Monday, May 21, 2012

The Cat That Got Away

I have always loved to go camping. It started when I was a little girl, and my family would go off to some wooded mountain side to camp. We slept on the ground in those days, not even in tents. I have to say I've made gradual progress through the years from the ground, to tents, to a pop-up trailer, and eventually enjoyed my parents' motor home. I figure each mode of camping is age-related. The older you get the further from the ground you want to sleep.

When I was about five years old we went camping somewhere in Idaho. I was too young to remember just where, but it was green and cool and had steep hills to climb. One morning I woke up earlier than the rest of the family and saw a beautiful black and white cat snooping through our campsite. It had a long, full tail that I very much wanted to pet. Since cats and I go back to the beginning, naturally I wanted to coax it near and hold it. I got out of my sleeping bag and began to call the kitty. I crept closer and closer so excited that it wasn't running away.

I suddenly heard my mother's harsh whisper. "Vickie! It's not a cat! Don't go any closer."

It looked like a cat to me. It was so pretty and so tame, I thought, and I just wanted to pet it. But I did wonder how it managed to get all the way up in the mountains.

By now my dad was awake, peering over the edge of the sleeping bag, his eyes bugged our of their sockets. "Don't go any closer," he warned. "Stand still."

"But -"

"It's not a kitty!" my mother insisted. "It's a skunk!"

A skunk. I'd never seen a skunk before. It looked like a cat to me and I wasn't afraid of it, but I obeyed and didn't move any closer. I watched the creature wander off, disappointed that I didn't get to hold it. It took me a few years to understand the looks of relief on my parents' faces when the skunk departed without feeling threatened by me, and once I knew how vile being sprayed by one can be I was really grateful I didn't experience that first hand.

My parents told and re-told this story for years with relish and laughter. My parents are both gone now, and once in awhile, when I go camping I remember...I remember them and the cat that got away.

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