I love monster movies. The cheesy sort, where the characters scream, “Run!” every few minutes, and it’s obvious who is going to be the first to “get it”. Oh, the spine-tingling suspense! The campfire-ghost-story kind that makes you cover your eyes and peek between your fingers so you only get skinny slits of scariness.
My introduction to monster movies began with Godzilla, the roaring reptilian that chased terrified screaming city dwellers through the streets of Tokyo. Then I reveled with squeamish delight in “The Blob”, where hunky Steve McQueen heroically battled the gelatinous goo across the huge drive-in movie screen in his attempt to save all of humanity. Swoon. It just didn’t get much better than this.
For many years, Hollywood seemed to be on a roll with campy scary movies, cranking out classics like “The Creature from the Black Lagoon”, and my personal favorite, “King Kong”. These flicks drew me into a world that was scary, but so absurdly exaggerated and silly the images never threatened to haunt my waking moments. That is, until the movie, “Grizzly” hit the big screen in my late teens.
This creature feature seemed just a teensy bit too real for me. I found myself thinking, “Yes, this could happen! I bet there really ARE 18-foot grizzlies that live in the woods and plot revenge against poor unsuspecting campers.” The very first bone-chilling “GRRR!” forever ruined my enjoyment of camping, but I didn’t realize just how much so until many years later.
My husband and I thought that camping might be fun for our kids, something that would foster family togetherness and wonderful memories. I think my husband and kids pictured us gathered around a cozy campfire, roasting marshmallows and singing Kumbaya. That wasn’t quite what I envisioned.
After several weeks of planning, we finally set off on a much-anticipated vacation. We pulled into the mountaintop campsite late one afternoon, just as the sun was dipping below the horizon. A sign greeted us as we entered the campground: “Warning: Do Not Feed the Bears.” A few minutes later, I am not kidding, a small black bear ambled across the road. This was not good.
We set up our tent, which we discovered is about as much fun as assembling a swing set at midnight on Christmas Eve, cooked up a fine meal on our newly purchased camp stove, and bedded down for the night. Well, my family bedded down for the night. I lay in mummy-like silence, eyes wide open, ears peeled for any noise resembling a “grrr”. I soon heard something, not a “grrr”, but a definite “snuffle”, a loud snuffle coming from a large animal. And everyone knows that a snuffle ALWAYS precedes a growl which comes right before “dinner” for every movie monster that ever hit the big time.
I tried to talk some sense into myself. “It’s probably just a raccoon or a possum. He’s harmless. He’ll leave in just a minute.” But it was not working. My overactive imagination took over and I became convinced it was my old nemesis, the 18-foot “Grizzly” from my teen years come back to haunt me. Forget about the fact that grizzlies were practically nonexistent in Arizona.
A Far Side cartoon popped into my mind, the one in which two bears are staring at campers in their sleeping bags around a snug fire. One bear cheerfully says to the other, “Sandwiches!” I chuckled when I first read this a long time ago. I was not laughing now. Because at this moment, I was the sandwich, just waiting for a dollop of mustard before the feast began.
I tore out of my sleeping bag, jumped on top of my poor sleeping husband, grabbed him by the scruff of his plaid flannel shirt and shouted, “There’s a BEAR outside our tent!”
“A bear! It’s circling our tent and… it’s SNUFFLING!”
He did not seem to grasp the situation. He turned over and mumbled something like, “It’s probably a raccoon.”
Where was Steve McQueen when I needed him?
I lay awake the entire miserable night, rigid with fear and longing for daylight. Our long-awaited vacation lasted about twenty-four hours. We headed for home the next morning and never camped again.
Our adult kids may require therapy one of these days because of “camping deprivation disorder”. But I’m OK with that. They have a storehouse of other fun family memories, just not camping in dark scary grizzly-infested woods.
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