When I was 5 years old, I was scheduled to go into the hospital to have my eye operated on. Before I went into the hospital, Dad and Uncle Marion decided to take me on a fishing trip to help get my mind off of the upcoming surgery. In his younger days, Dad was one of those guys that would fish darn near anywhere and Uncle Marion was even worse than Dad. The only places that they didn’t like to fish were where they might accidentally encounter another human being.
Uncle Marion had a secret fishing spot deep in the national forest just east of New Waverly. I seem to remember the lake was named Hoffstetter or something like that. It probably has a golf course and subdivision surrounding it by now, but in those days, it was pretty much free of human inhabitants. We started out in Uncle Marion’s pickup truck after Dad got off work on a Friday evening and reached the logging road that led to the lake right at dusk. We slowly made our way to the lake with lots of stops to remove fallen trees and to smooth out the ruts that were too deep for the truck. While we were traveling down the logging road, Dad and Uncle Marion had a long conversation about the black bears that inhabited the thick woods that we were traveling through. We were all kind of disappointed that we didn’t see any, but Uncle Marion assured us that there would be some hanging around the lake. By the time we reached the lake, it was after 10 pm and we were all tired.
The only problem was that Dad and Uncle Marion never passed on an opportunity to fish, no matter how tired they were. They also knew that their 5-year old fishing partner would probably fall asleep in the boat anyway, so they made plans to leave me in the truck while they made a quick foray into the lake. Uncle Marion backed the pickup close to the lake, unloaded the johnboat and lit the Coleman lantern. They fixed me up with a sleeping bag in the back of the truck, closed the camper shell door, said goodnight, got in the boat and headed out into the lake.
I never was one of those kids that were terrified of the dark or afraid to be alone, so at first it was no big deal to be left alone in the truck. But as the sound of the oars hitting the water and the light of the Coleman lantern slowly disappeared, my mind suddenly turned to the black bears. The only bears that I had ever seen were at the zoo and they were huge animals, certainly big and mean enough to claw through the flimsy camper shell and eat me alive.
If you’ve ever spent any time in an uninhabited wooded area, you know just how dark it gets at night and just how many strange sounds come out of the woods. Needless to say, every time an owl hooted or an armadillo scratched around in the leaves by the truck, I dug myself deeper into the sleeping bag, sure that the sounds were a big, mean bear about to have me for a midnight snack.
I didn’t sleep much that night since Dad and Uncle Marion didn’t return till almost daylight. When they finally got back, we ate breakfast and the three of us got in the boat for a long day of fishing. We caught a lot of fish and saw a lot of wildlife that weekend, but we never did see a bear.
As I grew older, I had a lot of conversations about the black bears that inhabited the east Texas woods. I found out that they were small bears, usually only around a hundred pounds or so and they mostly ate berries and roots. I sure wish I had known that bit of information before I spent that long night in the back of Uncle Marion’s pickup truck.