RICHMOND — Plenty of people claim their cats and dogs talk. A former neighbor thought his dog called his master by name — but to us, it just sounded like a canine whine, emitted with the hope of getting a walk or a meal. The evidence is still out on whether a dog named Murray in South Berkshire actually speaks English words, but his master indicates that it happens.
Thus, we are not sure, but are willing to be convinced, that after years of discreet silence, Simon Treadway Gato — a cat — has spoken up. Only Jayne Church of the Red Lion Gift Shop and author Jana Laiz have heard him, but their recordings in a new book are plausible.
Thus Simon, along in years now and still permitted the freedom of the inn he adopted years ago, tells about his days in the inn, the little door that gives him access to hotel sofas and comfy chairs whenever he wants and his private quarters, "below stairs," as the English say, in the basement. He reveals no secrets, however.
When Jayne Church found Simon at the Eleanor Sonsini Animal Shelter, she couldn't know that he would become yet another step in her multi-career life. And he, says he, in the book called "Simon Says," was astonished to suddenly move from "cage to castle."
Years ago, an Eagle reporter would occasionally remark that Jayne Church "had reinvented herself" and should be the subject of a news story. The career changes were frequent and interesting. After selling logo T-shirts for a custom imprinting company, then working for an oil company, she branched out to a confection called Boomer's Oogies.
Perhaps it was the intriguing name that brought success, but once tasted, the decadent chocolate cookie sold itself, with Church hiring a half dozen people, renting a building and enjoying her Oogie reviews in everything from the New York Times to Bon Appétit. She closed the Oogie run in 1993 and started Luscious LaRue, catering desserts to restaurants and gourmet shops from eastern New York State to the Boston area. She says her husband, George (who's been known to call Jayne Boomer), delivered the goodies in her Mustang convertible. Then she worked for a kitchen store retailer and for a number of years wrote food articles for newspapers.
Since 1996, when Church became manager of the Stockbridge hotel's gift shop, things have settled a bit. The book is a new venture, but the inn shop position has lasted. For her, it's more than a shop. It's continued to feed her inventive brain since 1996, and authors and artists in the Berkshires are beneficiaries of some of her main innovations.
When Nancy Fitzpatrick, owner of the Red Lion, asked that the shop carry more regionally made items, Church started adding local jewelers, photographers, writers, painters and other artistic people to her list of suppliers. And then, in a real gift to the artistic community, she started organizing Saturday afternoon events in the winter with small groups of these same suppliers on hand to meet the public
The programs sometimes involve artists speaking briefly. They always involve a chance for the public to speak with them, buy a necklace or a book (no pressure) and have an hors d'oeuvre. And they give people in the arts community a chance to meet and talk to each other and enjoy Jayne Church's upbeat view of life. As she puts it, "God forbid anyone should be unhappy around me." She is just plain cheerful, and thus, when Stockbridge had its big celebration day before Christmas, she smiled and escorted dozens of people to the inn's restrooms, even when it was apparent that they weren't buying so much as a hot chocolate there.
In the interests of transparency (a word overused and a practice underused in government these days), it's necessary to say that my two historical novels are displayed on the wall of Berkshire area authors, along with Simon Winchester, Kevin O'Hara, Kevin Larkin and, now, Jayne herself. Some of us will gather Saturday, Jan. 23, 4 to 6 p.m., for one of her events — and perhaps Ambassador Simon himself will deign to join us. Cats pretty much make their own decisions.