Most of my early memories have a few common denominators. Normal things like my family, friends, our house in Washington. However, one very abnormal thing looms large in those early memories – Big Foot.
From a young age I was a bit of an adrenaline junky. I would beg Dad to tell me scary stories whenever we went camping and it was a result of this begging that inevitably led to stories of Sasquatch, the Debob Bay Monster, Giant Rock Thumbs that squish small children and many other similar horrors. Whenever I asked for these stories, Mom was always hesitant because she knew the result would be me wedged between her and Dad on their air mattress in the tent. Still, they would eventually acquiesce to my persistence and the stories would come.
Honestly, I don’t remember the first time Dad told me about Big Foot. He has always just been there in my memory. But, I do remember the first time my older brother told me that Big Foot was coming specifically for me.
In the back of our house, we had a giant mountain (which mysteriously shrank in the ten years I was absent from Washington) filled with hundreds of trees (many of whom migrated when the mountain shrank). On one normal day of no other historical significance, we were playing hide and seek with our friend Felicity* (*name has been changed due to memory loss – mine, not hers). John and I were hiding in a small clearing, huddled together as we waited for Felicity to come searching for us. As I tried to quiet my breathing, John’s eyes suddenly got wide.
“Do you hear that?” he asked.
“I think something is here in the woods with us. It’s Big Foot and he is going to get you!”
In retrospect, John probably just wanted that hiding place to himself or to watch as I ran panicking down the mountain, my four-year-old legs carrying me as fast as they could go.
In that moment, nothing else mattered besides my safe escape from Big Foot. I practically tumbled down the mountain and as I reached the sliding glass door to the back of our house, I pulled it shut behind me and locked it, accepting that in so doing I may have sealed John’s fate. It was his own fault he hadn’t kept up with me and the loss of his life to Big Foot’s monstrous appetite was a sacrifice I was willing to make.
Luckily, he and Felicity escaped unfazed but now John knew the power that Big Foot’s name wielded over my young mind. He shared this top secret intel with our older sister and at night they would go on clandestine missions to my crib side to whisper that Big Foot was right outside my window! My poor parents would rush in to find me screaming incoherently and, I am sure, sadly shake their heads at what a fevered imagination their young daughter had.
I wish I could say there was some defining moment I faced my fear of Sasquatch, some night where I deliberately camped out to prove to the world that Sasquatch couldn’t sas-squash me. However, the truth is much less exciting. With time, maturity, and scarier things to be afraid of (college, bills, the IRS!!!) Big Foot faded into a fond memory. As a family we would all talk affectionately of him and the terror he used to inflict (or rather that they used to inflict in his name) on my childhood.
So when I found a tiny Bog Foot key chain in Alaska, I knew I needed it (even if it wasn’t on my “approved purchase” list). It was partially because of the ironic juxtaposition of a two-inch tall Big Foot but more so because of the place of honor Big Foot holds in some of my earliest memories. I put the key chain on my backpack and Big Foot’s future in my life was secure.
A few weeks later as I was touring Europe, people started noticing Big Foot on my bag. When one lady asked me about him, I told her about our long history, as far back as I can remember. But at the end of my story I added, “and I guess I like it because it reminds me that things that seem really big and scary at the time actually aren’t that bad and I can face them.” Let me assure you, I was as surprised by this answer as she was, in fact probably more so.
I already knew Big Foot had taught me things about myself as a child. It is because of him that I learned that I am a bit of an adrenaline junky. I still love scary stories, as long as they’re not too scary. I still love exploring forests in the hopes that maybe I will find something magical. But I hadn’t realized until I said it that he also taught me this important lesson. Things that seems daunting (college, bills, the IRS?!?) are things that we can overcome. It doesn’t always have to be in a specific moment, but through gradual every day persistence we can overcome these fears. Then, just like with Big Foot, we will wake up one day and realize, “oh hey, that wasn’t so bad!” Or at least, that is what I tell myself. And if I have trouble believing it, I give my two-inch Big Foot a squeeze and head out into the world knowing he’s got my back. Or, at least, my backpack.