The Dancing Cats of Applesapby Janet Taylor Lisle
Applesap is a small town smack dab in the middle of New York state, and beyond that geographical oddity, there isn’t much special about it. It has a dress shop, a run-down movie theater, and two old-fashioned drug stores: Jiggs’ and the Super Queen./b>
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In a forgotten small town, one girl and a hundred cats are about to do something spectacular
Applesap is a small town smack dab in the middle of New York state, and beyond that geographical oddity, there isn’t much special about it. It has a dress shop, a run-down movie theater, and two old-fashioned drug stores: Jiggs’ and the Super Queen. But nobody goes to Jiggs’. The roof is leaky, the seats are sticky, and the flies have built a kingdom around the soda fountain. Worst of all are the cats—hundreds of strays who wander in off the street to make the store their home. Jiggs’ is a place for creatures who want to hide from the world, and so it is perfect for Melba. A shy young girl who’s too timid to talk to other children, Melba makes Jiggs’ her home-away-from-home. As the old store nears bankruptcy, Melba comes up with a wild plan that will save the pharmacy, make Applesap famous, and change her life forever. This ebook features a personal history by Janet Taylor Lisle including rare images and never-before-seen documents from the author’s own collection.
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Read an Excerpt
The Dancing Cats of Applesap
By Janet Taylor Lisle
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1984 Janet Taylor Lisle
All rights reserved.
Whenever anyone asks Melba Morris where Applesap, New York, is, this is what she says:
"If you've got a pin, it's easy. Have you got one? A thumbtack is okay too. My brother, Victor, did it once with a jackknife from all the way across the kitchen. He's a wild man. See, all you do is take your pin, or thumbtack or jackknife, squint your eyes a little, and stick it, pow, in the very middle of the map of New York State. That's where Applesap is, right at dead center. You can't miss it."
Applesap is the town where Melba Morris lives. Lately, plenty of people have been asking for it. Word has got out about the pin too. Now folks from Tennessee and Nebraska and Texas and all over everywhere are sticking pins in and finding out how to get there.
Why, just last week a family came all the way from Alaska.
("California!" Melba interrupts. "They were from California.")
Well then, California. Just last week, a family came all the way from California. Melba was proud of that. She had a right to be proud. It wasn't so long ago that nobody ever asked where Applesap was. Nobody knew there was an Applesap to ask for, and even if they had known, they wouldn't have cared.
Applesap is the kind of small town that is all right if you live smack in it, but otherwise doesn't amount to very much. It isn't the capitol of anything. No presidents or beauty queens were ever born there. The only theater in town plays old Walt Disney movies that change about twice a year.
Applesap is a quiet town, a shy town, a town that feels its smallness and doesn't like to speak up because there are so many bigger and louder towns around. When there is a shopping mall up for grabs, or a roller rink, something big like that, it gets built in Glowville to the north or in Hopsburg to the south. They've got weight and throw it around. Applesap has a couple of schools, a library, a grocery store, a ladies' dress shop, and two drug stores ... Not what you would call weight in this day and age.
Recently, though, there has been a run on Applesap. More people, tourist types, come by in one weekend than used to pass through in an entire year.
"And they're not coming all this way to get hot fudge sundaes at the Super Queen Drugs," Melba pipes up from her chair across the room. "No, sir. They're coming straight to Jiggs' Drug Store. Why, we're killing the Super Queen these days. I heard the owners are thinking of selling out and moving to Glowville where the competition isn't so rough.
"Miss Toonie's dancing cats are the main attraction, of course. There was a lady here yesterday from Hartford, Connecticut, who said those cats ought to be in the Guinness Book of World Records. And that we (that's Miss Toonie, Mr. Jiggs, and I) ought to be in, too, for getting the act in shape.
"I thought that was a good idea, so I'm calling up the Guinness place this very morning. That's why I'm on the phone. I do things like that all the time now."
Melba Morris is ten years old, and she used to be just as shy and small and afraid to speak up as Applesap itself. At school, she was the one in the thick tortoise-shell glasses sitting farthest back from the teacher. On the playground, you would see her off by herself poking sticks through the fence or something equally dumb. She didn't like to walk up and say hello to anybody, even someone smaller than she was.
Melba looked at her feet a lot, and rubbed her skinny elbow a lot, and if anyone, by mistake, said hello to her, she would run to the ladies' room to polish her glasses. All her life she had been that way. It could have come from having an older brother who was a wild man.
Some people say if there is one child in a family who talks big and shows off and keeps a party jumping, there is bound to be another one who does the opposite. Maybe Melba was the opposite one, or maybe she was born shy and would have been shy no matter what. It's hard to say. In any case, most kids hardly knew she existed, even the kids in her class at Applesap Elementary School.
Melba didn't complain. She said she liked being alone. She said she liked being ignored and didn't mind in the least that she was the only girl in the class who didn't get invited to Irma Herring's Easter party.
"It's okay," Melba told her mother. "I don't like Irma Herring anyway."
Even when it turned out that she had been invited, but that the invitation had somehow gotten lost in the mail, Melba said she would rather not go.
"Why not?" said Melba's mother. "Maybe if you went those children would get to know you better."
"Everybody has a streak of shyness in them," Melba's father said. "Everybody finds it hard to get to know people."
Melba shook her head. She went up to her room and closed the door.
In those days, Melba spent a good deal of time in her room. Heaven knows what she did in there. Perhaps she read books—exciting adventures of ancient princesses or of children marooned on desert islands.
("No, I didn't," interrupts Melba. "I didn't like stories. Nobody I know of was ever marooned on a desert island.")
Maybe she built scale models of rocket. ships and blasted them out her window.
("Absolutely not," she declares. "Victor would have done something like that.")
Well, then perhaps she was teaching herself to knit. But whatever it was, she was doing a lot of it in her room. The only other place she ever went was to Jiggs' Drug Store, which, under normal circumstances, wouldn't have gotten her very far. Under normal circumstances she might have kept on going to Jiggs' and kept on being as shy as Applesap, New York, until both of them turned into dust. But, of course, circumstances at Jiggs' were not normal.
"They sure weren't," says Melba now, sitting down to make her phone call to theGuinness Book. "Jiggs' Drug Store didn't look like much on the surface, I know. But underneath, it had potential. And by the way," she adds, "I was not knitting in my room. I was thinking."CHAPTER 2
Jiggs' drug store is located around the corner from the elementary school, on Dunn Street. No one in those days before the dancing cats would have guessed it had potential. When Melba started going there, it was a rundown place and people didn't much go into it anymore.
On rainy days at Jiggs' the roof leaked into buckets set out on the floor. And on sunny days the air turned hot and buggy. And on any day the candy was stale. Furthermore, there were the cats. Not one or two cats curled up in out-of-the-way corners. Not even five or six scampering after a ball of string. No. Jiggs' had cats in the worst possible way: all over everything by the dozen.
They slept in piles, dangling their tails down the cosmetic cases. They prowled in droves around the bottoms of the cigar and candy racks. They licked their nails on top of the comic books and cleaned their ears behind the cash register. Whenever a customer came into the store, cat faces looked out from every crook and cranny to see who it was. And cat eyes blinked and stared. And a hundred cat tails twitched. It was unnerving, to say the least.
Most children who wanted a soda or a candy bar after school went over to the Super Queen Drugs two streets down. The Super Queen was new, and fresh, and didn't have any cats at all. The Super Queen had two spotless, curving counters, flanked by rows of comfortable stools. It was the best place in town to meet up with people, and that, of course, was why Melba started going to Jiggs', where she could order a hot fudge sundae without having to polish her glasses all the time.
Jiggs' had only four battered chrome stools, and flies. They stuck onto the counter where Miss Toonie hadn't sponged off. Miss Toonie was the dried-up old scrap of a lady who ran the soda fountain. She had worked in Jiggs' for years and looked half cat herself.
Miss Toonie's mouth was edged with whiskers. Her hair fuzzed up the slope of her forehead like fur. On top of this, she was extremely ill-tempered. You couldn't say two words to Miss Toonie without getting your head snapped off. She was a grouch, everybody in town said so, and all on account of some man who had asked her to marry him forty years ago and then had run off and left her flatfooted, without even an engagement ring to show for it.
After that, Miss Toonie wouldn't have anything to do with men. Eventually, she put women on her blacklist too. Children, being the natural result of both men and women, made her cross just to look at. The only creatures Miss Toonie could stand were cats, and that is why so many had come to live at Jiggs' Drug Store.
They were a beat-up, cringing crowd, every one of which she'd found out on the Applesap streets. From the brink of starvation she had nursed them back to health, or from half freezing to death, or from mutilation by cars. Every monstrous thing that had ever been done to a cat had been done to the cats in Jiggs' Drug Store, and this made Miss Toonie crosser than ever.
"Cast out upon the world by people who call themselves human beings!" Melba heard her growl more than once under her breath.
Miss Toonie was so furious at the way the world was treating cats that by the time Melba started going to Jiggs' she wasn't talking to anyone, especially not to Mr. Jiggs, owner of the store and a sad specimen in his own right.
"Spineless," Miss Toonie called him, although privately Melba considered this a bit harsh. For once, as everyone in town knew, he had been a bright young man with dreams of running a bright and profitable business. Once he'd had hopes of expanding into branch stores in Glowville and Hopsburg, and of being named "Druggist of the Year" by the grateful citizens of New York State.
But, after all, Mr. Jiggs knew as little about expanding and growing up big as the soft-spoken town in which he had chosen to set up shop. He gave discounts when he should have charged double, and showed no talent for bill collecting, and he could not keep the account books straight. Even at the height of the store's popularity, twenty years ago, he was unable to make enough money to keep up with the modern trends.
So, when the Super Queen came to town, clean and businesslike and up-to-date, Mr. Jiggs was in no position to put up a fight. Gradually, customers who had been loyal to Jiggs' for years began doing their business at the Super Queen. And gradually, Mr. Jiggs, seeing his store wither, withered along with it until he became almost invisible.
Day after day he lurked in the shop's back room, strumming, for lack of anything better to do, an old guitar left to him by a musical aunt. His mournful chords grated on Miss Toonie's nerves.
"He's got no gumption and never did have," she complained to Melba, when they had become warily acquainted. "And lately he's turned mean. That's what comes of sitting around talking to yourself all day!"
Melba knew about Mr. Jiggs' meanness. He showed himself rarely, but when he did come forth—a small, balding old man with crumpled yellow skin—he did it in a rage.
His fists pounding the air, he shouted at Miss Toonie for not sponging off, and at the cats for being everywhere underfoot, and at the rain for dripping through the roof. When he shouted, his yellow skin turned a terrifying purple and his eyes bulged like marbles. But after he'd shouted, he went away again into the back room and took up his guitar and strummed his long, sad chords.
"We don't pay any attention to him," whispered Miss Toonie after he'd gone. This was true. A minute later, even the most nervous and beaten-up cats were curled up snoring, and Miss Toonie was sunk deep in a movie magazine, and the rain dripped as hard as ever into the buckets.
Only Melba sat frozen on her stool, her eyes wobbling a little behind her thick, glassy lenses.CHAPTER 3
Miss Toonie disliked children, but, almost from the first day, she found she didn't dislike Melba quite as much as the others.
Shy as the most timid kitten, Melba came, at first once a week, then twice, and then almost every day after school. She always ordered the same thing: a hot fudge sundae. Melba didn't make a fuss if the whipped cream came out like a noodle. She didn't examine her spoon to see that it was clean. She didn't talk much and she was neat, so Miss Toonie didn't have to sponge off after her.
Melba gave Miss Toonie someone besides the cats to complain to. And, on her side, Melba didn't mind listening. She was a good listener, even if her throat clamped shut when she tried to say something back. Luckily, Miss Toonie wasn't interested in answers.
"The rudeness of that man goes beyond understanding!" Miss Toonie would complain, but softly so her voice wouldn't carry into the back room. She didn't like to admit it, but she was a bit frightened of Mr. Jiggs herself.
"Never a pleasant word. Never a good morning or good night. And when I offer a suggestion for improving this miserable store he tells me to mind my own business! Well! And what is my business if it isn't this store?
"You be careful of him," she warned Melba. "He's a sick man. He doesn't have natural feelings for people. Sometimes," and here she would lower her voice further, "sometimes I think he beats the cats at night, after I've gone home. I've got no proof, of course, but they are often edgy and stirred up when I come back in the morning!"
Melba was afraid of Mr. Jiggs. She was afraid of Miss Toonie too, so bitter and fierce. But she was more afraid of meeting up with Irma Herring and her sneering crowd coming home from school.
"Hey, rabbit!" they would call if they saw her across the street. And Melba, of course, would bolt just like a rabbit. "Hey, owl face! Where are you going? Hey, blind-as-a-bat!"
So Melba sat around Jiggs' Drug Store for thirty minutes, forty minutes, sometimes an hour. She nibbled her hot fudge sundae and waited for the Super Queen crowd to pass by on their way home. Even after their noisy, high-spirited groups had gone she stayed, licking her spoon and stroking the gnarled backs of nearby cats. She came to know a few friendly cats well, and the way those few perked up and ran over to say hello whenever she entered the store made Melba smile.
Not all the cats liked to be touched, she found. Some hissed and jumped away when she put out a hand. Some cringed in terror. Butch was a cringer. He was a large, gray alley cat of no particular distinction except that he had lost a front leg in a tragic street accident that had also bashed in the whole left side of his face. Through a single, evil-looking slit, Butch eyed the world, and more than one customer had fled the store, to Miss Toonie's delight, when confronted by his horrible stare.
But Butch was a sweet old fellow underneath, who would not think of raising a paw against anyone. Miss Toonie had found him crushed and lifeless on the store's front steps when she came to work one morning. Over many months she nursed him, and taught him in the bargain to eat the bright red cherries that decorated the tops of her sundaes. He adored them, and would take them only from her hand. When Melba offered him a cherry, Butch went into agonies of indecision. Shyly he edged toward her, limping awkwardly on his three legs. Still more shyly he waited, with lowered head, for her to make the first move. But when Melba reached out he flinched and trembled as if he thought she was about to hit him.
"He doesn't trust me," Melba said once, half to herself.
"And why should he?" snapped Miss Toonie, who had been watching suspiciously out of the corner of her eye. "For all he knows you might have been driving the truck that ran him down!"
One rainy day, Mr. Jiggs launched himself upon a tirade to end all tirades. He thundered and quivered with rage over the leaks, and tripped and swore over the cats, and he threatened to fire Miss Toonie "lock, stock, and barrel" if she didn't start sponging off "this very minute!" Then, warming up to the sound of his own voice, he turned on Melba, who was not doing a thing but biting her spoon a little too hard from nervousness.
"I know your type!" bellowed Mr. Jiggs at her terrified face. "Hanging around all day taking up space! If I catch you reading my comic books without paying for them I'll throw you out personally before you know what's hit!"
Miss Toonie laughed gaily after he'd stamped away.
"Well!" she said. "That was the worst fit in years. Something more than usual is bothering him I'd say!"
Melba was shaking with fear. She looked pleadingly at Miss Toonie.
"I didn't mean to take up space," she whispered, finding her voice somehow.
Excerpted from The Dancing Cats of Applesap by Janet Taylor Lisle. Copyright © 1984 Janet Taylor Lisle. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Janet Taylor Lisle (b. 1947) is an author of children’s fiction. After growing up in Connecticut, Lisle graduated from Smith College and spent a year working for the volunteer group VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) before becoming a journalist. She found that she loved writing human interest and “slice of life” stories, and honed the skills for observation and dialogue that would later serve her in her fiction. Lisle took a fiction writing course in 1981, and then submitted a manuscript to Richard Jackson, a children’s book editor at Bradbury Press who was impressed with her storytelling. Working with Jackson, Lisle published her first novel, The Dancing Cats of Applesap, in 1984. Since then she has written more than a dozen books for young readers, including The Great Dimpole Oak (1987) and Afternoon of the Elves (1989), which won a Newbery Honor. Her most recent novel is Highway Cats (2008).
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I never new we moved...
I think we all understand and won't hold your decision against you. Thank you for being you Velvetstar, I know you might thibk your life sucks right now but a lot of people look up to you, myself included. You are amazing in every way possible, and I am praying for your health to get better. I will miss you, and ask about you constantly! I love you! ~Heather/Fawnstep
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Maplejay!!! Hola amigo! Flamepaw don't worry, you'll be a warrior today! Think of it as your last assessment lol. ~Goldenstripe
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