I grew up in the northwest corner of South Carolina, and my family frequently visited the nearby Smoky Mountains in North Carolina. When I was small, probably about five, we traveled to Cherokee, which is surrounded by mountains and lots of wildlife. During our journey, we decided to pull over to the side of the road for lunch. There was a picnic area at the top of a steep incline, and we spotted a small black bear rummaging through a trash can.
I thought that was pretty scary, and I didn’t know there’s usually a larger bear around when a cub is present. Everyone stayed at the car except the oldest person in our party– my step-grandfather, and the youngest–my little brother. I was criticized for screaming, but what can you expect from a five-year-old girl? I think I was upset partly because two of our group were risking everything to get a closer look at the creature.
They climbed the hill together, Mr. Tom with his cane, and Johnny with his little boy legs, while the bear continued to hunt for something to eat. The whole scene terrified me. I later reasoned that Johnny wasn’t old enough to be aware of the danger, and Mr. Tom was experienced enough to not be afraid. It took them awhile to climb up the slope while we all watched in anticipation, and when they were almost to the crest, the bear forgot all about the trash can and turned toward the two visitors. As he started toward them, Johnny and Mr. Tom decided he wasn’t that interesting after all. They did an about-face and hurried down the hill and back to the car.
My mother laughed for years about how she’d never seen Mr. Tom move so fast, and that Johnny was pretty quick too. And they all love to mention how I screamed, especially my brothers, but at least I was smart enough to know a dangerous situation when I saw one.