Bernie

I might have been the only four-year-old little girl in 1973 with a skull shaped piggie bank in her bedroom. He was life sized, glazed in bone glaze with a carefully chosen brown blended to highlight the anatomically inspired cracks and fissures that traced over his surface in a realistic way, with a coin slot in his crown and a removable plug strategically placed in the bank where the spinal column would have gone through the ceramic vertebrae. His teeth were parted as if he were trapped in an eternal laugh, and between them was emblazoned the motto: Die for the one you love.

My father made him for me because I wanted my own Bernie the Talking Skull, just like the one on the Creature Feature, which I watched with my mom every week. She indulged me, letting me stay up way too late for a child of such a tender age. I watched for the monster movies and to spend time cuddled on the couch with my mom, nibbling on cinnamon toast and drinking Cambrick which was a real treat. 

But the biggest treat was seeing Bernie and his leisure suit wearing pal, Chuck. Here was a normal guy with an interesting friend (Bernie) and they liked monsters.
I didn’t know these movies were supposed to be scary. Bernie and Chuck reminded me of the Munsters or the Addams Family: Different people in a world full of people who thought that differences were frightening. I watched the films shown on the Creature Feature totally missing the point. 

I was rooting for the monsters.

I wanted Helen to realize that she actually was Ankh-es-en-amon’s reincarnation and run off with Imhotep, or barring that, for someone love lonely Imhotep in the original Mummy. Imhotep wasn’t a bad guy, it seemed to me. He just missed his girlfriend and his old life.

I crossed my fingers for Dracula to actually find a bride and get some friends in after moving to England. Sure, he had to drink blood, but that didn’t mean he shouldn’t have as normal a life as he wanted, right? He just needed to find some girls who didn’t already have boyfriends, make some friends with some boys, and go do whatever it was that grown-ups did with their friends. Based on my parents, I assumed that was play card games, like Mille Bounes and 500, and drink cocktails.

I sat on pins and needles for the sad, nameless “Creature” of the black lagoon, hoping he might find someone who could see past his scales and gills for the person he was underneath. I thought that maybe if they talked to Creature, he would find out that humans can’t breathe under water and then he’d stop accidentally drowning them. I mean, it was obviously an acciedent. Creature seemed so sad after he did it, he couldn’t have possibly known.Plus, the guys in the movie were really mean to Creature. He was just defending his home part of the time.

I mean, some films I understood. Tarantula? Them? Yes. Those were big, bug like things that shouldn’t be tramping through cities, especially not giant spiders. Icky! But you could see a 50 foot tall ant coming and have plenty of time to call the Army People. The Blob: well, if it touched you, you became a blob, too, so that was obviously a Bad Thing ™ – though certainly not something to have nightmares about. I mean, you could easily outrun the original blob, and sometimes you could pretend the floor became lava and you had to not touch it, too, so there was plenty of practice for dealing with dangers like that.

They weren’t scary. Just movies. 

I just didn’t understand monsters that looked like people could actually be monsters. I thought, like Herman and Lily, or Gomez and Morticia, that they were just different and the other people around them were just acting meanly to them because they didn’t understand that different was just different and not bad, and that was the underlying point of both shows: the real monsters were the normal people doing normal things. 

So, I wanted a Bernie. I wanted a Bernie so I could pretend to talk my friend the skull and play monster movies, or Munsters, or Addams family. Now days, it would be very likely that I could get a T-shirt from Zazzle or Cafe Press with his image on it at the very least, but back then, there just wasn’t merchandising for a local show like Creature Feature, and wouldn’t have been a skull toy anyway, so my dad made me a ceramic skull bank . My parents both did crafty things like that, so I imagine the hardest part was finding something that looked like a skull

I didn’t understand movies like those on the Creature Feature were supposed to be scary until the children of a family friend told me that they were “scary movies” in the middle of “Atom Age Vampire.” I was 12. They were 13 and 14 respectively. I learned to put myself in the other characters, to change my perspective, jumping when the disfigured “Vampire” came hunting his victims, but to this day, in my heart, I know most of the monsters out there are just misunderstood and most of the normal people don’t know how monstrously they behave sometimes.
As for Bernie, he traveled with me to college, creeping out my first roommate, and then to my first and second apartments. He broke sometime while I was living in my second apartment, dropped carelessly to the floor while cleaning. I don’t remember if I did it, or my boyfriend at the time did. What I remember was picking up the shattered pieces and realizing that I would never find another Bernie to replace him. The mold that made him was long gone and even if I could find a bank made from the same mold, it wouldn’t be a bank glazed by my father’s hands.

Comments go here