The Bear

One summer, we toured the Smoky Mountains in Kentucky. We toured with one of my Dad's good friends Mr. Gatta and his family. On his own, my Dad is a lot of fun, but combined with his good friend, the two of them are hysterical together, at times even dangerous.

Despite the amusement of seeing our good friends and their own three children, on long car rides, there isn't a whole lot to do. We even brought our dog with us, but the novelty of having a schnauzer leap up and down off of the seats of the van grows old after the 47th time, even for the dog. No amount of toys in the back seat, scenery out the windows or 1970s rock tunes can ease the boredom, however comic books are a godsend.

Many a comic took me away to an adventure of my own, whether it was having super powers and battling the enemies of the universe, laughing at the antics of Mickey, Goofy, Donald Duck and his nephews or even the (eventually) forbidden horror comics. These gruesome tales (of which Tales From The Crypt are based on) gave me more nightmares in dark rooms than anything I could dream up, yet I had to read on. They dealt with gruesome subject matter and the cover always showed something lurking in the depths of a basement that had me reading until I finished or the pages shook with terror.

I was either reading a superhero comic or a horror comic when the family van made an unauthorized stop. The Gatta's station wagon was not far behind and also stopped. My father and Mr. Gatta left the safety of the vehicle to see what was going on. Apparently there was some commotion up ahead that had cars stopped in both directions. Dad and Mr. Gatta decided to check out the situation.

Fearless, curious and headstrong, they walked ahead, their wives staying With The Children. Most of the other drivers stayed in their vehicles, confident that the state troopers had things under control and they could continue driving. Of course, The Men knew that this was only the start of the adventure. Instead of driving to the adventure, the adventure had come to us!

The adventure in this case was a huge monstrous black bear. He was nine feet tall and probably was just as bored as I was. He emerged from the trees to stake out the picnic sites by the side of the road, perhaps lured by the smell from the trash cans. He looked deceptively gentle and sweet, with huge furry paws that could have taken off the side of the van in an accidental brush. His huge teeth gleamed in the July sun, his jowls and moist nose quivering, torn between a free meal and the shiny cars making a continual racket. The ground seemed to shake when he lumbered in our direction and his growl shook the windows as if he were confused at this new audience.

My father decided to capture his photo. With our mothers yelling both for the men to come back and for the kids to stay in the vehicle, they probably were disturbing the bear more than my father. Heedless of the danger, perhaps emboldened by the fact that this was free, they continued on. All the time, the other cars were honking, mothers were screaming and the bear was growling and roaring. I'm sure that this display wasn't what the bear wanted and eventually he yawned, scratched himself and barreled back into the trees.

This whole process delayed us by no more than thirty or forty minutes, even though it took some time to get everyone back into their vehicles. Eventually the cars ahead of us moved ahead and my father climbed back into the van. Sweating a little from the excitement, he had a huge smile on his face and he handed the camera to my quivering mother. He leaned back to make sure that the whole family was in the vehicle and he glanced over to me.

"How about that bear, Dan?!"

I looked down from my Adventure comic book and blinked at him from behind my glasses. "What bear, Dad?"

I had missed it all! I blame it on my poor hearing, which has never been very good, or perhaps it was my devotion to reading. I have always been able to Tune Out The World when reading. Whatever the reason, in my search for something exciting, I had missed the best adventure of all. To this day, "What bear, Dad?" remains one of the family's favorite phrases when one of us (usually me) has missed something unique that can never be repeated.





@ 2005 Dan Speziale