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  • Story Owner: Cindy (Cynthia)   Gray
  • Story Title: Growing Up Texan
  • Story Created: Friday, January 17, 2014, 7:45:00 PM
  • Chapter Author: Cindy (Cynthia)  Gray
  • Chapter Created: Monday, January 20, 2014, 8:16:00 PM
  • updated: Sunday, January 26, 2014 9:04:00 PM

Watch Out For Bears

Read any literature from Yellowstone National Park today and you’ll find all sorts of warnings about feeding the bears or otherwise interfering with their normal beary kinds of activities.  Occasionally you may see in the news a sad story about some unwary hiker, or worse a tale of some misguided nature nut who thought he could commune with the wild beasts, who gets mauled by a bear.  People know, for the most part, anyway, that they need to stay out of the bear’s comfort zone.  Which is why I just can’t understand the philosophy behind the release of bears into the Sulphur River bottoms not too very far from my cabin in the woods.  I, for one, am not anxious to encounter one of these symbols of true wilderness on a jaunt through the woods.  Not this girl.  But let’s not bird walk into politics.  I like the idea of bears, and living in a really wild habitat, just as long as they keep their space.  I’ve learned this wisdom through early experience with the critters.

Bears became a source of fascination to me on our first vacation to Yellowstone Park when I was about ten.  This was our first real road trip outside of excursions to the grandparents who lived out of town.  Excitement didn’t begin to describe the emotions my brother and I were feeling as we were caught up in preparations for the Grand Voyage. 

My dad, a descendant of thrifty German immigrants, didn’t like to see money pour out of the coffers without a benefit less fleeting than a good night’s sleep in a motel room.  To save money, we would take a house on wheels, a pop-up camper.  It would be so much better, he explained, to sleep in our own beds.  An added benefit was the little kitchenette somehow squeezed in between sleeping accommodations for four.  Not only did we have a portable house, but we’d also have a traveling kitchen!  No need to spend our money eating out, no siree!   We were set to take on the road in our home away from home, stopping along the way to pop up our roof to sleep and eat!  It didn’t get much better!

As the trip neared, we imagined life in the camper on the upcoming trip.  A flimsy door guarded the only entrance where two steep steps brought you onto the floor of the cabin.  The ceiling was hard, but the tops of the walls were merely canvas with tentlike zippered windows sewed in.  A cramped table that converted to a bed stood to one side, while a tiny sink, stovetop, and refrigerator occupied the other wall.  The back contained a large enough bunk to accommodate two people.  I wasted no time stretching out on this bed claiming the side closest to the back.  I’d sleep securely away from the door.  Somehow it seemed safer toward the back, since we would be journeying to the wilds of the Yellowstone.  Like all kids raised on Yogi Bear and Jellystone Park, I knew the REAL bears lived in Yellowstone Park, the almost namesake of the cartoon.  So, being a cautious type of child, I opted for the bunk furthest from the door!  Besides, if I were in this strategic location, that meant Daddy was somewhere between me and anything, such as Yogi, that tried to come in.  It made sense to me.  Daddy would protect me.

This vacation started out like most vacations I’ve experienced before or since.  Everything was all ready to go, clothes packed, refrigerator stocked in the camper, gas in the tank, camper all hooked to the car and ready to go in the driveway.  Then somebody got sick.  Me.  My bug delayed our long anticipated trip by a full day.  I remember the frustration even if I don’t remember what kind of ailment I had! 

Luckily the illness was not fatal, and the next morning the sun shone bright and departure was imminent.  I felt wonderful, full of vim and vigor, excited beyond words at our awaited leave-taking.  Before going, we had to eat breakfast, of course, so we got our first taste of breakfast in the camper since all our food was already arranged into the mini-kitchen ready to go.

Feeling the call of the wild and just a bit hyper, if I recollect, I snatched up the carton of milk.  Forget unnecessary contrivances like cups and glasses.  I opened my mouth, put the container to my lips, and took a big swig.

My mother wasn’t ready to leave behind the niceties of civilization such as drinking vessels, behind, just because we were on vacation.  She was horrified that I’d contaminated the whole gallon of milk with my possible germs! 

“Cindy!  What did you do that for?  Now you’ll make everybody else sick too if they drink the milk!  From now on, the milk in that carton is yours, until it is ALL gone!”

I remember feeling like that carton of milk would never run out.  A whole gallon, and I had to finish it.  Suddenly, I didn’t like milk nearly so much anymore. 

The Grand Tour was soon off to a start.  My spirits were dampened by the milk debacle, but I still felt awed by the fact that this train of ours, for that’s what it seemed like with the long trailer attached to our long station wagon, slowly eased out of the driveway and pulled down the street.  As we rolled around the corner and out of sight of the house, I felt a spirit of great adventure to come.  Off at last!

I don’t know why I thought our driving tour was going to be any more fun than the long drives from Arlington to the Austin area or Arlington to St. Charles to visit relatives.  Although I no longer suffer the effects of car sickness to the degree I did as a child, a long drive still leaves that knotted up yucky feeling deep in my stomach that takes a full 24 hours after finishing the drive in order to clear up.  This meant for week end trips to the Austin grandparents, I had little time when I wasn’t suffering from trip stress.  If we went down on Friday night, I’d have Saturday to recuperate before reversing the drive on Sunday.  Thinking back, it’s a wonder I liked to make the drive to “the farm.”  The drive regularly caused the all too familiar nausea and headache.  The family vacation to Yellowstone was no different.

Sharing the back seat with me rode my younger brother.  Brad was about seven on this trip, just young enough to be full of trouble if I dared to encroach upon his territory.  Fortunately the cushions on the seats had seams across their width, providing for zones of personal space clearly marked by the stitching.  As long as we neither crossed the stitching into the other’s space there wasn’t a problem.  Looking back, I don’t know what the fuss was about.  A few years later, upon the arrival of our late-born baby sister, the zones of personal space shrank with the addition of a physical barrier in the form of her car seat.  I so much longed for the uncrowded back seat after this, but you don’t know how good you have it until it’s gone.  Personal space I mean, not my sister.  Of course.

Both of our fingers waited until unguarded moments when the rival’s attention was on the landscape whizzing by, then crept ever so slowly into the forbidden zone.  My always thoughtful aunt had provided us each with a “goody box” of stuff to keep us busy on the trip, little toys and activities dear to the heart of children needing to fiddle with something.  The contents of these boxes became fair game during this war of the back seat.  Stolen contraband could be secreted in the nooks and crannies of the car’s interior, to be brought out when needed to barter for favors or use as blackmail.  Our border wars were at their height about the time of the Yellowstone trip, ending about the time my sister made her appearance.  One thing about her birth, it sure gave Brad and me a reason to stick together.  The post-Amy era gave us incentive to join forces, but this trip we were blissfully unaware of what was in store in the next few years.

The appearance of mountains, after what seemed like an unending trip in the confines of the back seat, gave us enough to think about to make us forget the back seat squabbling.  Miles of flat land stretched out in the distance, but at the very far edge of the horizon we finally noticed mountains where there had been none.  We felt like sailors on Columbus’s first voyage who finally spotted land after weeks at sea!  Our excitement level surged!

I know it took the rest of that day, and maybe the next, before we finally actually reached the mountains.  Raised on the flat plains of Texas, the closest we had ever been to mountains was in the Hill Country of Texas, which is just as its name describes, hills.  We didn’t know what to expect, so our imaginations ran wild.  Would there be bears?  Maybe we’d see a mountain goat!  Would we go mountain climbing?  The possibilities were endless!

Bears intrigued my imagination.  Maybe I remembered seeing newscasts of people feeding bears from their cars in Yellowstone, or maybe this is a later memory, but the thought of seeing a bear or two was foremost in my mind as we rolled on toward Yellowstone Park.  A flicker of worry crossed my mind at the thought of our tent top camper and resident bears, but I’d never dare let my brother know my angst.

The air in the mountains was cooler than the lower elevations at night. The tent top of our camper was less than adequate, but no one froze.  Our first few night time stops were at parks disgustingly close to towns.  They weren’t at all close to nature like I’d pictured.  I dared not voice my concerns however.  My parents seemed tired and crabby, and not at all in the mood to shop around for more scenic camping sites at this point.  I could only hope we would find the perfect spot when we closed in on our destination.   I told myself maybe a place such as this was for the best, since parks closer to the wilds might harbor real wild animals.  Such as bears.

The thought of the canvas tent sides on the camper never left my mind.  Even in the suburban trailer parks that we stopped at a time or two I imagined a whole swarm of bears waiting to attack the moment they knew my location inside.  Any moment a giant paw might plunge through the thin canvas wall that was my sole protection.  Images of being mauled by the claws and teeth of a hungry grizzly began to interfere with my sleep.

A safe location became my only comfort as we neared Yellowstone.  Carsickness was forgotten after my attention became focused on the landscape outside.  I think it has something to do with focusing on items close at hand, like reading or fighting for space in the back seat.  If your eyes are trained to the landscape outside the queasiness isn’t as likely.  I didn’t know this at the time, and I wasn’t watching for grizzlies by the roadside either. 

I was watching the mountain.  Notice, I didn’t not say plural mountains.  I meant mountain, the one we were driving through.  Mountains look all pretty from far away.  From close at hand they look scary.  Steep cliffs drop off to the sides for what looks like hundreds of feet.  I found myself scanning the drop-offs looking for cars that might have disappeared plunging over the embankment.

There were miles of this type of landscape, helpless in the hands of my father who steered our station wagon and camper train.  It required my utmost attention, as if by watching every possible hazard on the steep road I could somehow avert a possible catastrophe.  Tense didn’t begin to describe my nerves, which felt like they might just send me catapulting out the roof of the station wagon and straight down into the abyss.  By the time we stopped, I didn’t care if wild lions lurked in the forest, I just wanted to get out of the car and set foot on the ground.  I got my wish.

The park nestled right on the edge of a dense expanse of forest in a small valley breaking up the steep slope of the mountain.  Bears had to live in this habitat.  Exhausted from the drive I pushed this thought aside and looked about at the village of campers and tents already settled in for the night.  Surely all these people wouldn’t be camped here if there was danger from bears.  In spite of the lure of a vacation in the wilderness to “get away” from civilization, their presence meant safety.  I did wish we weren’t on the outer edge of the camping area.

Several days on the road had done wonders to eradicate any symptoms of the hyperactivity we had exhibited in the earlier days of the venture.  Our camper had pulled into the park rather late in the afternoon, not to mention setting up camp.   Neither my brother nor I had any desire to explore nearby after supper, as the shadows were already creeping from the forest as night took over the landscape. 

Tired, but glad we finally approached Yellowstone, we hunkered down into our mini tent-castle.  My head barely touched the pillow before I fell asleep.  The cool night mountain air drafted in from the seams of the canvas trailer sides, but I burrowed beneath my heavy covers and hid from the cold and whatever might be lurking outside.

I slept soundly.  I slept, until I awoke with my heart racing to screaming and shouting as something fought to break down the door of our camper!  Something was coming after us!  My mind raced to thoughts of the bears, slashing, clawing, rocking the trailer trying to get in.  I joined in the screaming, sure death was not far off, trying to shield myself with the flimsy protection of my blanket.

“Ayyiiiiee!  Daddy!  Help!  Daddy!”  Then I heard my mother’s voice, and the violent fighting motions and screaming abruptly ceased.

“Al, wake up,” Mom reassured him.  “You’re having a bad dream!”

Dad must have been suffering the same nervousness I felt at the temporary nature of our accommodations.  Maybe he even worried about bears.  The stress of worrying probably triggered his sleep walking episode, because he had sprung from bed to protect us all from the imagined intruder.  One of the quirks about my dad, I learned later, was his infrequent tendency to sleepwalk.  He hadn’t had any night walking episodes in years, but his mind must have been in overdrive trying to make our trip safe and successful. 

After settling down, we all tucked back in and slept until dawn.  Most days, we didn’t pull out until later in the morning, but this time we were up with the chickens.  My dad wanted to leave early before anyone mentioned the screaming outside.  We were in a campsite, remember, and all the other campers and tents were about as soundproof as ours.  The other campers had surely heard all the commotion, and Dad, embarrassed, wanted to leave before he had to explain what had happened. 

Before we rolled out of the park, we did encounter one early bird walking down the campground road in the direction of the restroom facilities.  After nodding hello, the man inquired, “Any idea what was going on with all the screaming last night?”

My dad assured him he had no idea.





Comments 1 to 1 of 1
  • A nice story, Cindy. You might consider entering it in writing contest. The best and most trustworthy source is Preditors and Editors. The alert writers to sources that are not trustworthy. Are you still having problems? Rolland

    Rolland 1/26/2014 4:42:00 PM