A Sweet Memory: Car Camping with Gremlin

I know it's hard to believe, but I had another cat before Dexter. The first cat I ever owned was a big orange tomcat named Gremlin. In 1987, I was working at Mitchell Building, at Penn State, and a friend brought a tiny orange kitten to work in a box. The kitten was about six weeks old, it fit in my two hands, and it won everybody's hearts when it fell asleep on our academic adviser's desk.

I had always wanted a cat, and I swore that when I grew up, I'd finally HAVE a cat of my own. So I took the kitten home to my one-bedroom apartment, where it turned into a monster after midnight, attacking my ears as I tried to sleep. (Thus the name Gremlin.) When my husband - boyfriend at the time - came to visit and saw I'd adopted a cat, here were his immortal words: "Aw, hon. What did you do THAT for?"

But it was the beginning of a long and auspicious friendship! Gremlin and I were inseparable, and I believe he watched over me and helped raise me, as much as I did the same for him. He grew into a 22-pound orange boy.

The cat adored my husband and me, and hated the rest of the world. Gremlin got a pink mark on his folder for drawing blood at the vet. He attacked every friend I ever had try to come and visit me. And he is perhaps one of only a few State College felines to have a police record. But that's a whole other story, and not for this day.

When Gremlin was 11, in 1998, he developed diabetes, and I had to give him first one, and then two insulin shots each day, at 7 am and 7 pm. As you might imagine, this presented some challenges, not the least of which was the fact that my husband and I like to go camping. So guess what: Gremlin learned to go car camping, and did so with us for the remainder of his life!

The first car-camp trip, I was not even along for. It was May of 1999, and I was at a conference in Kansas City, Missouri. The weather was scary, and supercells brought tornadoes while I was there, including the May third F-5 tornado that hit Oklahoma City. I awoke to a ringing telephone the following morning; it was my oldest sister, asking if I was still alive. Yes, I was happy to report that I was indeed!

But meanwhile, back home in Pennsylvania, my husband had taken Gremlin on his first car-camping expedition! At the time, I had a 1987 blue Nissan Stanza GXE, with a convenient pass-through back seat. My husband took his gear and the cat, put the litter box in the trunk, and went car-camping with the cat in Sproul State Forest.

And from then on, we sometimes took Gremlin camping with us. He would stay in the car most of the time; he was allowed in my tent only when supervised, as those claws could have destroyed it. In the car, I would put blankets down over everything, try to make it cozy, and put the litter box in the trunk. Sometimes on nice days, we'd put the cat on a leash, with access to his food and water bowl and litter box.

I remember taking Gremlin for walks on back roads, and how excited he was to drink from muddy puddles. (There was only clean water at home, but somehow muddy water tasted better.) And the time at Asaph Run, where my husband had him on a leash; and Gremlin's eyes lit up when he saw me; and he came down the trail toward me with his tail straight up, a look of pure joy on his face, running as fast as he could go! (How often have I looked back on that fond memory, both with smiles and with tears; it'll be just like that at the Rainbow Bridge, when we meet again.)

Several times during those years, we borrowed conversion vans from the car dealership in Johnstown where my husband's dad used to work. And boy did those really soup up the cat-camping adventures! We drove all around Pennsylvania and saw a bunch of elk, and even took Gremlin to Assateague. You should have seen his eyes when he heard the clop-clop-clop of pony hooves on the pavement. What! Wild horses!??? Wow!

Why am I posting this? In doing some organizing this past weekend, I came across these pictures. I often feel as though Blip is the place I put things that really matter to me, to keep them safe. And so I place these photos here, as Exhibit A, I guess. The girl in the pictures is me, of course. And that big orange boy is Gremlin.

There I am, in my tent, holding him: the cat I'd always wanted! There he is sitting in the back seat of my Stanza enjoying the day. And there we are, overexposed as all heck in the morning sun, looking happy as two larks, with all our gear beside me. (The black camera bag in that shot, by the way, is the same one I use today; but in those days, it carried a Pentax K-1000 pre-digital SLR, which was most likely used to take all of these photos.)

So when you read the tales of Gremlin's Meadow, know that this is who it was named after. There's Gremlin, my big orange boy, who loved me with all his heart, and I felt the same about him. I can still feel the weight of him in my arms. And I remember happily all of the fun we had together, including our car camping trips in my Stanza. Oh may we all be so lucky as to live a life of adventure!

The soundtrack song is this one: Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart, and Sting, with All for Love.

Here are some additional blips:
The original story of Gremlin's Meadow
Autumn Comes to Gremlin's Meadow
Gremlin's Meadow in Snow

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