Do you think that most of us have some primal, unrealistic fear of wolves ? As a child I did. As an adult I have grown to love reading and learning about wolves, but that interest also has heavy overtones of some vague fear not so far in the back of my mind.
When I was about five years old my father, fresh from law school, was an insurance adjuster. This job kept him traveling all over our state. I vividly recall one evening over supper his recounting of a trip he had made to a small town about sixty miles south of us. “A large pack of wild dogs are on the loose down there,” he said. “The entire community is on the lookout, and kids can’t stay out and play until they round them up.”
“Why can’t the kids play out?” I asked, wondering how a group of dogs could be a problem.
“C, these are wild dogs,” he replied. “They’re dangerous. The kids can’t play out because they could be snatched and dragged off by the dogs. They are like wolves when they get in big packs like that.”
Snatched?!! Dragged off?!! Well, let me tell you, that imagery went right to my brain and played over and over like a horror movie. I remember dreaming about wild dogs. My mother remembers that when we’d head out for anything more than an hour’s drive away, I’d ask, “Will there be wild dogs there?” Clearly, it made an impression.
Not long after that, I was introduced to the Lon Chaney, Jr. Wolfman movie. OMG!! To see that wolfman stalking across a meadow in the light of the full moon! I simply cannot tell you what this was like to me. And it jumbled all up with that previous imagery of the wild dogs and the real wolves, who—after all—do have that chilling howling. And I have to confess that, even today, I did not want to find a picture of the wolfman to post here—just a little too scary, still…
Along about the time these horror factors were merging in my mind, my father bought a farm about forty miles away, near his own upbringing and amidst some of his “people.” My great-aunt Donnie and Uncle Fred (written about in an earlier post) lived there, caring for the stock, which included my first horse, a little black gelding named “Champ.” We’d go up there on weekends, and I’d ride Champ around through our pasture and into our woods.
One day we were all milling about the yard in front of the farm house. A truck pulled upon the dirt road which ran before it, and a distant relative of my father’s got out. He pointed to the body of a canine tied across the top of his pickup. My father exclaimed appropriately over the “kill” (which now seems quite sad to me), saying “Well, I’ll be…so there still are wolves in these parts!”
Wolves?! Coyotes?!! HOWLING??!!! Okay, this was almost more than I could take in.
From that point forward, I began angling to leave our farm well before dark set it. I did not want to even hear howling, and I sure did not want to run up on one of these wild creatures. Who knew? There might even be wild dogs to boot!
One afternoon my mother loaded my brother and me in the car and took off for the farm without my father. He was working. We were going to get vegetables from Ain’t Donnie’s garden.
Well, Mom picked and picked, and I got more and more and more nervous. It was getting dark. Real dark by my book. Furthermore, the moon was rising. The MOON?! Yes, a big, round moon. I knew full well what the moon meant in terms of this wolf lore. I was fit to be tied by the time we set out. I remember sitting silently in the back seat of the car, barely able to look out the windows for fear of seeing glowing eyes on the side of the road, yet unable to keep from it.
As we drove the winding, hilly country road in what was now the dark of the night, we started down a steep incline. Understand that this was a country dirt road, complete with big rocks in it and ruts from running rain. All of a sudden we hit something! There was a thud! followed by a grinding noise. My mother pulled over to the side of the road. She was afraid to drive any further for fear we would hurt the car. She ordered us out of the car to walk to the dim house lights we saw a bit further down the road.
Out!! Was she nuts? Was she kidding?? Apparently not. I recall getting out of the car and, really, I cannot remember another thing about this incident other than feeling pure terror, that the diagnosis was the oil pan (does that sound right?) had been knocked loose, and that we somehow got home safely.
It absolutely solidified my fear of wolves and wild dogs for the rest of my childhood—without ever actually seeing either!
My mother barely recalls this incident, considering it a nuisance. For me, it was a horrifying experience.
And today I occasionally go try cases in the little town down south with the wild dogs long ago. And even now I think of those dogs when I do.
Many years later when my son was about six, my father gave him a radio alarm clock for his birthday. He was so taken with the concept that he requested that we set it for him when he went to bed so that he could listen to a little music, which would go off in half an hour or so. We left him happily tuned in to an “oldies” station.
His father and I were two rooms down the hall, getting ready for bed when our little son came flying down the hallway and dove headfirst under our blankets. When we asked what was the matter, he said “A really scary song came on the radio—can I sleep with you???”
We went down the hallway and heard Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, singing, “Hey, there, Little Red Riding Hood. You sure are lookin’ good…” complete with a wolf howl….
So, I ask you again: is there some innate fear of these creatures in us all? C