Memories #2 – Into the woods

Whenever I heard that song, “Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go…” I also pictured my Nana’s house. My Nana and Poppy lived in a big white Colonial house that sat midway up a mountain in Pennsylvania. To get there you had to take this gravel road to a stone bridge crossing a little creek winding up the mountain. Their backyard dissolved into the woods. It was the picturesque landscape for fairy tale adventures and perhaps because we spent the better part of our youth running around the home, our imaginations carried my siblings and I on some pretty wild adventures.

As a kid, I really looked up to my brother – my senior by four years. He perhaps had the most active imagination of us all, but being little, I couldn’t tell when he was sharing a fantasy or the truth. One day he told me that there were talking bears in the woods behind Nana’s and if I was stealthy enough, I might be able to find them.

I was picnicking back there, just beyond the tree and the fuzzy guy must have sniffed out my PB&J. You know that bears can’t resist a good PB&J,” he told me. “Smart talkers, bears. Best conversation you could ever have.”

Fascinated by the idea of talking bears and jealous that my brother encountered this rare treat without me, I was determined to find the creatures for myself. Rushedly, I fixed my own PB&J, snagged a bag of Cheetos and grabbed a handkerchief from my Poppy’s dresser and tied the meal up in the cloth before securing it around a long stick I found in the backyard. Determined to be just like the hikers I saw in my books, I pulled on my boots and slugged the stick with picnic over my shoulder before setting off.

My little legs struggled up the steeper parts of the mountain and random branches clawed at my hair, but I plowed on. I kept my eyes wide open, but saw nothing but a few birds and squirrels. Finally, I found a big log and plopped down. Carefully, I unrolled the handkerchief, pulling out the sandwich. I waited. Hoping one of the magical beasts had caught the scent. Nothing. Slowly I took a bite and began to eat. Still nothing. With a long sigh, I decided to carry on, tossing the stick aside and stuffing the handkerchief in my pocket. I ate the Cheetos and walked aimlessly away from the house, but deeper than I had ever gone into the woods.

BOOM!

Birds squawked and flew up out of the quivering trees. Loose leaves rained down on me. My arms were instantly covered in goosebumps and suddenly I became aware of how alone I was and how far away from home I was. I started to turn around to try and go back, but I blocked by a strange contraption just off to my left. I crept closer.

The thing was startling in the middle of the woods – definitely man-made, but unlike anything I had ever seen. The think was large and round with strange holes. Whatever it was, I knew it was bad. It wasn’t right – it wasn’t natural.

Then, a hand roughly grabbed my arm and started pulling me away.

“What are you doing here? Didn’t you hear the gun? Mom’s been worried sick.” My brother hissed. How did he find me?

“What was that thing?” I stammered.

“A bear trap and you’re lucky that hunter wasn’t checking the trap or they could have been shooting over here.”

“But the talking bears!?” I gasped.

You believed that? I was just telling you the plot of the Teddy Bears Picnic. There’s no such thing. Now let’s get home.”

Disappointed, I let my brother drag me home to Nana’s. My mother scolded me about running off on my own and I listened to her yell without a word of protest.

I never went back into the woods alone again…especially not on the suggestions of some crazy story from my brother.

Strangely though, I did show a long-lasting affinity toward the film the Teddy Bears Picnic…

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