In the Catbird Seat

These days, Abbey rides in the Catbird Seat. The seat in my Ford F-150 pickup is a split bench with its center section over the driveshaft hump, a seat that could only be comfortable for a seven-year-old child with short legs and exceptionally small feet. But it seems to be perfect for Abbey, or so she insists.

Abbey raised her nose and sniffed, “It’s my rightful place.”

Abbey, a French spaniel bird dog, hunted for most of her life with her partner, another francaise named Sasha, who was seven years her senior. In those days, both dogs rode in the box of the pickup in travel crates under a topper. But those days are not these days.

When Sasha reached her thirteenth birthday her bird hunting years came to an end and Abbey became my only dog afield. I’m not sure when Abbey made the transition from the travel crate to the cab of the pickup; probably at the end of a three-pheasant day when she made a couple spectacular retrieves and was allowed to climb onto the seat beside me and share a summer sausage sandwich.

However, the precedent was established, since that day she has leapt into the cab whenever I open the door and would be grievously offended to travel in any other accommodation. She is the little princess, and she knows it.

She rides alert and attentive, searching for the best bird coverts and staring at me in amazement when I fail to stop and let her hunt each one. The exception is on our hours-long drives to far away hunting grounds when she somehow reads my body language or facial expressions or tone of voice and deduces that we are setting forth on a lengthy trip. Then, after a half-hour or so, she curls up on the passenger seat and goes to sleep.

A few years ago during one of our pre-hunt conversations I told her, “You know you’re in the Catbird Seat, don’t you?” She raised her nose and sniffed, “It’s my rightful place.”

I first heard the phase “in the Catbird Seat” more than 50 years years ago when sports announcer Red Barber, The Ol’Redhead, called the play-by-play radio broadcasts of major league baseball games during his four-decade career with the Cincinnati Reds, Brooklyn Dodgers, and New York Yankees. “The bases are loaded,” Red would announce, “the count is three balls and one strike, and the Yankees’ home run leader Mickey Mantle is sitting in the Catbird Seat.”

Red was a country boy from Columbus, Mississippi, and it took me a while to understand that his Southern homespun argot meant that someone in the privileged Catbird Seat had the world by the tail and was going to twist it to their advantage. The formal definition:

The “Catbird Seat” is an American idiomatic phrase used to describe an enviable position, having the upper hand or great advantage in a situation. The phrase derives from the catbird’s habit of making mocking calls from a favored perch.

There is an issue with Abbey’s preference for the Catbird Seat; sometimes my beautiful blonde wife rides with us in the pickup, and Abbey resents any encroachment on her center seat or on her curl-up-and-sleep passenger seat. In her francaise style, she is insolent, disrespectful, downright rude.

We recently made a 700-mile trip with the Ford F-150 to north-central Minnesota to take possession a Scamp camping trailer. The sharing of seating arrangements did not go well.

“When you buy your next pickup,” my BBW said, “it will be a crew cab, and this dog will ride in the back seat.”

Okay, if you insist, I will order a new pickup. But when it’s just Abbey in the cab with me, my bet is that she’ll still be riding in the Catbird Seat.

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To read more essays and stories about life in the North Country, visit the Author Page where my books are listed for sale in paperback or e-book format.

About Jerry Johnson

Curmudgeon. Bird hunter and dog trainer; indifferent wing shot. Retired journalist and college public relations director. Novelist and short story writer. Freeholder: 50-acre farm with 130-year-old log house. Husband, father, grandfather. Retired teacher, coach, mentor. Vicious editor. Blogger.
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