Editorial: Vacations and Bears

It’s August, and Greenwich is emptying out as residents seek out their vacation adventures. As we watch the mass exodus, we started reminiscing about our own family vacations when we were kids. You know the ones, where your parents packed up the whole family in the station wagon and drove to some far-flung location for a week or two of quality family time. Better yet, the time you drove as a family all the way across country, which was great, but then you realized you had to drive back home with your brother and sister next to you in the back seat. Now, as adults, we remember less the quality time and more the hilarious antics that ensued.

In our family, it was the summer of 1975. I was eight. We were to embark on a family odyssey that would have us travel from Connecticut to Maine to Canada and then home. This trip had been meticulously planned by our parents. My sisters and I were loaded into our Ford Country Squire. My parents were captain and navigator, or more accurately, driver and the person who answered all questions and handed out grapes when we were hungry. My two sisters sat in the middle seats and I, as the youngest, sat in a cave I’d made of the luggage in the way-back.

Driving to Maine is something we did often, as our mother was from there, and we loved visiting our grandparents in Augusta. This time it was just a provisioning stop for our adventure in Canada. We were going to a remote camp family friends owned. Very remote. Our mother was concerned about being able to get food. My father thought an extra bottle of Rye was in order. Someone may have mentioned to me in passing that bears regularly visited the camp. My sisters wanted to know if there was electricity. There wasn’t.

When we arrived at the camp after a 10-hour drive from Augusta and 40-minute boat ride across a very large lake, I remembered immediately the passing reference to bears and kept my eyes peeled. Of the children there, I was the youngest. The owner’s sons were my sister’s ages, so I was a bit of an odd man out. That did not stop them from trying to terrorize me, or so I though at the time. The owner’s youngest son showed me around camp and pointed out every bear claw marking he could find. And it turns out these weren’t just cute little black bears, these were brown bears, grizzlies. Their marks were everywhere; on the outside of the main cabin where my parents slept, on the bunkhouse where all the kids slept, on trees. Remember, I was eight.

That first night when it was time for bed, my mother took me to the bunkhouse with my flashlight to zipper me into my sleeping bag. I was panicked the moment I saw where my bed was, all the way at the far end of the bunkroom. My siblings and the others were closest to the door. Of course my mother was thinking she did not want the older kids waking me up when they came in. What I thought was BEARS! And what would a big hungry grizzly bear like to eat? A little boy. And if I am at the end of the bunkhouse, he could just reach in through the screen window and grab me before anyone knew. Somehow, my mother got me to bed.

Later that night, the quiet Canadian lake was pierced by the scream of an eight-year-old boy who thought a grizzly bear was trying to break into the cabin and take him home for dinner. Parents came running. What they found were the four older kids scratching on the side of the cabin. Mothers meted out discipline. Fathers went in search of the bottle of Rye. A week in the Canadian wilderness had begun.

Today we get together and laugh at such memories. I had my revenge later that trip. And it turns out the grizzly bears only visited the camp just before winter, looking for food.

As you head out of town, enjoy the memories you will be making for your children. The Sentinel is going on vacation too. We will see you before school starts the last week of August.