All is not harmonious in Harmony these days. A popular fixture in this tiny Highway 1 community died earlier in the month, and the locals are dealing with a profound sense of loss–what one grief-stricken person terms “a large hole in my heart.”
Fred, after all, was their mayor, a life-long resident. Leaders come and go, but by all accounts, Fred was a very different breed. He kept a high profile in Harmony, visiting each of the shops on a daily basis, refusing to play favorites. Fred always took time for the endless tourists passing through–being nice to them, listening quietly to endless stories, posing for pictures. He never seemed to mind the attention.
This mayor fastidiously stayed out of trouble, unless one accounts taking free drinks, or sometimes napping on the job. Fred knew when to be tough and when to walk away. Salary was never an issue.
He became so popular over the years that his face appeared on T-shirts. Tourists often made a point of stopping in town, just to search out Fred and spend a few minutes, saying hi. Fred had this uncanny gift of bringing out the best in people, whether or old acquaintances, or complete strangers. That spirit brought an entire town together, creating harmony in every sense.
Now Mayor Fred is gone, and the impact is still sinking in. His death was so sudden, visitors and townspeople alike bemoan. We had no idea he was this sick, they say. Fred, a.k.a. Freddy Cheenie Alfredo, was 22.
A remarkable age. For a rather remarkable cat
It seems that everyone in Harmony has a story, a memory, about Fred. There were two cats in town, the legend goes, way back in the ’70s–Girl-Cat and Boy-Cat. Somewhere along the way, their names were changed to Marinara and Freddy Cheenie, no doubt inspired by the Pasta Factory where both cats were regulars. Marinara died in 1988.
Fred was on the Maine Coon feline variety, a dark-brown cat with a thatch of white hair on his neck, and big green eyes that Michele Rasch, a server in the Central Coast Wine Room, calls “two puddles of love.”
“His eyes were the first thing you noticed,” Michele remembers. “Fred was so tender and loving. He was a real focal point for the town. People came here looking for Fred.”
Over in the T-shirt shop, Karen Fayette fondly recalls the time Fred swatted a huge St. Bernard in the face, sending the whimpering dog scampering down the street. “Fred wasn’t afraid of anything,” Karen says.
“Everyone in town took care of him. He’d lived here longer than anyone else, so we ran Fred for mayor. No one dared run against him. And the tourists would just come back, year after year, asking ‘Where’s Freddy? Where’s the mayor?’ He dug a hole in our hearts.”
Karen and a friend made the simple grave marker, which stands in the garden, just next to the Creamery Shops. “Here Lies Freddie Cheenie Alfredo, Beloved Mayor of Harmony,” the marker reads. “Freddy Lived All His 22 Years and 9 Lives in the Town of Harmony, Well Loved by All.”
Glory and Holly Hiner are the self-appointed keepers of the flame, the mother and daughter who run Morning Glory’s gift shop, just a few feet away from Fred’s final resting place. This was where people knew to come when looking for Fred. He spent a lot of time upstairs, curled up on a small chair.
Now the store has taken on elements of a shrine. A large portrait of the late mayor still greets visitors. Photos are kept handy to share with customers. T-shirts with Fred’s face have already sold out. More are coming.
Glory still fights back the tears as she pulls out two guest books. Fred was deaf for the last two years, she explains, so people were invited to write notes to him. Page after page is filled with greetings from as far away as Massachusetts and Virginia, all from folks who took the time to stop and pay their respects to the mayor.
Any time I pass through Harmony, I always have to stop and say hi to Fred, one woman writes. Another extends 21st birthday greetings: Freddy, Freddy. Finally Legal. Almost Deaf, But Purely Regal!
“He really belonged to everyone,” Holly says. “The tourists loved Fred. Sometimes he was kind of crabby, but he became more affectionate as he grew older.” Another group of visitors drift into the store. A woman appears crestfallen as she searches out Glory. “Is it true?” she asks. “We lost him?”
A small memorial service for Mayor Fred is being planned, one last chance for folks to say good-bye to a special friend who stressed the simple things. Be fair. Be friendly. Keep your nose clean. Don’t be afraid to take a nap. A lesson in Harmony. The secret to nine long lives. Or at least one fulfilling life.
Good job, Mr. Mayor. Good job.
Originally appeared in the San Luis Obispo County Telegram-Tribune (September 7, 1995)