Riot on St. Ive's Road
To Read the original nursery rhyme "St. Ives",
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As I was on my way back from the St. Ives fair one day, I saw the darndest thing. It was at the corner of St. Ives Road and Abbey Lane, just across the street from the 7-Eleven there.

What it was, was the biggest, howlingest, screamingest collection of people and cats I ever saw. The people—I counted seven women and two men—had some big brown bags, and they were trying to catch a whole lot of cats, too many for me to count.

The women would hold open a bag and say, "Here, kitty kitty! Here, kitty kitty!" and try to get the cats in the bags. Who it was let the cats out of the bags in the first place no one was saying.

Well, the cats would have nothing to do with the bags. Instead, they were running around going "Meow! Meow!" and trying to herd the kits they had brought along. Why did they bring along so many kittens? You got me. I guess you have to be a cat to understand kittens, or a woman with an empty cat bag to understand cats.

As I came closer I could see that this one man who seemed to know the names of all the women was trying to help out, snagging a cat here or chasing a kit there. The other guy was just standing there counting the crowd and writing in a notebook. I looked over his shoulder and saw that he was a poet. He had written, "As I was going to St. Ives..." and he seemed to be hunting for a rhyme for the next line. Maybe "hives"? or "arrives"?

Just how many kittens was he counting, you ask? Well, I found out that each woman had seven bags and each of the bags had held seven cats, which is a total of three hundred and forty-three cats! How big a number is three hundred and forty-three? It is about the same as the number of teeth on maybe five or six combs.

And then I found out that each cat had seven kittens, and that's—holy cats!—twenty-four hundred and one of the little curly wigglers. That's a really big number. It is as big a number as the total of all the fingers and toes on all the kids in the first and second grades at the Abbey Lane Elementary School.

Another way to understand a number that big is this: say each kitten when it's stretched out is about half as long as a ruler on your desk. Then if you could get all the kittens there in front of the 7-Eleven to line up, they would make a line of kittens about twelve hundred feet long!

That's a couple of city blocks! That's as long as sixty big automobiles parked bumper to bumper! It would take a little kid six or seven minutes just to walk from one end of that line of kittens to the other. And that's only if the kittens stood still and didn't wiggle and run around and wrestle with each other the way kittens do.

Well, I wasn't going to just stand around without lending a hand, so I introduced myself. "Anything I can do to help?"

The man who was helping the women looked at me and said, "You understand kits?"

"No," I said.

"How about cats?"

"Even less," I said.

He shrugged. "Then can you give me a hand with these women? They are all my wives."

"Aha!" said the man writing poetry. I guess he'd found his rhyme.

I said, "I think I have one thing that may work with wives and husbands, dogs and cats, kittens and mice."

"Ah!" said the man with all the wives. "What's that?

"It's three magic words that always get everybody's attention, usually make 'em line up and do what you ask."

"Wow," he said. "What are they, these three words?"

"In dog language," I said, "they're GRR-UMPH-ARK! In kitten they're MEE-OW-EEK! In cat they're BREEE-OW-YUM!" And as I said those words, the kittens flocked to the cats and the cats flocked to the wives, who began to shovel them all into the bags.

"And what are those word in people talk?" the man asked. The other guy stopped writing poetry to listen.

"In people talk," I said, "they are IT'S LUNCH TIME!"


 


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