Gabriel’s Farewell Visit
I looked up and there he stood, in an open field about halfway between the barn and the house. How long he had been watching me I don’t know, but his manner seemed to reflect a question. “Should I go closer or should I just turn and leave” is what he appeared to be contemplating.
Recognizing his indecision I walked toward him and opened the cattle gate. As I moved closer he turned to run almost as if he did not recognize or recognize me. When I called “Gabriel”, he stopped as if hearing something out of the past.
The name Gabriel was intended to be synonymous with Angel, which is what my wife Bettye wanted to call him when we brought him home as a kitten. Thinking Angel was not an appropriate name for a male cat we comprised on Gabriel. His long black hair with white markings made him stand out as something unusual on the farm and the odor of skunks became quite common around out place as they apparently came by to see if Gabriel was one of their species.
His nature was also unusual; in fact his attachment to me was more like that of a dog. When I would go out to check the cattle fences, which I often did on rainy days, Gabriel would be close behind. Even when I made the infrequent rounds up through the woods on the backside of the place he followed every step of the way.
The cattle evidently considered him a threat because they would chase him if he came near. One day when it had been raining and the creek that ran through the meadow behind our house was near the top of its banks Gabriel had lagged had lagged behind to investigate some new discovery. The cattle, sensing I was not nearby to protect him, encircled Gabriel until his only means of escape was to swim the swollen creek, which he did not hesitate to do.
Perhaps it is time to reflect on what had transpired between then when we were inseparable and now as we face each other almost as strangers. Gabriel’s heaven began to develop storm clouds when we took in a second cat needing a home, a yellow shorthaired male kitten. Bettye named him “Sunshine”, a name that bore no relation to what he brought into Gabriel’s life.
At first Gabriel made Sunshine’s life miserable as might be expected when a male cat’s territory is being invaded. But as Sunshine grew larger and larger the tables began to turn. The loose cat fur around the woodshed began to change from yellow to black and white. The psychological effect on Gabriel was devastating. He stopped eating, his hair no longer sparkled and his overall demeanor changed. He retreated to the barn to sleep and would disappear for days and eventually weeks at a time.
But here once again he stood, the contrast between his long black and white hair as it once had been. “Gabriel” I called again, and he answered with that throaty rattling sound he used to communicate. One of his traits was to answer everything I said and if I went for sometime without speaking he would initiate the conversation. He looked at me, rattled one of his greetings, and lay down and rolled over on his back for me to tickle his belly. It took but a few seconds for us to be fully engaged in a conversation he probably understood much better than I.
His feeding dish was still in its usual place and I opened a can of his favorite cat food, which he patiently waited for me to prepare. As had been the custom, he would not start eating until I patted him on the head.
Leaving him to eat, it was perhaps thirty minutes before I returned to the shed where I left him to resume our reunion. After calling and receiving no response I looked toward the barn and he was about where I had first seen him an hour earlier. When he turned and took a few steps away I knew he was leaving, probably for the last time. I think he too sensed this would be his final farewell for he moved slowly, stopping every few feet to look back. In the time it took to brush away a tear he was gone, thus ending a special relationship I share with you from memory.
It was a cold January day some three years later that I found him, lying face down in the garden. He could have been resting but the ice crystals covering his back indicated something was terribly wrong. Whether he was hit by a car, poisoned by an unknown substance or had encountered some other fate will never be known.
I buried him on the southwest side of a large tree near the center of the forest where he had frequently accompanied me in happier times. The afternoon sun shone down through the leafless trees and reflected off his long black and white hair, which, even in death continued to sparkle.
It did not seem proper that he be buried alone here in a gravesite known only to myself. Not wanting to leave just yet I began to carve his name on the trunk of a tree under which he now lay. As I finished carving the date it suddenly became darker. As the shadows lengthened, it was time that one must go and one must stay. This was my final farewell. There would be no more wondering, no more hopeful glances toward the barn. The feeding dish can now be put away.
The winter will pass and next spring when the forest comes to life Gabriel’s tree will undoubtedly be shrouded in green. Then all who pass this way to stop and rest in its shade will read and know, this is a special place.
Paul Wade - January 10, 1998