to keep him company. He slipped into a coma and died quietly on his favorite chair at age seventeen. He had lived every day to its fullest potential.
He was buried in our memorial garden, beside his friend, Reginald the Crow, who lived to the grand age of twenty-one years. A small statue of St. Francis guards his grave and a plaque is inscribed with the timeless words of Robert Burns:
Grow old with me
The best is yet to be…
Tinky’s legacy reminds us daily to love life, laugh, nurture our wild sides, try anything, escape when we possibly can and never stop playing music.
Before he traveled on, he trained Henry to play piano. Henry plays almost as well as he did, if not quite so often, yet Tinky took something with him—a love of performing in front of his human family. In this respect he was unique.
He is in our hearts daily. I miss dancing with him, his bright blue eyes, his cheeky personality, his courage, and the fact that he put up with so much and never complained.
We still hear him playing piano, and every time Henry puts his paws on the keyboard, we smile. pl