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Cathy Free: RV lifestyle creates lots of friends

Every couple of days, one of Gladys Clemmer's neighbors packs up and moves, but the 56-year-old homemaker and part-time bookkeeper has learned not to take it personally.

Sometimes people move early in the morning, other times they leave late at night, "but if we've struck up a friendship, we'll be in touch," says Gladys. "That's the nice thing about living the way I do. People from all over the world have become my friends."

Gladys and her husband, Carlton, live on a spacious corner lot at Salt Lake City's KOA campground with two good-natured Labradors, Trucker and Jake. This is their fifth extended stay at the North Temple RV park and it won't be the last, says Gladys.

With large shade trees and a Jordan River walkway nearby, "it's the perfect place to call home," she says. "We can do our own cooking, we can sit outside and relax. It sure beats a motel."

Although the Clemmers own a home near Salem, Ore., they've spent most of the past decade in campgrounds near construction sites where Carlton works as a supervisor. His current job renovating the Salt Lake Costco will keep the couple here for more than a year.

"My husband used to drive or fly home when he could," says Gladys, "but that wasn't much fun for either of us. One day he looked at me and said, 'Hey, why don't you come with me?"'

Gladys quit her graveyard shift at Oregon's Spirit Mountain Casino and went shopping with her husband for a 32-foot, fifth-wheel trailer equipped with a gas fireplace, posh leather sofa and a satellite dish. The Clemmers then rented their home to a relative, loaded up the dogs and hit the road.

"I haven't regretted it for a minute," says Gladys. "Sometimes, I do get a little homesick, but this is a good life. Things are much simpler because there's only so much you can fit into a trailer. You learn to do without."

Eager to share the joys of city camping, Gladys recently joined me for a Free Lunch of deli turkey sandwiches and soup on the little patch of lawn adjoining her home on wheels.

With a picnic table and a barbecue grill outside and a fully stocked kitchen inside, "what more do I need?" she asks. On Sunday, she'll often bake a roast, whip up some mashed potatoes and invite whoever happens to be living nearby for dinner.

"The people we meet at the KOA often become like family," says Gladys, who has three grown children and recently "adopted" a single construction worker who lives a few trailers down.

"He's away from his family and it can be a lonely life," says Gladys, a petite woman with long blond hair and a sparkling smile. "We'll have him over for Thanksgiving dinner this year and probably a few others, too. I'll cook an entire feast right here in the trailer."

People often ask Gladys what she does all day when her husband is putting in long hours at work. "Everybody thinks that because I'm living in a trailer, I must be on vacation," she says, "but I still have cooking, cleaning and laundry. I have dogs to take care of and bookkeeping to do. This is no vacation."

Every Christmas, though, she and Clayton take a week or two off to visit family in Oregon. They pull up in front of their house, say "hello" to their renter, then climb back into the trailer to snuggle with their dogs.

"It's small and it's simple but it's home now," says Gladys. "When you look at the benefits, having to camp in your own front yard isn't so bad."


Have a story? You do the talking, I'll buy the lunch. E-mail your name, phone number and what's on your mind to freelunch@desnews.com. You can also write me at the Deseret Morning News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, UT 84110.