Big macho guy that I am makes me not much of a cat lover. But I lie - yeah, on both accounts. My feelings and memories were touched this week as a friend re-broke my heart with the sad passing of her cat, Toby.
It was 1961 on the rough streets of Rexburg, Idaho, in one of my early memories in bits and pieces from my four-year-old little brain. A bigger kid with freckles had a yard rake raised and said, "I'm gonna kill your cat!" I have no memory of why the little bully could possibly have said such a cruel thing, but I do know I held that cat tight and got away as fast as I could. Would that I could have kept track to see what prison that guy ended up in.
But that wasn't Gangway. We adopted him as a kitten (I'm pretty sure it was a "him.") It was when I was about six and we had finished a summer at Camp Omache where my dad was Camp Director for Chief Seattle Council. My little brother and I idolized the two sons of the camp ranger - the caretaker who lived up there all year round - his boys in their early teens were so grown-up to us. One of them had a paper route! Their cat had a litter and we were able to persuade my mom and dad to take a kitten home with us.
My parents were not pet people, so we only had an occasional fish or those poor little chicks at Easter that soon died (who ever thought that was a good idea?) So we weren't much into the cat culture and I don't remember what happened to the cat we had in Rexburg. We must have left it with our distant relative we called "Aunt Arvilla." She was somebody's aunt. I guess I should check that out on Family Search - or ask my mom.
I had principal care of Gangway, along with my mom who not always graciously took care of the litter box. I was the older brother, after all. He was a gray tabby. I looked in my Cub Scout scrapbook, but I don't seem to have a picture. Someday we've got to go through dad's slides. Although it's highly doubtful he took a picture of Gangway. He is less a cat person than my mom.
It really isn't right to call Gangway a cat either - which relates to how he got his name. As we were little boys, my brother and I took him out to the backyard to play with us. He would tear around and then come running right for us. We would yell, "Gangway!" and jump out of his path. It seemed to make sense to us and Gangway certainly liked it.
In fact this probably isn't fair to cat lovers at all, but Gangway had more of a dog personality than that of a cat. No spoiled cat prissiness for him! -no arrogant grouchy cat either. He would run along with us when we rode bikes around the neighborhood, sometimes really fast. OK, maybe I was seven or eight by this time. And there's one thing about little boys that certain TV and movie writers get absolutely right (Radio Flyer, The Wonder Years, Malcolm in the Middle), they love to go into storm drainage pipes for scary, death-defying adventures.
There was one "sewer pipe" (that's what we called it) that ran underneath the playground on the west side of Thoreau Elementary near our house. You entered in the outlet on the other side of the road that went through the woods from 84th Ave., N.E. to Juanita Drive. There was a great convergence of pipes and light from a grate that we think was just past the covered playground (it was Western Washington State). Once, I went clear to the end of the school property (at least I thought so), but there was no way out so you always came out the way you went in. Gangway would be waiting there like a faithful dog. Yep, he was a little boy's best friend.
Gangway loved the outdoors even when he wasn't playing with us. He had free range of the neighborhood. I guess that's tom-cat behavior. He would disappear for periods of time, but always return - except once.
I was out that afternoon crossing 84th heading for the woods, our wonderland, when I saw him. They were re-paving the road. A steaming asphalt roller was going by - hot, smelly tar. Gangway was lying aside the road, not able to rise to his feet, with blood and gore around him. I was a little kid of seven or eight. I didn't know what to do. He looked me in the eye. I am ashamed that in my horror I left him there. His corpse ended up in the ditch alongside 84th. I've never had another cat.
Later in life, I tried a little to be macho - joking even that I had a cat once that got run over by a steam roller. Too cruel, too cruel. I swear I wasn't like that boy with the rake. I was only trying to hide guilt and a broken heart.
I hope the cultural myths are true that our beloved animals will rise with us in the resurrection. I so want to see Gangway again. I need to ask his forgiveness for that little boy who didn't know what to do.
Rest in peace, Gangway -and Toby.