Cougar's demise made me grateful for Aug. 26, 1941

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, August 23, 2006

Peter brought his rifle around and shot from the hip just in time.

A while back, a story was making the rounds about the famous singing cowboy movie star Roy Rogers. The way I heard it, Roy was touring the west and pulled into a small-town motel. He had purchased some new western boots earlier that day and decided to gunk them up. But they smelled so bad, he set them outside, between his motel-room door and his truck, to air out overnight while he slept.

The next morning when he went to retrieve them, he was horrified to discover his new boots were all mangled and shredded.

He called the motel manager to his room and showed him the boots.

"I know just what's happened here," he said to Roy. "I'll gather up a few of the boys and get back to you real quick like."

An hour or two later, there was a loud knock on Roy's door. When he opened it, a half-dozen gun-toting men were standing around the manager helping him hold a large, very dead cougar. And they began singing to their cowboy guest:

"Pardon me, Roy, is this the cat that chewed your new shoes?"

Now, to any of you old enough to remember, you'll recognize this groaner right away as a take-off on the 1941 hit song, "Chattanooga Choo Choo," with its opening line, "Pardon me, boy, is that the Chattanooga choo choo?"

The wildly popular "Chattanooga Choo Choo" wasn't the only good thing to come out of 1941, however.

For in spite of the war raging in Europe, and the expansion of the war to the Pacific that December, 1941 holds many beautiful memories.

Other hit songs that year included "You Are My Sunshine," "Cool Water," and "White Cliffs of Dover."

The motion picture industry produced some real winners that year, too. There was Orson Wells' Citizen Kane, Walt Disney's Dumbo, and Back in the Saddle, with Gene Autry.

Then there was that comedy, The Stork Pays Off, a film I've not actually seen, but the title is intriguing in its power to link this column quite nicely to one particular day in 1941 that holds special meaning for my wife and me.

The date was Aug. 26, 1941. I was almost 16 months old, growing up in Buffalo, New York, while 200 kilometres or so to the southeast, in Elmira, New York, the stork was paying off with the delivery of a delightful bundle of joy to a young couple, Ernest and Dorothy.

They named her Mary Anna.

Twenty years later Mary Anna and I had our first date together while attending Houghton College, a small liberal arts college located about halfway between Buffalo and Elmira. We were married a couple of years later and soon after moved to Alberta, where we raised our two sons – and had our own encounter with a cougar.

On one cold winter morning I was out hunting with my forestry road crew friend, the late Peter Sawatzky. He used to live not far from the Ghost Dam, west of Cochrane.

There was just a thin layer of snow on the forest floor that day as I followed Peter at some distance along the trail. After a while, I noticed cougar tracks going the same direction as Peter's. In fact, I soon realized they were on top of Peter's.

I paused to examine the tracks more closely, and just then, from behind a tree only a short distance away, the cougar, who had decided to wait for me to join him for breakfast, dashed out and headed down the trail once more toward Peter.

I whistled to get my unsuspecting hunting companion's attention. Nothing. I whistled again, and almost immediately I heard a shot ring out.

When I caught up to Peter, there, stretched out before him, was an eight-foot long cougar, which, upon further examination, had been very, very hungry. When I whistled the second time, Peter had turned around just in time to see the cougar, only paces away, preparing for its final lunge toward him. Instinctively, Peter brought his rifle around and shot from the hip just in time.

Had I not spooked the cougar earlier down the trail and sent him on his way toward crack-shot Peter, I think Peter would have been knocking on Mary Anna's door later that day, cougar in hand, and singing something like: "Pardon me, ma'am, this is the cat that chewed your old man."

Happy 65th birthday, Mary Anna. I'm sure glad Peter got that cat so I could have all these wonderful years with you.

© 2006 Warren Harbeck

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