Cat's Breath - Another Old Column



What did the new mother do with the cat when the baby came? Have you heard the express that a cat will take a baby’s breath away? That’s what they thought back in the day. In fact, that’s what my mother believed in the 1940’s.

Of course, this is an “old wives tale”, but it has persisted even until the present age. The fact is cats don’t do that. And although cats do like the smell of milk on a child’s breath, most moggies (English term for cat) don’t much like milk, or babies, or having their tails pulled, etc, and given the choice they would rather have water than milk unless they are taught to drink milk.

Of course, there is also the theory that cats, or pets in general, become jealous when a new baby comes into the household and smothers said baby. These “tales” date from the 1600’s.

In 1791 a coroner’s inquest in England rendered a verdict that a Plymouth child had been killed by a cat that had sucked all its breath away. The superstition itself is much older, with records in print back to 1607 and 1708 so that the jury in the inquest of 1791 had some precedent back to those records, and, perhaps, didn’t like to admit that nobody knew exactly why the baby had died. This was, of course, way before sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

On the other hand it is possible for a cat to lie across the face of a sleeping child. I have a cat that would do that to me if I let her. However, only rarely does such an instance cause death. A news story in December 2000 appeared to report this kind of accident, when a woman said she found her six-week-old son dead in his crib with the family cat lying on the baby’s face. Further investigation, however, put that theory to rest, and the death was attributed to SIDS. It’s so much easier to blame the cat than to simply say, “I don’t know what happened.”

Of course, cats have been viewed as evil practically since the world was created and one of the many superstitions is that it is not advised to raise a cat and a baby together lest the cat thrive and the child waste away, as the cat might be stealing the child’s vitality by magic.

An article in the Nebraska State Journal in 1929 quoted a doctor as having said he had seen “the family pet in the very act of sucking a child's breath, lying on the baby's breast, a paw on either side of the babe's mouth, the cat's lips pressing those of the child and the infant's face pale as that of a corpse, its lips with the blueness of death."

Hard to believe that such superstition lasted into the 20th Century in the United States, isn’t it?

I was playing around with what the family might do with the cat when the baby came, kidding, as it were, with my 3 felines. So I Googled cat recipes, and, if you can believe it, there are recipes for cat on the internet! Ugh!!

So, instead of a cat recipe, I will give you the recipe my father-in-law, Ralph S. Seibert Jr. (Kep) used to bake pork tenderloin. He would never have eaten a cat. Our family loves cats. In fact, once Kep postulated that when he died he would come back as a Seibert cat, they are so well taken care of. My mother-in-law, Margaret, with a twinkle in her eye, said, “Yes, fixed!”

Tenderloin Noodle Casserole for 2

Cook 1 3/4 cups noodles, rinse and drain. Slowly brown 1 1/2 pound pork slices 1/2” thick in hot fat. Season with salt and pepper. Combine noodles and cheese sauce and 3 Tablespoons each of chopped green pepper and chopped pimento. Turn into a casserole. Top with pork slices, and bake for 30 minutes at 350˚F.
Cheese sauce: Melt 3 Tablespoons butter and blend with 3 Tablespoons flour, and salt and pepper to taste. Add 1 cup milk. Cook until thick and bubbly. Remove from heat and add 1/3 cup grated cheese. Use small casserole.

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