One summer when I was a kid our family took a road trip to Yellowstone National Park. I don’t remember too much about the long drive from our home in the San Fernando Valley, only that we were all packed into our station wagon, and there was a little camping trailer hitched to the back of it.
When we finally made it to the park we stopped along the road, excited and scared as big bears came right up to our car, looking for food. We staked our claim in a wooded campground, surrounded by other families doing the same. There was a dirt walkway down the middle of the camp, leading to the restrooms at the far end. Every evening the air was filled with the smell of dozens of campfires, including ours, where we would sit together under the stars and roast marshmallows.
One night as we were getting ready to turn in, the park ranger announced that a bear was just spotted near the campground. He instructed us to make sure all of our food was put away, to get inside as quickly as possible, and to stay put. My family rushed to the safety of our camper, all except my mom, who was in the restroom. I remember frantically looking out the little window and feeling so relieved when I finally saw her. She was walking toward us, seemingly unaware that her life was in danger, carrying her big, plastic make-up case. I don’t remember if she had curlers in her hair, only that her face was covered with white cold cream, part of her nightly beauty ritual. My two brothers and I screamed from the windows for her to hurry, and when she made it inside, we told her the harrowing tale of her close call with the deadly bear. After all the excitement, it took us quite a while to calm down and settle in for the night. I’m not sure what the sleeping situation was in that tiny camper, but I’m sure it must have been crowded, what with my mom’s cold cream and all.
Years later, my mom shared with me a re-occurring nightmare of hers. In it she was running away from a killer bear. The bear was right on her heels, and whenever she got to what she thought was the safety of a house, the door was always locked and she couldn’t get in.