By Becky Aubut, Anchor Staff
DARTMOUTH, Mass. — “Listen up children, listen up now/ And I’ll tell you the story of Catherine the cow.”
So begins the saga of Catherine in “The Tale of a Cow: A Christmas Story,” where a cow’s breath deemed too warm for her barnyard friends becomes a soothing heat source for Christ after His birth. Based on a story written by Father Gerard Hebert when he was pastor of St. George’s Parish in Westport, the story was “poetized” and self-published by 88-year-old parishioner and Dartmouth resident, John Caron.
As one of 10 children growing up in East Taunton, Caron said his father instilled a deep respect of the Catholic faith: “My father was quite strict about our religion, and he told his six boys that if you go by a church, if you’re wearing a hat, you doff your hat. If you don’t have a hat, bless yourself,” said Caron.
“I was in the fifth or sixth grade, and one day, Miss O’Brian, who was the eighth-grade teacher, had been dropped off to visit the church and say a prayer. She was waiting for a person to pick her up — and she thought the Caron kids were nice kids — so as I walked by the church, I had two things in mind: I certainly have to doff my hat, and say hello to Miss O’Brian. I did them both together, and she got the biggest grin on her face thinking I had tipped my hat to her. She was very impressed and treated me better than others.”
Caron didn’t know it then, but when O’Brian became his eighth-grade teacher, she would be one of the first to urge him to pursue poetry. Boys at that age were getting into basketball, recalled Caron, “but I was a scrawny, little kid. The jocks got all the attention from the girls, and guys are starting to notice girls around that age. I didn’t mind being left out of the [basketball] games, but the girls? So I wrote a poem about the basketball team. I wrote it, but what am I going to do with it? The prettiest girl in the whole school was sitting next to me and I gave it to her, and Miss O’Brian caught me.”
The teacher had him bring up the paper to her, quietly read it to herself, and then told Caron to stay after school. Caron jokingly said he was secretly pleased with himself, thinking, “Now I’m naughty; I’m one of the boys!” but soon learned the real reason O’Brian kept him after. The teacher had Caron pull up a chair, told him the poem was pretty good, and then proceeded to give him pointers on writing poetry; “She gave me a crash course,” said Caron, adding the teacher gave him encouragement in her words. “Don’t give it up, you’ve got talent.”
Caron quit high school at age 16, “not that I wanted to be noble,” he said, “but my folks needed help. My father was a good steady worker but my mom had too many kids to take care of to go to work herself.”
With World War II going on at that time, and knowing he’d be drafted at age 18, Caron joined the Merchant Marines, working his way up through the ranks. Just as he thought his service was done, Caron was pulled from the ship into the army due to his extensive training; “The army needed licensed officers, some of whom had experience running ship engines, so the army needed them so they drafted whoever they wanted,” he said.
It was during his Merchant Marine days that he began to put pen back to paper: “I was reluctant to let anybody know [about the poetry] but there was such little entertainment on the ship in those days, they would be entertained by anything, so they started posting my poems on the bulletin board,” said Caron.
Father Hebert became aware of Caron’s poetry skills when he became pastor of St. George’s Parish more than a dozen years ago, when Caron wrote him a poem to welcome him to the parish.
A couple of years later, Father Hebert approached Caron for a favor: “He told me he made this little story up about Catherine the cow, and to write it into poetry,” recalled Caron. “I gave it to him the next morning. It inspired me right off the bat.”
Thus began a tradition at the parish, where Father Hebert would include “The Tale of a Cow” during the Christmas season, gathering the children of the parish while Father Hebert would sit in a rocking chair and read the story. Years later, and after several people suggested he have the story illustrated and printed, Caron connected with Assonet resident Sara Goulart, then a 17-year-old student-artist at the Fall River Art Association, to do the illustrations.
Currently a freshman at the Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute of the Deaf and majoring in graphic design, Goulart worked with an interpreter to communicate with Caron to make his vision come to life.
“Working with Mr. Caron was an interesting experience. He has a quite sharp pair of eyes, always catching things that he’d like to change. I tried my best to meet his expectations and in the end, he loved the book,” wrote Goulart via email. “I hope people will enjoy the book. I think it’s a great book for kids to read.”
Caron has already written and self-published his own book of poetry, “Chronology of Poetry,” by seeking inspiration from everywhere: his Merchant Marine days, work and “a lot of it was family,” said Caron, of his wife and three children.
He added, “I was a happily married man. I married the girl I wanted to marry, and we had 54 years together before she died of ALS,” in 2007.
He joined a poetry club in New Bedford about 15 years ago, and then shortly thereafter he joined a senior citizen poetry club in Westport, meeting once-a-week and submitting new poems each week: “My style has changed somewhat,” said Caron. “With a happy life, my poems were happy. When my wife was sick and died, everything was sad.”
Caron was all smiles while talking about his latest publication, and hopes that people will appreciate a fresh angle on the story of the birth of Jesus.
“I hope that the children, who are impressionable at a young age, would get something positive out of it,” he said.
For those interested in purchasing the book by John Caron, “The Tale of a Cow: A Christmas Story,” please call him directly at 508-636-4707 or send $15 to John Caron, 89 Highland Avenue, North Dartmouth, Mass. 02747