Dewey's Nine Lives: The Legacy of the Small-Town Library Cat Who Inspired Millions

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9780451234667: Dewey's Nine Lives: The Legacy of the Small-Town Library Cat Who Inspired Millions

Vicki Myron follows up her #1 New York Times bestseller Dewey with stories of cats who inspire their owners- includes two brand-new Dewey stories!

 

Dewey is back with more heartwarming moments and life lessons to share, all told from the perspective of Dewey's "mom," retired librarian Vicki Myron.

From a divorced mother in Alaska who saved a drowning kitten on Christmas Eve to a troubled Vietnam veteran whose heart opened to a rescued cat-to two new stories featuring Dewey himself- these stories demonstrate the power animals have to touch and alter the course of our lives. This edition will also include a new, real-life story from a fan that highlights how a cat has touched his or her life.

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About the Author:

Vicki Myron was born on a farm fifteen miles from Spencer, Iowa. At the age of thirty-four, after a failed marriage, single motherhood, and a stint on welfare, she graduated summa cum laude from Mankato State University and has a masters degree from Emporia State University. She worked at the Spencer Public Library for twenty-five years, the last twenty as director. She lives in Spencer, Iowa.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Prologue

Dewey

“Thank you, Vicki, and thank you, Dewey. . . . I don’t believe in angels, but Dewey comes close.”
—Christine B., Tampa, FL

I disagree with the person who wrote that letter, because I do believe there are angels walking among us, helping us grow. I believe in “teachable moments,” when we can learn something valuable about life if our eyes and hearts are open to the world around us. These angels of opportunity, as I like to think of them, come in all forms. They appear thanks to the important people in our lives, but also through chance meetings and strangers. I believe Dewey Readmore Books, the famous library cat of Spencer, Iowa, was one of those angels. He taught so many lessons, and touched so many lives, that I can’t dismiss it as chance. And I don’t believe in coincidence.

But I know what that young woman is saying. She is saying that Dewey, through his actions and his example, transformed her life. She can’t find the words to describe that power, but she knows it is special.

Well, I have a phrase for it: Dewey’s Magic. It is the phrase I used each time I saw his ability to change the way people thought about themselves. No one saw that Magic more than I, because of all the people in the world, I knew Dewey best and was touched by him most. I’m just an ordinary Iowa girl, the long-serving director of a small-town library less than a dozen miles from the farm where I was born and raised, but for nineteen years I was privileged to share my journey with Dewey. And Dewey . . . he was special. He impacted lives. He inspired a town. He became famous around the world, headlined magazines and newspapers, and was the subject of the #1 New York Times bestselling memoir Dewey, which as “Dewey’s Mommy” I was privileged to write. Dewey’s Magic, that’s what it was. He was just a cat, but he had a way of inspiring our better selves. He made everyone fall in love with him. He touched the world. No one who met him ever forgot Dewey Readmore Books.

His story began quietly, on a brutally cold weekend in January 1988. The temperature was minus fifteen degrees, the kind of cold that burns your lungs and peels the skin from your face (or at least it feels that way). That kind of cold, often accompanied by ferocious winds, is the worst thing about living in the great northern plains.

You learn to tolerate it, but you never adapt. There are times in northern Iowa when it just isn’t wise to go outside.

But despite the deep freeze, someone had been out in downtown Spencer, because at some point that Sunday, a tiny homeless kitten was shoved into the book return slot on the back wall of the Spencer Public Library. I hope it was an act of mercy, that someone saw a tiny eight-week-old, one-pound kitten shivering in the snow and wanted to protect it. If that was the case, they were misguided. The library book return was nothing more than a metal tube that led, after a four-foot drop, into a sealed metal box. In effect, it was a refrigerator. There were no blankets, pads, or soft linings. There was only cold metal. And books. For at least ten hours and maybe as long as twenty-four, little Dewey sat in bitterly cold utter darkness, with nothing to comfort him but books.

I entered the story early Monday morning when I opened the book return box and found the tiny kitten inside. When he looked up longingly into my eyes, my heart stopped. He was so cute . . . and so in need. I cradled him in my hands until he stopped shivering, then gave him a warm bath in the library sink and dried him with the blow-dryer we used for children’s craft projects. That’s when Dewey took over, tottering on frostbitten feet to each person on the library staff and nuzzling them sweetly with his nose.

I decided, right then, that the library should adopt him. It wasn’t just that I fell in love with Dewey the moment he looked at me with his glorious golden eyes. I knew, for those eyes and his determination to thank every staff member for his rescue, that he would fit perfectly into my plan to warm up the cold institutional nature of the Spencer Public Library. He had such a loving and outgoing personality, such a heartwarming presence, that he made everyone feel good.

And at that moment, that’s exactly what Spencer, Iowa, needed. The town was reeling from a farm crisis, with 70 percent of the downtown storefronts empty and farms in the county going bankrupt by the dozen. We needed a feel-good story. We needed something positive to talk about, and a lesson in persistence, hope, and love. If someone could shove a tiny kitten into a dark and freezing metal box, and that kitten could emerge with his trust and compassion intact, then we could endure our misfortunes, too.

But Dewey wasn’t a mascot. He was a flesh-and-blood companion, an animal always open and loving the moment anyone stepped into the library. He warmed hearts one lap at a time, and maybe even more important, he had a knack for knowing who really needed him.

I remember the retired patrons who visited every morning. Many of them started staying longer and talking with the staff more after Dewey arrived.

I remember Crystal, a middle school student with severe physical disabilities who did nothing but stare at the floor until Dewey found her and started jumping onto her wheelchair as she was rolled through the door. Then Crystal started to look at the world around her. She started to make noises every week when she entered the library, and when Dewey came running and leapt on her chair, a smile burst out of her heart.

I remember our new assistant children’s librarian, who had recently moved to Spencer to care for her sick mother. She and Dewey sat together every afternoon. I caught her one day with a tear in her eye and realized how much she had been suffering, and that only Dewey had been there for her.

I remember the shy woman who had trouble making friends. I remember the young man frustrated by his inability to find work. I remember the homeless man who never spoke to anyone but always found Dewey, placed him on his shoulder (the right shoulder of course; Dewey would sit only on your right shoulder), and walked with him for fifteen minutes. The man whispered; Dewey listened. I am convinced of that. And by listening, by being present, he helped them all.

But mostly, I remember the children. Dewey had a special relationship with the children of Spencer. He loved babies. He would creep to their carriers and snuggle beside them, a look of complete contentment on his face, even when they pulled his ears. He let toddlers pet him and prod him and squeal with delight. He befriended a boy with allergies who was heartbroken because he couldn’t have a pet of his own. He spent afternoons with the middle school students who stayed in the library while their parents worked, chasing their pencils and hiding in their jacket sleeves. He would brush by every child at our weekly Story Hour before choosing one lap to curl up on—a different lap, I should mention, every week. Yes, Dewey had catlike habits. He slept a lot. He was picky about being petted on the belly. He ate rubber bands. He attacked typewriter keys (back then, we still had typewriters around) and computer keyboards. He lounged on the copier, because it blew warm air. He climbed on the overhead lights. You couldn’t open a box anywhere in the library without Dewey suddenly appearing and jumping inside. But what he really did was something just as catlike but more profound: He opened the hearts of the people of Spencer, one at a time, to the beauty and love in our wonderful little town in the middle of the great Iowa plains, and to one another.

That was the real Dewey Magic, his ability to spread his joyous, friendly, and relaxed attitude toward life to everyone he met.

The fact that he became famous? That was pure charisma. I intended, of course, for him to become well known in Spencer. I worked hard to help him change the image of the library, to make it a gathering place as opposed to just a warehouse for books. I was amazed that anyone outside northwest Iowa would care. But slowly at first, and then in a torrent, they came, drawn by the story of the special cat who inspired a town. The journalists came first—from Des Moines, England, Boston, and Japan. Then the visitors started to arrive. An older couple from New York on a cross-country drive who, after visiting Dewey, sent money on his birthday and Christmas every year of his life. A family from Rhode Island, who were in Minneapolis (five hours away from Spencer) for a wedding. A sick little girl from Texas who, I was sure, had asked her parents for this one gift. It was amazing to watch the accidental blossoming of fame. People met Dewey; they spent time with him; and they loved him. They went home and told other people about him, and then those people came to visit him, and they left impressed, and the next thing we knew, we were receiving a telephone call from a newspaper in Los Angeles or a news reporter in Australia.

So when Dewey died peacefully at the age of nineteen, having served the community of Spencer and its public library every day with enthusiasm and grace, I wasn’t really surprised that his obituary, first published in Sioux City, ran in more than 275 newspapers. Or that the library received letters by the thousands from around the world. Or that hundreds of fans signed his condolence book and attended an impromptu memorial. For two months, we were besieged by reporters and admirers and requests to talk about Dewey. And then, slowly, the clamor died down. The cameras turned off, and Spencer went back to being the quiet little town it had always been. Those of us who had loved Dewey were, finally, left to our personal grief. Dewey the celebrity was gone; the memories of Dewey our friend remained, held privately in our hearts. When I finally buried Dewey’s ashes outside the window of the children’s section of the library he had loved so much, it was at dawn on a freezing December morning with only the assistant library director at my side. And that’s the way he would have wanted it.

I knew he had left a legacy, because Dewey had changed me. He had changed members of the library staff. He had changed Crystal the disabled girl, and the homeless man, and the children who came each week for Story Hour, many of whom brought their own children to see him in his later years. I knew how important he was because people kept telling me their Dewey stories, confiding in me in a way. In the end, he touched more than the town of Spencer. But it was those of us who had known him and loved him and heard his story that he changed. His legacy would live on in us.

I thought that was it. I really did.

And then something amazing happened. I wrote a book about Dewey, and people around the world responded. The book was meant as a tribute to my friend, a thank-you for his service to Spencer and his impact on my life. I knew he had fans. I thought they might want to read the full story. I was not prepared for the passionate response. So many of the people who attended my book events didn’t just like Dewey, and didn’t just enjoy the book. They loved them both. They felt touched by the story. And they felt changed. I remember one woman in Sioux City who broke down in tears as she told me that her mother, a Spencer piano teacher and church organist, had taken her every Saturday for cinnamon rolls and a trip to the library to see Dewey. Then her mother developed Alzheimer’s and slowly forgot her husband, her children, even her own identity. Her daughter drove two hours from Sioux City to visit her every week, and she always brought her own cat with her. The cat was black and white, nothing like copper-colored Dewey at all, but every week her mother smiled and said, “Oh, it’s Dewey. Thank you for bringing Dewey.” The daughter could barely get those last words out, she was crying so hard.

“I went out in the parking lot after I met you,” she told me some time later, “and sat in my car and cried for fifteen minutes. The tears wouldn’t stop. My mother had been dead for twelve years, but it was the first time I had really cried for her. Thinking about Dewey, remembering how much my mother loved him, was the end of the grieving process.”

The strangest thing? I didn’t know this woman, Margo Chesebro, or her mother, Grace Barlow-Chesebro (although from her daughter’s description of a smart, strong, independent woman who believed in the magic of animals, I’m sure I would have liked her). And yet, they had known and loved Dewey. He had been a regular and important part of their lives, important enough that Grace would somehow retain his memory in her damaged mind, even as she lost forever the names of her children and became convinced her husband was her long-dead brother. There was no way, I realized then, that I could ever truly know the extent of the lives Dewey had touched.

And then there were the people who had never known Dewey, the strangers who were so touched by his story, they felt compelled to write to me. It started almost immediately after the book’s publication. “I’ve never written to an author before but I was so moved by Dewey’s story. . . .” Or, “Dewey was an angel, thank you for sharing him with the world.”

As the months went on, and the book topped the national best-seller lists, the letters became more frequent, until I was receiving dozens every day. After a year, I had received more than three thousand letters, e-mails, and packages, almost all from people who had never heard of Dewey before reading the book. I received a pillow cross-stitched with the image of Dewey from the book’s cover. I received several paintings of him. A former resident of Spencer, who had moved away but had never forgotten, commissioned a sculpture of Dewey for the library. (I knew Dewey’s Magic was at work when I saw where the artist’s studio was located: Dewey, Arizona.) I can’t even count how many drawings, ornaments, and carvings of cats I have received from fans. I have a bookcase in my house just to display them—and it’s overflowing.

One person sent me twenty dollars to buy roses for Dewey. Another sent five dollars to place catnip on his grave. A woman at a call center in Idaho told me that every time someone calls from Iowa, she asks about Dewey, hoping to find someone who knew him. Another man sent a picture of the jar in which he collects spare change. It featured a picture of Dewey. The man was donating his change, from that time forward, to animal rescue.

I read every card, letter, and e-mail. I wanted to respond, but there was no way to keep up with the volume, especially since I was often on the road, meeting Dewey’s fans. (But please rest assured, letter writers, that I bought those roses and that catnip for Dewey’s grave.) The sentiments expressed in the letters, and the way Dewey continued to change people’s lives, touched me more, I suspect, than these fans ever imagined.

A young man who had suffered a devastating divorce and career setback that left him bitter and angry wrote to say that Dewey’s life “opened my heart.”

A woman with severe MS told me how, after reading Dewey, she got down on the floor to kiss the head of the dog that lived in her group home. Afterward, she was u...

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Book Description Berkley Books, United States, 2011. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. Vicki Myron follows up her #1 New York Times bestseller Dewey with stories of cats who inspire their owners- includes two brand-new Dewey stories! Dewey is back with more heartwarming moments and life lessons to share, all told from the perspective of Dewey s mom, retired librarian Vicki Myron. From a divorced mother in Alaska who saved a drowning kitten on Christmas Eve to a troubled Vietnam veteran whose heart opened to a rescued cat-to two new stories featuring Dewey himself- these stories demonstrate the power animals have to touch and alter the course of our lives. This edition will also include a new, real-life story from a fan that highlights how a cat has touched his or her life. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780451234667

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Book Description Berkley Books, United States, 2011. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. Vicki Myron follows up her #1 New York Times bestseller Dewey with stories of cats who inspire their owners- includes two brand-new Dewey stories! Dewey is back with more heartwarming moments and life lessons to share, all told from the perspective of Dewey s mom, retired librarian Vicki Myron. From a divorced mother in Alaska who saved a drowning kitten on Christmas Eve to a troubled Vietnam veteran whose heart opened to a rescued cat-to two new stories featuring Dewey himself- these stories demonstrate the power animals have to touch and alter the course of our lives. This edition will also include a new, real-life story from a fan that highlights how a cat has touched his or her life. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780451234667

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