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Tom Chaney: Welcome to Catfish Bend

Welcome to Catfish Bend. Tom introduces Ben Lucien Burman, a fabulist, that is, a writer who creates a world peopled by animals which demonstrate human characteristics. This column first appeared 23 October 2005.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: Papal High Jinks

By Tom Chaney

Welcome to Catfish Bend

I don't like to give the impression that I am beholden to every writer who can find the 'on' button on a computer. So when Jesse Mountjoy suggested that I write about Ben Lucien Burman and his Catfish Bend stories, I was skeptical.

You may recall that I published Brother Mountjoy's short story in three installments.

And then I recalled that I was beholden to Mountjoy. After all, "Her Sunday" ran for three weeks. That meant I did not have to write for three weeks, and, -- best of all -- such readers as I have got a break.

So I began to read Ben Lucien Burman to find out just who he is -- or was -- he died in 1984 at the age of 88. The fact that I did not know anything about Burman is just a tribute to my massive ignorance -- a condition which Brother Mountjoy will be quick to confirm.

Burman (born Behrman in Covington in 1895) was a journalist, writing for the Cincinnati Times-Star, Nation, Reader's Digest, and Saturday Review; a novelist, publishing two novels made into movies with Will Rogers in the 1930's; an essayist telling of life on the Mississippi River; and a fabulist.

It is as a fabulist that I wish to look at Burman this week. A fabulist creates a world peopled by animals which demonstrate human characteristics -- as in Aesop's Fables.

Doc Raccoon tells the story: "I don't need to tell you what a wonderful place we have here at Catfish Bend. We're all different kinds of animals living together but we get along fine. Once a month we have a meeting where the animals, like people, come to talk things over..."

At the close of one of the meetings, a beaver Doc knew came up from Alligator Point to report a fight amongst the animals there. The fight was over who should be the mayor of the Point. A fine looking greyhound had come up from Miami after he was caught cheating in a race. With his sleek looks and silver tongue, he had persuaded the folks at the Point to elect him as mayor over a turtle who had lived one hundred years in the community.

Doc takes Judge Black along to sort out the fight. Judge Black, fond of aphorisms, "A successful crime goes by the name of virtue," is a blacksnake who has become a vegetarian to help raise the image of snakes. Peace is restored.

The next day a frog from the Okefenokee swamp arrives to report a battle among the frogs and larger animals. Doc and the Judge, along with the Brahma bull, who is a guru, and a host of other animals head down the Mississippi to New Orleans and over to Okefenokee to bring the peace of Catfish Bend to the swamps.

The peacemakers are run out of the swamps after a battle between the alligators of Okefenokee and those of the Everglades.

Having failed in the south, they lick their wounds and head for New York. "With all the trouble the people were having there the animals would be the same way; they'd be needing our help the most."

They troop off up the Intercoastal canal to New York where they are met by a tough gang of raccoons and possums bent on keeping them from crossing the Hudson River.

Thoroughly whipped, the peacemakers from Catfish Bend head for a truck stop where they hitch a ride to Alaska. They fare no better in the frozen north than in the muggy south.

Finally they decide to withdraw and head south. "We've failed," said the raccoon. "Animals are as bad as people. There's nothing to do but go back to Catfish Bend."

But upon their return to the Mississippi the animals find Catfish Bend invaded by fire ants making the bend uninhabitable. At great cost, the peacemakers attack the ants, killing some and intimidating the others.

For a while the animals are content at home. Circus animals come for a visit and one calls it the "finest place he'd ever seen; Catfish Bend was Heaven." All the circus animals agreed.

A few days later the storyteller is talking to the Raccoon who explains that some small animals from Brazil report trouble with jaguars. "They asked us to come there and talk to the jaguars.... We're leaving tomorrow."

Burman wrote The Strange Invasion of Catfish Bend in 1979 after the end of the Vietnam War. Since he told the story of the animals traveling the world fighting for peace, we have all learned our lesson about making war to make peace.

Neither the raccoon nor the blacksnake could live in a hot desert.

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

CM Note: This article was published previously on CM in 2010: Tom Chaney. No. 036: Welcome to Catfish Bend

This story was posted on 2014-10-26 06:21:11
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