Cats are truly amazing creatures. They will bring out the most basic mothering instincts in many women, as they pamper and care for the animals’ every need or want. Men are no exception to pet feline influence as they will coddle and caress a cat as if it were an infant child, not to mention being reduced to the level of a three year old when times call for any kind of romping or play.
There is an old saying, “Dogs have owners but cats have subjects,” and having spent the bulk of my adult life in the company of a house cat, I would have to testify to the truth of that statement. Parents will turn themselves inside out, work day and night, and do whatever else might be required to provide for and make their child happy. In that same vein, adult humans will alter their homes, habits, and purchase endless varieties of food in their efforts to keep a cat content. I speak from extensive experience in these matters, but I imply no hardship because with pets and children alike, the joys of our efforts far outweigh the burden.
By the time we invited Gandolf into our home he was already a member of the senior feline generation. His previous owner (or subject) had given him the name “Dale,” in honor of NASCAR legend, Dale Earnhardt.
T. S. Eliot said, “The naming of cats is a difficult matter,” and one need only set gaze on the cat in question to see he was no beer-swilling, swaggering, good ole’ boy. His previous subject may well have been a grass roots racing fan, but his pet decidedly was not. So upon entering our home, a more serious name was required that fit his outward demeanor.
In homage to J.R.R. Tolkien’s, “Gandalf the Grey,” the wise old resourceful wizard in “Lord of the Rings,” we christened him “Gandolf,” since no feline could ever tolerate having his name spelled the same as a human, wizard or otherwise.
In time, the name proved to be a fitting choice as Gandolf began to display many wizard-like abilities, such as being exactly under your feet with out you ever noticing him arrive there. He could magically block virtually any doorway where you or any other household member needed to enter or exit from. He could silently appear behind you and brush his tail across the back of your bare legs lightly enough to tickle or spook you into almost spilling whatever hot drink you had just prepared. Then in stark contrast, if you needed to administer medicine to him, or place him in his carrier for transport, he could vanish from one room to the next in the instant you averted your attention.
There were many other personality traits he possessed that were worthy of a king moving among his subjects. First and foremost was his respect of space and distance for Queen Tatiana, our other resident feline. Gandolf quickly realized that Tatiana wielded more than just seniority around our house, but her moody and volatile temperament was nothing to be toyed with. For a short time they shared a mutual loathing of Rory the Terrible, or Rory the Marauder, or whatever moniker of mischief and cunning you wish to add to his name. But in time Rory was dispatched on a mission to a kingdom more fitting to his ambitious nature, leaving Gandolf and Tatiana in some facsimile of a medieval arranged marriage. They became housemates at best, but forever at furry tails length from each other.
This is not to say that Gandolf did not possess many endearing qualities. He would often crawl inside empty shopping bags, leaving a foot or tail exposed as a sign to let you know the space was occupied. Whenever my wife would spread out one of her quilt projects, he would never fail to give his encouragement of her work by walking and lying down on the fabric, no matter where it was placed. He would leave large indentations in the sofa backrest as a reminder that he approved of the sun and view from the adjacent window, and as a loyal king will show compassion for his subjects, his presence was constant at our back door whenever one of us would leave or return home.
While Tatiana can be skittish about physical contact with her minions, Gandolf was happy to grace almost anyone with a measure of his company. Let’s be clear this was not to be confused with romping or other silly cat games, which he only occasionally joined in on. No, such activities are for youngsters, along with running about the house or constantly climbing on things. This veteran cat made every move count, and jumping onto things was done with careful scale, measurement, and proper warm-up preparation.
Once in your company, he would graciously accept a generous rubbing of the head, neck and shoulder area, to which he would respond with a robust purr that rattled so deeply and with such volume you might think someone was in the room trying to start a sputtering old chain saw with steady and methodical pulls of the rope. While the rubbing and scratching of his fur made him seem docile, don’t be swayed into thinking he wished to be picked up. There was to be none of that holding and cuddling nonsense, unless of course it was my wife, to whom he would respond by imitating a sack of dry beans, as illustrated in the adjoining photo.
Gandolf was not a television watcher or a reader of books, but he was quite content to lie next to you or even on you for a few hours while you amused yourself with your pastimes. His fifteen pound girth could numb one of your extremities if he stayed long enough, and when the time came for you to move he would generally ignore such motions until gravity itself demanded he take action.
The expressions of his furry face could often say so much with little more than a slow blink of his eyes. I often thought that if he had the ability to speak he would share his sage wisdom in a regal British accent. I can easily imagine him often saying, “Let us begin by taking a smallish nap or two.”
If there was one ability where Gandolf was an undisputed champion, it was taking a cat nap. My wife has posted a collection of her favorite photos on her blog, which you can view here. The pictures speak for themselves, but they also showcase his napping talent, and his affection for his bedding material of choice, a cardboard box. The fit was of little consequence since he was quite flexible when box size was challenging, but he could make even the most ragged pieces of cardboard appear as comfortable as if I were in hammock at the beach.
If we could have indeed shared conversation, I believe he would have often quoted Winnie the Pooh, since they both shared a great tendency to a slow and simple life laced with affection to those people and things which matter most. I could also hear myself often answering with a smile as did Christopher Robin, “Silly old bear,” to which he would kindly reply, “Silly large boy.”
Gandolf may well have appeared to be a cat on the outside, but a heart as strong as any bear beat within him, and like a loyal and loving king, he gave us every last ounce of strength that heart had to offer. Even until the very last, he gazed and gruffed at us, almost as though he offered both gratitude and comfort for our time together. Like a wizard, I can envision him shedding his mortal physical ailments, and taking his slow and methodical walk across the Rainbow Bridge. There is no need to hurry, he will arrive precisely when he means to.
Godspeed, Sir Gandolf the Grey, the Wizard and the King, and the bear-sized paw prints he leaves behind, both on our lives and in our hearts. You shall not be forgotten.
– T. August Green