This story is dedicated to Gilligan, (July 4, 2001 - December 29, 2015) our beloved family member, travel companion, and friend who taught us how cats think, negotiate, socialize, bond, and share unconditional love.
Gilligan began his quest of adventure with sidekick brother Moesley last January on a Key West road trip. (See: "Snowbirds Migrating to Free Birds: A Compelling Journey of Body & Spirit") Key West, the southernmost point in the US was the blastoff to a whole new world for these pathfinders and their immersion into travel exploits and new experiences. Our felines had a taste of the wanderlust, for in one year, our road warriors visited 21 states, plus the District of Columbia. For Gilligan, it started on the road to nowhere; but at the end, it was the destination.
Every cat is unique but all our stray cat boys "got class, got style." (Watch "Stray Cat Strut", a 1981 UK release by the Stray Cats.)
"Gilligan" and his male siblings, "Tatou" and Moesley were Island Boys from the Jersey Shore. Rescued as kittens by a friend, she claimed Moesley, and Ambassador Mo and I raised Gilligan and Tatou. For over 12 years, their entwined love resembled "Siamese" Twins. (See: "The Ambassador's Cat") After Hurricane Sandy, and shortly before Tatou crossed over the Rainbow Bridge, Moesley needed a foster home. Keeping a family together is always imperative, and Brother Moesley thus became a permanent fixture of the Sacirbey household.
2016 is the 100 Year Anniversary of the National Park Service, and it became a priority for Gilligan and family to visit as many of these parks as possible. Shortly after Gilligan's Key West and Everglades National Park escapades in January, cabin fever set in.
Late February, Gilligan and Moesley, alias Lewis and Clark and me as Sacagawea embarked on a westward-ho adventure through West Virginia onto Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, and all the states between. Our Puss and Boots donned snow boots, cowboy boots, moccasins, and finally - the favorite - flip-flops - during a brief stop at Saint Augustine Beach to test the water before heading home -- all in one itinerary!
Gilligan was a patriot born on the 4th of July, but also a cat with diplomatic sensibilities. After accompanying Ambassador Mo at a Bosnian-American cultural event in Saint Louis during a blizzard, he arrived at a diamond-cut-in-the-rough - Diamond, Missouri. February being Black History Month, Gilligan wanted to visit the George Washington Carver National Monument, with a museum at its Visitor Center and film presentation worth every extra mile driven to get there. George Washington Carver, born a slave, was so much more than the "Peanut Man" who discovered over 300 uses for peanuts including peanut rubbing oil used in massage for polio patients. Along with being an agricultural scientist, educator, artist, and musician, most of all Carver was a humanitarian whose life quest overcame poverty, injustice, violence, and prejudice.
Gilligan, like Carver had a deep respect of nature and of trying to figure things out. He seemed to harbor his own version of "string" theory, as something that bordered on fixation and to find creative ways to remove all food from one bowl and transfer it to another -- much to the vexation of his other family members. He appreciated and was gentle with birds - never harming one, only watching and attempting to friend. In the words of George Washington Carver, "How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the strong. Because someday in life you will have been all of these."
Down the road and over the hills of a wintry Arkansas, through fog as thick as whipped cream, Gilligan reached the original home of the Plains Indians - Oklahoma - declared Indian Territory by the US Government in 1825. Sixty tribes from the northern plains and East of the Mississippi River were forced onto reservations over the next 50 years. In an 1889 land grab, homesteaders forced the US Government to take it back resulting in more iniquity, poverty, and sickness.
Gilligan had a dual personality - "the lion that roared" (known as more ferocious than the leopard at the Staten Island Zoo by his vet who treated both.) But, most of all, he was a "peacemaker," whose mantra was "make friends." While in Oklahoma, he wanted to learn more about the Native Americans there who have overcome injustice and genocide, while maintaining their rich traditions and cultural heritage. The Chickasaw Cultural Center about an hour and a half from Oklahoma City in Sulphur, Oklahoma, captured the mark. The splendor of its campus, landscaping, architecture, gardens, sculptures,and water put all in harmony with nature.
As described by Governor Bill Anoatubby: "Built on the ideas, imagination and creativity of Chickasaws from all walks of life, this center incorporates nature, history, heritage and life ways to tell the ongoing story of the Chickasaw people. Celebrate the vision, resilience and spirit of the men, women and children of the Chickasaw Nation."
The mood was now set for a peaceful ride through the east Texas Hill Country and Big Thicket National Park and onto the Vieux Carre in New Orleans for a little R & R before warmer weather in Saint Augustine.
Gilligan's Key West Fixation
Gilligan was one thing - persistent. He generally always got what he wanted - be it more food, more catnaps, but always more attention and affection. A simple meow or a nuzzle on the cheek generally did the trick. Like Santiago, Ernest Hemingway's protagonist from "The Old Man and the Sea, "Let him think that I am more man than I am and I will be so." When Gilligan let it be known that he considered a return trip to Key West his priority, it didn't take much to persuade his owners.
The Key West Museum of Art & History housed in the historical 1891 Custom House depicts a Key West of glory days when it was Florida's richest and largest city. Permanent exhibits include the history of the wrecking industry, objects from Henry Flagler's Overseas Railway, Folk Artist woodcarvings by Mario Sanchez, paintings by author Tennessee Williams, Civil War and Sinking of the USS Maine memorabilia.
Hemingway's boxing gloves and World War I blood-stained uniform are on view. Guy Harvey, a renown Jamaican conservationist and marine wildlife artist, whose 59 original pen-and-ink sketches were featured in a special temporary exhibit depicting Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea" bring the epic story to life.
A most unique Key West exhibition was also in store - "What a Drag!" the living history of the "queens" and the men who embody them. These performance artistes undergo lengthy daily glamour rituals to entertain. On New Year's Eve, Sushi does her famous horseshoe drop from two stories above at the "Bourbon Street Pub." But beauty is more than skin deep. Dual entertainers and advocates for causes like the Visiting Nurse Association, AIDS fundraisers, and Wildlife Rescue of the Florida Keys, they are Key West's version of UN Goodwill Ambassadors.
That afternoon segued to Gilligan's favorite time -- siesta -- when he could take in some rays on his private balcony overlooking the pool at the "Key West Bayside Inn & Suites." This is when he could site the resident iguana poolside or the morning doves and occasional finch that settled on his balcony to observe a friendly feline prince.
The catnap prepped for his later strut on the wild side to go catting at the "Green Parrot." No Snivelling is allowed - anything else goes! It's the favorite local dive bar for bands and musicians -- and lots of dogs donned in goofy bandannas outside. Who do they think they are - "Willy Nelson" wannabes, and isn't Key West supposed to be Hemingway's cat town? Can't do too much cat-nipping, for tomorrow is an early departure to head home to reality.
Fall Foliage & Roads Off the Beaten Track
The Dayton Peace Accords 20th Anniversary Conference and speaking engagements for Ambassador Mo at Miami of Ohio University in Oxford, Ohio made for a midwest-bound travel schedule in November.
There was a certain crispness to the air and lush autumn foliage along the drive to the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers when Gilligan made a side visit to Harpers Ferry National Historic Park. In 1859, white abolitionist John Brown took over a US arsenal in what came to be known as the "Raid on Harper's Ferry," which was defeated by Colonel Robert E. Lee. History comes alive in the town with its quaint shops, restaurants, Storer College and the beginning of the NAACP.
Way off the beaten track our traveling companions made their way over labyrinthine roads and sidewinder byways to Peebles, Ohio to view Serpent Mound, a World Heritage Site. Winding 1,348 feet with its head overlooking a stream and eating what appears to be an egg, the serpent is the largest prehistoric animal effigy mound constructed by an ancient American Indian culture. Mystery surrounds the site and its builders who seemed to have held a keen knowledge of celestial phenomena. The serpent's multi-coiled tail shows astronomical correlation to its head in perfect alignment with the setting solstice sun. In this travel episode, curiosity did not kill the cat, as both safely bonded in their cruise mobile.
Cat Stockings for the Holidays
Once back from Ohio, Gilligan appeared to have lost a little weight despite an appetite that could only rival Santa's. He was sleeping or dreaming more, we thought about Key West. We expedited the road trip departure to Key West believing and hoping that familiar surroundings and fun in the sun on his balcony at "Bayside Inn & Suites" would be an elixir and rejuvenation of body, and spirit. However, the uncomplaining loving spirit continued, but the body couldn't. Advanced lymphoma was diagnosed, and on December 29, our beloved Gilligan became a shooting star in the Heavens.
The road warrior baton has now been passed to Moesley to continue like a phoenix rising from the ashes where Gilligan's joie de vivre and amiable free spirit will transport Gilligan's family "on the road again" to make music with our friends. (Watch YouTube video: Willy Nelson, 'On the Road Again' - two year's ago with Sheryl Crow.")
PHOTOS: Special Family Collection