Pat Wahler

Penning stories to savor.

Just an Ordinary Guy and His Cats

Recently, I finished a book from the tall stack of volumes (also known as the to-be-read pile) sitting next to my bed.

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, by Therese Anne Fowler, is told from Zelda’s point-of-view, and describes her life with F. Scott Fitzgerald. Let it suffice to say the story often shows Mr. Fitzgerald in a less than flattering light.  In an even dimmer beacon, is the author’s portrayal of Fitzgerald’s friend and competitor, Ernest Hemingway.

Reading the story immediately reminded me of my visit a few years ago to Key West, Florida. I toured the beautiful home Hemingway and his second wife purchased in 1928 . Talk about working in Paradise!

Hemingway Home in Key West, Florida.

My first surprise occurred when I went through the gate and discovered the 52+ cats that live on the property. They go where they want to go, as long as its within the compound walls. Apparently, the animals are trained from kittenhood not to run out the gate, which is wide-open during business hours. Right off the bat, my mouth dropped open in amazement. I can’t train my cat, Bogey, to stay off the kitchen counters.

These cats have another unusual quality…their toes.

Legend has it a sea captain gave Hemingway a six-toed (polydactyl) cat named Snowball, because polydactyl cats bring good luck. Delighted with the feline, Hemingway soon became a die-hard cat lover.

Snowball, of course, went on to do what cats in pre-spay and neuter days did. He (or she) began to reproduce. Hemingway favored litters that produced “lucky” polys, and to this day, descendants of Snowball live a life of freedom and luxury at the Hemingway Home and grounds. They sit on furniture visitors aren’t allowed to touch. They frolic in the garden. They play rough as little tigers. One even pounced on my hand and left her mark. It didn’t bother me a bit. How many people can say they were scratched by a descendant of Hemingway’s cat?

Hemingway’s desk. A cat undoubtedly dozed in his lap as he worked. Because that’s what cats do.

So in response to the book’s depiction of Hemingway, maybe he did drink too much, sleep too little, and let the fact that he had a wife at home slip his mind from time to time. I still can’t help thinking that anyone so fond of cats could be all bad.

A poly at the Hemingway Home.

Hemingway, his two sons, and a few feline friends. (Wikimedia Common)

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  1. Pat–I’ve heard about the cats, but your description brought the estate to life. Maybe you should have had that cat scratch tattooed onto your hand. Or maybe the scratch is enough to impact you for life. Perhaps once you’re scratched by one of Hemingway’s cats, his writing talent is now flowing through YOUR veins.

    It sounds like a fun trip. What other writer’s home would you like to visit?

    • Pat Wahler

      January 28, 2017 at 7:24 am

      Hi Sioux!

      I first heard about polys when volunteering with a local shelter. A poly came in and the director called him a Hemingway. Then she explained the story.

      I’ve heard the Mark Twain home in Connecticut is amazing. Wouldn’t that one be fun to see?

  2. Perfect description of the Hemingway cats. And I agree that anyone who is that much of a cat lover deserves a little slack. We used to live in Key West, so I’ve visited the house and can attest that what you say is true. Also that it is a beautiful place to write, although at the time I had two young kids and didn’t do much writing. Still, if I COULD choose a spot to sit with cats and my laptop, it just might be Key West.

    • Pat Wahler

      January 28, 2017 at 7:27 am

      Hi Lisa!

      The only problem for me would be the constant distraction of a gorgeous view. Key West is so incredibly exotic and beautiful. Lucky you to have lived there!

  3. I have read about those famous cats but had no idea they could be trained not to go out of an open gate, how the heck do you manage that!
    Bet it was so interesting touring around a house like that. Yes I agree, would be wonderful being able to work in such a setting.
    Lynne x

    • Pat Wahler

      January 28, 2017 at 8:57 am

      Hi Lynne!

      If I ever figure out how to train a cat, Bogey will be the best-behaved animal in history.

  4. I love cats, but 52 seems like an awful lot to have to navigate on a tour. Though I suppose even one well trained cat would be worth seeing, even if Hemingway weren’t enough of a draw.

    • Pat Wahler

      January 28, 2017 at 1:58 pm

      Hi Sarah!

      It really is a beautiful place, and the property has enough space for the cats not to be bunched together and make it seem as though they outnumber the people. Since it’s “their house” they come in and out, lounging on furniture or beds which are roped off to the tourists. It’s well worth a visit, if you’re ever in the Keys.

  5. My own favorite cat (and I’ve lived with a few) was a six-toed orange giant regal mutt called Solomon. I bragged constantly at how gentle he was with my toddler, who liked to put pencils in his ears and such. Now an adult, my girl has confided that Solomon did stick up for himself when I was not in the room. Still, the two of them once shared a clandestine potato chip party on the kitchen floor at 2 am.
    I’d love to meet Hemmingway’s cats. It seems they at least know how easy they have it.
    (May I mention that my daughter now has four cats and none are trained to stay off the counter. None of my cats did such things.)

  6. Pat Wahler

    January 29, 2017 at 9:28 pm

    Hi Marcia!

    Cats definitely have unique personalities, and as I type a very stubborn one is trying to take over my keyboard. You’d love the Hemingway Home. It’s incredibly beautiful, and the cats are fascinating.

  7. Linda O'Connell

    January 31, 2017 at 6:43 am

    I love cats, but would need an estate like Hemingway’s in order to have so many.
    I was there last summer but did not take the tour. Wish I had.

    • Pat Wahler

      January 31, 2017 at 7:30 am

      Hi Linda!

      If you go back to Key West, be sure to take the tour. It’s a beautiful house, and a fascinating opportunity to visit to the past.

  8. You know I love cats; that’s why I have four of them! And maybe that’s the reason you and I wrote a PB together!

  9. Just wanted to pop in and say hi! I’m still swamped with grad school!

    Those cats are just fascinating!

  10. I’d say Ernest Hemmingway left his mark on the world not only with his writing but also with his cats.

  11. Reminds me of that cute saying I used to see on cubicles when I worked in an office: “God, let me be the person my dog thinks I am.” Same with cats! Unfortunately, humans tend to be flawed…animals don’t seem to be, really. Stories like this just remind me that even the people who seem to have it all have problems…

    • Pat Wahler

      February 6, 2017 at 6:45 pm

      Stephanie, what you’ve written is so true. I don’t suppose anyone, no matter how celebrated, has a perfect life.

  12. Keeping the cats within the gates – that is indeed a feat! Appreciate you sharing this. Thanks so much for stopping by my blog for Donna’s interview. It’s nice to meet you!

    • Pat Wahler

      February 7, 2017 at 8:13 am

      Karen, thanks for posting such a wonderful interview. Donna is an amazing person, and a very talented writer.

  13. I came across the house when on a cruise excursion last year but alas didn’t have the time to tour the house and grounds (there was a long line).

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