My Little Buddy
S.S. Minnow lands in West Virginia
By Renee Whitmore
I am hiding behind a straggly bush at my friend Kat’s house. She lives down the road from my house. Ants are crawling around my bare toes. The ground is damp under my feet. The cool West Virginia air blows through the bush. I have a Walkie Talkie in my left hand, and the static is buzzing in my ear.
“I see him!” I hear through the buzz of my radio. Kat is behind another bush at the house next to hers, watching. Waiting.
I hit the talk button, “Where?”
I look to his porch, and sure enough, there is he is. Standing alone, wearing his beige hat, smoking a cigarette.
“Get a picture,” I say into my Walkie Talkie.
I imagine her with her Polaroid, squinting with her left eye, framing our subject, pushing the shutter button, spewing a picture out of the front of the camera.
“Got it!” she says.
Our target is Gilligan. Yes, the Gilligan, the one from the popular ’60s TV series. When Gilligan (Bob Denver) retired from acting, he, his wife and son moved to southern West Virginia just down the road from where I grew up. I spent hours — more than a healthy curiosity should allow — trying to spy on him. After all, I was obsessed with Gilligan’s Island, in black and white and color. And who gets to grow up living on the same block as a celebrity?
Gilligan, however, did not seem to appreciate our fascination. In real life, he wasn’t as, uh, friendly and funny as he was on the show. Who could blame him? An entire life in the spotlight? (And I was way too young to know anything about Dobie Gillis and Maynard G. Krebs.) No wonder he moved to the West Virginia mountains. It’s as primitive as can be, after all.
We used every excuse we could think of to try to see him in person. One day Kat and I were selling chocolate bars for our school’s fundraiser. Without hesitation, we marched ourselves over to his door, and asked if he wanted to buy any. He answered the door wearing the same beige bucket hat he wore every day he was stranded on the island. He bought a box of chocolate bars, but had no interest in a Q&A and closed the door abruptly. I may have been just 9 years old but I wanted an interview. I had questions. Where did they get all that stuff?
Halloween was the perfect time to see Gilligan. I dressed up as Little Red Riding Hood, my brother was a pirate, and my sister was a clown. His front porch light was off, the sure sign to bypass the house. I just couldn’t.
All three of us piled up on the porch and rang the doorbell. His wife answered.
“Trick or treat!” we yelled in unison. She looked alarmed, but gave us a shy smile.
“Is, uh, Gilligan here?” my brother asked. I jabbed him in the stomach with my elbow.
Then we saw him, walking to the door right behind her with his hat on! They poured some Jolly Ranchers and Kit Kat bars into our plastic pumpkins and closed the door before I could say anything else. Disappointed, we trudged to the next house on the mountain.
I was a teenager the last time I saw Gilligan in person. I was browsing in Lowe’s hardware store with my parents and there he was, in the middle of the paint aisle, his beige hat pulled low, covering his eyes.
“Look,” I whispered to my mom. “Gilligan.”
She nodded. “Can I ask for his autograph or something?” I asked.
“Probably not,” she said.
We continued our three-hour tour. PS
When Renee is not teaching English or being a professional taxi driver for her two boys, she is working on her first book.