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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Child of the 70's Part 4: Camping

Last week my son and I were at the local diner and ran into several other families from his class. Later, on I heard one of the boys say, "God, that was so embarrassing--I was with my mom and my little sister!" Considering these boys are all of eleven, I thought that was pretty funny. These kids  have no idea what true embarrassment is. To experience that, they would have had to go backwoods camping with my family, in about 1979.

First of all, every summer, my normally well-dressed father, a college professor!--prepared for the trip by stopping bathing a few days ahead of time--he swore it kept mosquitoes away (and I have to say it worked, as my mom usually spent the trip swatting and slapping in agony, while Dad was pretty much immune.) Dad also stopped shaving the second the semester ended--by the time we went camping in the end of the summer, he was virtually unrecognizable.

Every year,  Dad's preparations for camping got a little more elaborate. By the time we were about ten, packing took a week. We drove our blue Chevy van (the same one my sister couldn't figure out how to open when she was temporarily blinded), with two canoes and a kayak tied on top, and hauling a ten-foot Grand Lake Stream canoe on a trailer.  Both canoes, the kayak, and the Grand Laker were stuffed to gills with sleeping bags, duffels, backpacks, camp mattresses, bags of food, canoe cushions, rod cases, dog beds, beer, toilet paper, and anything else we needed for two weeks in the woods. On top of that, the whole load was covered in tarps and garbage bags in case it rained, and criss-crossed with bungie cords and rope. Anyone might have thought we were emigrating to Newfoundland. Or being run out of town.

Most years, we brought my cousin Toby (who got carsick a lot) and we always had the two dogs--Louis, a spastic, low-IQ (sorry, Dad!)  English setter who had been known to claw his way through a wooden door if accidentally shut in a room for more than 5 seconds; and our awesome, school-walking mutt, April. (Later this expanded to three dogs when we inherited Wolf, a fifteen year old deaf and blind Golden retriever with bladder problems, from friends who had moved to England.)

If that wasn't enough to make everyone in the state of Maine stare when we pulled into every gas station, one year, we decided, in a stroke of all-around family brilliance--to also bring our cat, Alice.

Did Alice exhibit an intense desire to travel? No. Did Alice do well in the car? No. Did Alice, ever, at any time, express any affection for anyone in the family other than Louis, and years later, Hannes, our German exchange student? No. If you tried to pick her up, she would slash you right across the face. If she was really mad she would pee on your bed. One time, in mid-slash,  she got her claw stuck in my sister's nostril. (Mantha promptly launched her across the room screaming "That  #$%ing cat!" She still has a scar in her nose.)

Why in the name of reason we all thought it would be a good idea to take Alice camping is beyond me-- there must have been a dearth of pet-sitters that summer?-- or maybe it was because of the mice infesting the cabin. (Since they had the cabin to themselves for 50 weeks out of the year, it was a losing battle.)  But, decide we did. When it came time to leave at 5 am to beat why my dad called that god-damn traffic, we hooked Alice onto her leash, and headed for the van.

There were seven of us that time-- the four of us, my grandparents (in a separate car--they said they would see us at the lake!) cousin Toby, the two dogs, and Alice!  Poor Alice. When she saw the dogs already in the van, she bolted in terror.   It must have been my grandmother, Beep, who had been holding the leash--because instead of completely freaking out, Dad just followed the the rest of us into the woods after the cat, shaking his head (Beep was the only one of us he never would have yelled at!).  Since Alice still had her leash on, even Dad didn't have the heart to leave her to strangle in the woods. As the minutes ticked by--further destroying our chances of an on-time 5 am departure--we all thrashed grimly around in the poison ivy, calling "Aaaaaalice! Kitty kitty kitty!" --as if she had ever, even once, come when called.

A few minutes later, my grandfather, Truman, a sworn hater of cats (no matter what Kipling said!)--stepped on Alice's leash, and she shot straight up into the air. We caught her, bundled her into the car--with more than a little bloodshed on my and Samantha's part--and we were off.

The first few hours of the seven hour drive to the lake, Manth and I sat Alice on the seat in between us, petted her, and read her passages from Trixie Belden.  The dogs were banished to the plywood loft my dad had built in the back of the van. All day long Louis would hang his head over the vinyl seat, drooling copiously. We brought paper towels to wipe off the drool stream.

Alice seemed to be coping ok. We were thinking perhaps she even shared our passion for Trixie Belden. Then, she started panting. If you have ever seen this, it is not a good sign. It means your cat is absolutely frick-fracking miserable. But my family--showing about as much sense as when we failed to notice my sister's optic nerve damaging concussion!!--decided that Alice was panting because she was finally relaxed. Like the dogs!

Every time we stopped --for gas, fishing licenses (back when you could just park in front of LL Bean and run in and out for a license in ten minutes!) or foot-long red Maine hot dogs, my Dad would get out in all his unwashed, unshaven glory, and crawl around on top of the van checking all the ropes  and swearing the whole time. The minute the car stopped, I would vanish and pretend to be with some other family. Toby, his carsickness not at all helped by the drool stream coursing past him on the back seat, usually bolted for the bathroom, and Samantha would close her eyes and pretend to be asleep.

My mom, cursing the three of us for our utter  uselessness,  struggled out of the van with both dogs, and Alice, who was now howling like she was being tortured, and behaved much like a sack of potatoes on a leash.  Meanwhile, I wandered around the far side of the rest stop trying to look like I  had come off a camp bus.

About an hour from the cabin, Alice hopped up onto the center console, in between my parents. She stopped panting. She stopped yowling. She looked calm. My dad, who had already cracked open a beer, (only on the dirt roads!) reached over to pet her (she never scratched him.)

"Now, that's a good kitty," he said, "I think she is going to do just fine."

We pulled into the lake in the early afternoon and all climbed out of the van, covered as always in dog hair and drool, and more or less ready for six hours of setting up camp (thus, the necessity of leaving at 5 am.) The dogs bolted joyfully straight into the lake. Manth and I tied Alice to a tree so she would be out of the way.

A few minutes later, my dad reached into the cup holder in the center console to clear the change out (someone might actually break into your car for a dollar in change in 1979). His hand went straight into something warm. A few minutes later we heard him yelling,

"AAAAAAAHHHHH! That miserable goddamn cat!"

Now we knew why Alice had calmed down for the end of the trip: she had sat very, very still, balanced carefully, and peed in the cup holder.

After a miserable 20 minute march to the camp on her leash, we shut Alice in the cabin. A few minutes later, three mice came literally flying out of the attic window, Alice in hot pursuit! She had a glorious two weeks ridding the cabin of vermin. She only fell out of a boat once, and best of all, she didn't get lost, and behaved herself on the way home.

Despite this, we never, ever brought her camping again.

1 comment:

  1. OMG! totally remember that! though I think we left the pee there, and let all the coins rust, until it naturally dried out. no one would touch it! louies drool was so nasty. How did that dog not dehydrate before we left mass?