Brice Stump: The Christmas Tale of Potato and Turnip

The late farmer and cat lover, Brice Turner, is shown with Turnip on his shoulder. The kitten routinely accompanied Turner on his rounds about the Rockawalkin farm. (Brice Stump Photo.)

A special kind of Christmas gift came early to Katie Howard. This year she is able to tell a tale about three cats — Potato, Turnip and Kale — and how a three-year mystery that brings tears to her eyes was solved.

Pets, as most of us know, often make a sweet transition to becoming members of the family. We feed them like family, talk to them like family and love them, just like family.

So was the case when she and her late partner, Brice Turner, opened their hearts to two abandoned kittens. Almost four years ago, they found them in their former chicken house on their farm near Rockawalkin.

As soon as the kittens associated the two with food, water and love, one of them, to be named Turnip, routinely greeted Turner by running up his pant leg to his arms. Soon the other feline, Kale, was doing the same.

Turnip developed the habit of sitting on Turner’s shoulder while he went about his chores. When he took a nap in his chicken house recliner, Turnip and Kale curled into balls and slept on his stomach. Such was routine life on the farm.

Turnip followed Turner on his rounds, much like a devoted puppy, and was soon comfortable riding with the farmer in his golf cart.

“It was so strange, because Brice could call Turnip and he‘d coming running to him just like a dog,” Howard explained.

“When he would return from errands in his pickup, Brice would stop the produce truck outside the chicken house. He waited for Turnip to jump into the cab and onto his shoulder, close to his face. As soon as the truck was inside and parked, they both got out,” she said, smiling. “Then back up his leg Turnip would run and get back on his shoulder and sit there while he did his inside jobs.”

In the meantime, Kale developed similar habits, but did not ride in the truck.

One day Howard discovered Kale in the driveway and though the cat was asleep, but it had been struck by a vehicle.

“I started crying and picked her up and carried her to the house,” she said.

Then, a month later, Turnip, which stayed in the chicken house, disappeared. Up to 10 p.m., that night, the two called for the cat and searched in and around the chicken house and bushes. No Turnip.

As the days passed Howard asked each customer stopping at the farm produce stand had they seen their cat. Fellow farmer, Brian Toadvine, a frequent visitor to the farm, who often saw the pet, said he hadn’t seen Turnip either.

When Toadvine told them that news, the two felt something may have attacked the cat, like a fox. “We kept hoping and wishing Turnip would come back. Still no Turnip.”

A few weeks later, a kitten appeared at their doorstep. It was ill. Howard took it to the chicken house for lodging. After a day-long search for a veterinarian, with Turner cuddling the kitten in a blanket, they were in a doctor’s office.

Howard named this third kitten, Potato. As the days passed it got stronger and became an in-house pet. He began a big, fluffy orange cat. He soon sat in the window, routinely  watching for Turner’s truck.

In August of this year, on his way to the Laurel Auction Block with vegetables, Turner failed to yield to an approaching motorist while driving across an intersection near Delmar. He was severely injured and died a week later. 

“Turnip” was found a week after its owner died. (Brice Stump Photo.)

He was known to many on the Shore, not just because he was a long-time produce farmer, but because he was an announcer at a number of tractor-pull and mud-hop events on the Shore and the East Coast for almost 50 years.

It’s only been a few months since Turner’s death, and, Howard said, when she picks and cuddles the fat cat, Potato turns her head looking at the door for Turner.

With tears in her eyes, Howard recounts the routine, and the antics of the cat waiting for Turner to come through the kitchen door.

“It’s heartbreaking, Brice’s pride and joy was Turnip and then this big, beautiful, Potato,” she said.

Precious as Potato had become,  it seemed like a couple of times a week, for three years, that Turner would express his regret about the mysterious disappearance of Turnip. 

“Potato” still watches for its late owner, Brice Turner, to come home, said partner Katie Howard. (Brice Stump Photo.)

“He just kept saying, ‘I wonder what happened to Turnip?’ I think it would have been better for both of us if we just had an answer, and explanation. Maybe a fox did get him, maybe he jumped into somebody’s car when they came up here to buy produce at the stand. We thought they’d at least bring him back when they discovered him inside. Maybe he was riding under the car and fell off miles away.”

It was a question never answered.

Then there was the trauma of his death.

“We had talked about how each of us would handle things if anything happened to either of us. I assured him that I would carry him to the cemetery in his prized 1994 blue Ford pickup truck with 370,000 miles on it.

“I told the funeral home what I wanted to do. They didn’t think, emotionally, I could do that, but I insisted,” she said.

“They put his casket in the truck, draped with the American flag, because he was a veteran, and I drove the pickup. I went to our farm, drove into the yard by the chicken house, his tractor, the produce stand and by the window Potato was sittin’ in, watching. I slowed down because I knew he recognized the truck, then drove to Rockawalkin cemetery.” 

And then, one day, in what might be an extraordinary Christmas gift, Howard finally discovered what happened to their beloved kitty.

As she told her story, the 75-year-old lady, with a heart of gold for the welfare of animals, struggled to maintain her composure.

Just a week after Turner’s death, she got the answer that Turner wanted for years.

Turnip was alive.

Several days after Turner’s death, Howard was working in the produce stand. A van came up and a man she had dealt with before got out to buy some apples.

“I asked him if he would like some kittens as someone had put five kittens in the chicken house a week before Brice died.”

The man thanked her but declined, telling Howard he had two cats.

“He said, “A little more than three years ago I came up to the stand one afternoon, and this gray kitten came running out the chicken house, up my pant leg. I thought he was a stray so I rescued him.’ I asked him what the cat’s name was, and he said ‘Diamond.’ I told him its name was Turnip. And I told him, ‘Brice looked for that cat for weeks and talked about it for years, wondering what happened to it.”

Katie Howard leans against the prized 1994 Ford pickup that was the pride of her late partner, Brice Turner, of the Rockawalkin-Hebron area. (Brice Stump Photo.)

Soon after the exchange, Howard went to the man’s house to see her cat. “I didn’t go to take Turnip away from the man. After all these years Turnip was use to the guy, and he had a good home.  It would’t be fair to take him away,” she said.

Since his passing Howard routinely slips by the cemetery in Rockawalkin to visit Turner’s grave. Slowly bowing her head she whispered, “I just can’t seem to let go. I know I have to, but I just can’t let go.”

When she got the news about Turnip, she stopped by the cemetery and walked to the grave site. In her heart she shared the news about their beloved cat, their lovable, furry “baby.”

 “At the man’s house, I petted Turnip and she looked at me, but after all this time I don’t know if she remembered me. But my heart was broken, ‘cause here was Brice’s cat after all this time, all those years of worrying. I guess it was meant to be. So this is my Christmas present.”

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