"Open the windows for the bear!
"OH MY GOD! WHO OPENED THAT WINDOW???" she screamed and looked at me.
WHEN YELLOWSTONE HAD BEARS
I will never be able to forget that bright green summer in Indiana. All was right with the
world and everyone I loved was still alive and we were going to California. My mom had
wanderlust and she passed her love of travel on to me. Since I snuck in under the wire
when she was 40 years old it slowed her travels considerably...but once a year we planned
the Big Trip, out west to California, where my grandparents put up with us for about a
The adventurers for this trip were the chief driver, my step-dad Don, and sitting in the
passenger seat was the navigator, my mom. In the rear straddling the scotch cooler was
my aunt who was in charge of the scotch cooler..."Are you sure you are thirsty? This lid is
hard to get off....?" And across the seat from her I sat....quietly observing happy adults
anticipating a leisurely round trip drive of 6000 miles start to gradually come apart over
that great distance. My aunt was always fond of the expression "familiarity breeds
contempt". Long vacations in cars are not likely to turn your family into The Walton's
either. Once when my mom was in one of those "clean restrooms" that populated every
gas station on the highway I think my aunt spit in her pepsi glass before filling it.They
were sisters, and at my young age I supposed these things happened in close families.
The first day was always a ritual of endurance. The theory was to drive all day and nite
and most of the next day to get to the "scenery" quicker. The night would be punctuated
with small naps, long silences and my mom saying things like......
"Hon...I'm O.K....I had a nap...I can drive for a while." Don would just shake his tired
head and ask for coffee.
"Stella. would you hand me some coffee for Don?" came the tired voice from the
"Are you sure he wants it?" came the hangman's voice voice from somewhere by the
scotch cooler. My aunt did not give up the goodies easily.
"I wouldn't ask you if he did not want it...after all, he has all our lives in his hands."
Now did I imagine an edge to her voice?
This is how we would get things screwed up from the get go. By the time we got to
where the wild west began we were as tired as 4 oxen that pulled a covered wagon across
the great plains. My frequent requests to stop and see "Live Dinosaurs" were rebuked
with "Oh thats just a tourist trap." My need to pee was constantly met with humiliation
dealt from my step-dad who never had to pee."Does he have to shake the dew off his lily
AGAIN?" He never wanted to stop the car till we got "there".I think he may have been an
alien. I never found out though, after that trip he took a long one of his own without us. I
admit I drank too much pop...it was a self-defense thing because any time my aunt was in
that scotch cooler I asked for food and drink. I did not want to bother her for a solo
shot...god knows what she would do to my pepsi.
Even in the late 60's there was a line at the gate to Yellowstone. It did not seem all that
spectacular...but mom kept saying, "You just wait till you see the bears...and Old
Faithful...it's a geyser that you can set your watch by!" Everyone had perked up a bit since
we had decided to spend an early night in Cody....then tackle the sights of Yellowstone
It turned out to be an amazing place. Our heads were turning this way and that...all of us
anxious to point out the wildlife we saw from our respective windows. Buffalo over
there...deer at the front of the car and even a moose by a river. Boy was this heaven and
even Stella was happily forking sandwiches and pop from the cooler to any and all that
asked. Life was good. I was happily planning my future strategy so I could enter a line of
work that would keep me in Yellowstone forever when we noticed a lot of cars stopped
Then we saw them...bears..real, wild and black. People were out of their cars at cautious
distances photographing them. Other people had bears standing beside their cars while
they dropped cookies or chips out the window for them. We took about 30 photos and
moved on against my objections.
"Kid there are gonna be hundreds of bears down this road and we have to get to Old
Faithful." Don asked for more coffee and we left the area. I was wondering what I would
do if I had to pee in bear country when there it was....a very, very big bear walking out of
the pines to our right.
"See, I told ya so." Don said as he pulled the car over.
"Lets feed this one something and get some closer pictures." my aunt said brightly as she
leaned forward and struggled with that lid that covered the scotch cooler. Since she was
leaning forward...kinda hunched over it, I was able to stretch my arm behind her back and
roll down the window on her side.My intent was innocent...I had the camera and did not
want the window to obscure my shot. I had not counted on the bear covering the distance
that quickly. While my aunt was busy working with the lid the bear raised itself to full
height directly outside the window. I was looking at it thru the camera viewfinder and it
seemed quite a ways away...thats when my aunt rose up with a handful of fig newtons.
She turned her head to the right to see where the bear was. Her glasses were immediatly
fogged by a great blast of bear breath. Then things happened very quickly.
"OH MY GOD! WHO OPENED THAT WINDOW???" she screamed and looked at me.
She seemed real close in that camera view finder and I ditched it immediatly. Good thing
too because in her terror she decided to beat me with the lid from the cooler while the
bear hung these great claws through the open window and watched the with some interest.
My mother somehow managed to make her eyebrows dissapear into her hairline while
her neck was spinning like a scene from The Exorcist. Her son was being pummeled with
a plaid metal lid while a bear was leaning in the back window! At this point I had my
hands full with defending myself from my aunt who was in obvious shock. Each time she
brought the lid back behind her head to strike me the bear licked the fig newtons that were
still squished between her hands and the lid which made her yell "OH MY GOD!!" and
start whacking me again.
I think Don's total lack of action had something to do with the thought of me being
beaten to death and my aunt being eaten by a bear. That would probably improve the rest
of the trip for him. My mom's neck finally quit wringing this way and that...which allowed
her to think. She shot her hand over the seat and cranked that window up. Her arm was
pistoning in circles and you could hear the wind from the window crank like an airplane
propeller. Unfortunately when it was almost closed those great bear claws became stuck at
the top of the window. I know where they got the sound a "Wookie" makes in the Star
War movies. Somebody had recorded that bear all those years ago and Mr. Spielberg liked
Don got into action now and started moving the car forward while the bear side stepped
alongside the car in a crazy dance and made Wookie sounds. My aunt was finally winded
and she turned back to the window...we were moving and so was the bear. Using the last
of her great strength she took her finger, and starting with the largest claw, plinked each
claw out the window till the bear was free. I remember seeing it through the back window
as it disappeared, running wildly, into the pine forest.
We took some extra time at Old Faithful to straighten out the scotch cooler lid. As for
the rest of the trip...well I kept a close eye on my pepsi glass.