The 4th of July parade in New Suffolk is a gloriously simple march each year. Observers unfold their chairs to watch tractors pull trailers full of wide-smiled children dressed as lobsters and crabs. Someone pulls a sailboat full of candy-tossing cousins dressed in hula skirts while a giggling bunch of “North Forks” (or babies wrapped in aluminum foil) bop to “Surfin’ USA”. There are antique cars, marching bands and one great old guy who wears a cardboard sign around his neck each year, counting the years to his 90th and now his 100th birthday. Neither he, nor I, have missed the parade in over two decades. I am happy to report that he arrived this year, with his sign, a few days from 98. We all follow the parade to the waterfront, where the Declaration of Independence is read aloud, prizes are given for the best aluminum fork or lobster costume and the town feasts on hot dogs, lemonade and apple pie, provided by the owner of Robin’s Island, who none of us have met but whom we all call by his surname, “Bacon”.
In July of 2008, my gray tabby cat, made the journey with me. His life as a neutered, indoor cat did nothing to quell his need for adventure. He preferred that his cage be placed high on the “hump” in the backseat of my car where he could peer through the windshield. A great road trip partner, he never needed a bathroom break, could wait to eat and was easily pacified with a few seconds of baby talk and a pat on the head.
The weather was perfect the night before the parade in 2008. Reggie, the tabby, hunkered down under a bed to wait out the occasional pre-4th firework. Visitors arrived through the night and after an evening of food, drinks and merriment, the human guests drifted into our rooms with the bay air cooling us through the open windows. The very same, saline, bay air that wreaks havoc on the door hinges each year.
A new guest in the home would not know that you had to pull door closed and jiggle the handle to secure it. A new guest, did not know this very fact on July3rd, when he inadvertently left the door ajar through the night. At some point between the hours of midnight and early morning, Reggie, set off on his own version of Independence Day and when I groggily searched the cottage the next morning, he was gone.
I was not immediately concerned. He had wandered off before and always stayed close yet over coffee that morning, someone in the house reported hearing a cat fight in the middle of the night outside their window. I swallowed hard and scurried out to the front of the house, where I found tufts of orange fur dancing around the front lawn like tumbleweeds. If Reggie had been involved in the making of this feline crime scene, one thing was certain, he had put up a good fight. Everyone gulped down the last remains of breakfast and set off in pairs to search…returning 2 hours later empty handed. My stomach sank, not only because he had not been found but because the parade was about to begin.
The parade, my most beloved East End event, with its marching band, fire truck sirens and singing children was loud, VERY loud, in fact, too loud for today’s particular challenge. I put on my best “game face” and settled into my seat to watch the start of the parade when it occurred to me that, in moments, every resident with a pair of eyes would be gathered en masse around a PA system. The parade coordinators were happy to oblige my request to announce Reggie’s absconding and were heartfelt when they asked the town to help a woman find her cat. Dozens of people approached me with hugs and arm rubs, vowing to help me look and filled me with hope. I spent the afternoon making posters and hanging them all over town. Every light post and electric pole was papered with a photo and a phone number. By nightfall, the whole town was on the job, searching under their decks and in their shrubs…just in time for the cacophony of fireworks that drove Reggie further into hiding.
I made hourly walks around the town all weekend with whoever would join me, encountering people with stories of a gray tabby, Reggie’s would-be twin, save for a small patch of white fur on his neck. As I sat down to dinner the final night, for the first time, I was still enough to hear the sounds of children in the distance calling out “Reggie, “pspspspsps”, “come out Reggie”. I burst into a paradox of tears, stricken by loss and kindness. It’s a clumsy explanation but at that moment, I felt “community” for the first time in my life.
After I arrived home, I received a handful of calls each day about the gray tabby with the white neck but none about Reggie. After several days, the calls began to dwindle and I began to accept that he was gone for good. It was time to begin my life without him. I had a good long cry and set about the task of emptying my home of his toys and litter box.
On the 10th day from his disappearance, when the phone rang and someone said, “I think I have your cat”, I said, “Thank you very much for calling but he doesn’t have a white neck”. I was just about to hang up when she said, “Miss, this cat doesn’t have any white on his neck. He looks thinner than the photo in your flyer but we are pretty certain that it’s him.” I took a deep breath and listened as she spoke, “I gave him something to eat and he rolled around on the floor in the basement with my daughter and then fell asleep in her arms”. I had heard enough, I knew in my gut that it was him, that description was classic Reg”. I knew in my heart, that the very people who had given me hope, held onto it longer than I had and had found him for me.
Reggie never made another trip to the North Fork, in fact he never traveled again. At the age of seventeen, he now rolls around on the basement floor with my daughter. He falls asleep in the arms of the “new guest”, who is now my husband, no worse the wear, for the loss of one of the nine lives that he left behind in New Suffolk that Independence Day.