Sunday, January 8, 2012

An Amazing Irvington Pet

What do a British Prime Minister, a US President, a US Senator, and Irvington all have in common? A Cat! In the following account, Ann Hart Stewart recalls her childhood in the Ruhsenberger Home at 5930 East Washington St. (demolished) and of a beloved cat who lived across the street. Mrs. Stewart is a frequent contributor to Vintage Irvington. Her wonderful account not only tells the story of "Gussie," but she also provides interesting insights into her neighbors of the 1940s. The three photos show a possible likeness of Gussie, Senator Arthur Raymond Robinson, and his house, which now faces 18 South Arlington. The builders of Texaco Company moved the home to the back of the lot and turned it when they put in a gas station at the southwest corner of East Washington Street and Arlington Avenue in the 1950s.

Gussie The Famous Cat
By Ann Hart Stewart
Long, long ago when the world was much more innocent, particularly Irvington, and east Washington Street was only slightly commercial, there lived a United States Senator, Arthur Raymond Robinson, Republican. Oh, he didn’t live there most of the time, he stayed in Washington DC, but his wife, Frieda, did live there, in a big white frame four-square on the southwest corner of Washington and Arlington. Mrs. Robinson was very big in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, but still served wine for important occasions, because, after all, her husband was a senator and wine was “not spirits”. I know this because she would borrow table linens from us, we didn’t have silver or crystal, but we did have “important” table linens, inherited from long gone relatives. “We” were the Ruhsenbergers, Harts, and Dillards, and we lived directly across Washington St. from the Robinsons. There were three Robinson children, all grown, the eldest approaching 40.
Their daughter, Katie Petross, was the youngest, pretty, vibrant, full of fun and a very good golfer. She played regularly at Pleasant Run Golf Course, just up Arlington Avenue. Katie was a young Navy wife, and her husband, “Pete” was away at sea, which was one reason she stayed at home with her mother, and her eldest brother, Ray, who was single and divorced. (Ray had married into another of Irvington’s prominent families, the Zoerchers, but it didn’t last.) We knew Ray because our dog, Tuffy, absolutely adored him and slept regularly during the summers in the Robinson’s yard, next to Ray in his tent. We knew Katie because she loved to come over and visit with my mother and grandmother, and because she, my dad, and my mother’s brother, who was also a Naval officer, would play golf together whenever they could. Katie’s husband, Lt. L.C. Petross, (Pete to all of us), had graduated from Annapolis in 1925, just a year after my uncle, Lt. J. Roger Ruhsenberger.
As I said, Katie’s husband was away at sea - he was stationed aboard the USS Augusta. The Augusta was a very important ship! Early in 1941, (about the time I turned eight), Roosevelt and Churchill chose her as their meeting place, where they wrote the North Atlantic Charter, which eventually became NATO. It was still a peacetime Navy, at least where the US was concerned. Roosevelt snuck out of Washington DC on his yacht, and eventually transferred to the Augusta, Churchill braved the Atlantic on the HMS Prince of Wales, and then he too transferred to the Augusta, then lolling about off Nova Scotia. She was a heavy-duty cruiser. An important member of her crew, besides Lt. Petross, was the ship’s cat - Gussie, a large marmalade and white ex-tomcat with a loving disposition. After the conference was concluded, the ship received word that they might be going into harm’s way - the Orient, they’d been there before, and the situation was tense. Great Britain and Germany were already at war. No one knew what might happen. No one wanted to put Gussie at risk, so when Lt. Petross got leave and came home to Indianapolis, he brought Gussie with him, and he, that is, the cat, came to live at the Robinson’s. Well, it wasn’t long before Gussie discovered our house! He had to be very careful because E. Washington was a very wide street, and there were streetcars in those days, but he always made it across, and up the steps to our house. No animal was ever turned away. Bummy (Mrs Ruhsenberger, my grandmother) welcomed them all, she even crumbled peanut butter cookies on the hall runners so the squirrels could have treats! She adored cats, Gussie knew this, and he would come in, get up on the furniture, sit in our laps, play with toys, and roll sillies on the catnip enhanced living room rugs. Of course we all adored him too, well, maybe my grandfather did not, but Gussie wisely did not stay late in the afternoon. He was always a welcome visitor.
Sad things happened then, a little old lady on Shank Avenue saw cats in her yard, and as she raised chickens, she poisoned them all. My kitten died, but Gussie, being very large, just got very sick. He went to the vet, who rescued him: my dad, who could be very intimidating, went to the little old lady, and no more cats were poisoned, but Katie decided that was enough, and went out west to be near her husband’s next posting, taking Gussie with her. Lord, we all missed that cat, he was so much fun, and so loving and affectionate. I got other cats, and they all fell victim to the traffic, until I was eleven, when my dad brought home another kitten, a very wise soul even when he was young. He lived until I was twenty-seven!
But Gussie was probably the most important visitor our home in Indianapolis ever entertained - after all he had been witness to one of the most important events in world history, had met both Roosevelt and Churchill, but preferred to roll around and inhale catnip on our living room rug. We were very honored.
The Robinsons, that is, the Senator and Mrs. Robinson are interred at Washington Park East, Katie lived to be 90 and died in Mesa, AZ, Pete died in 1978, but Gussie lives on in my memory.

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