First posted 06/08
The little boy in this picture is my Dad. The man is my Grandfather. The animal he's playing with is..........a bear. A few years ago I wrote a story about this family saga. Here is a portion of that story.
My Grandfather found an orphan bear cub in Canada while on a fishing trip with his two buddies. My father must have told us this story a hundred times. His Dad was due home from a fishing trip and .........
After dinner on the 4th day just as dusk was turning into dark, I heard the sound of crunching gravel and knew the Buick was coming down the road. I ran down the steps of the apartment, smacked my hands on the screen door and jumped onto the front stoop. I was just in time to see all three men untangle themselves from the front seat of the car. Mother wiped her hands on her apron as she walked from across the street and Ruthie, my sister, exploded out of the door behind her when she heard the men arriving.
I could tell something was different as I walked towards the car and saw all three men climbing out of the front seat. The car had a back seat and a rumble seat where they stored their bags and coolers of fish. Why hadn't one of them been in the back seat?
Smiling, I ran towards Dad, because I had missed him badly and I was hoping I could carry a pickerel or two into the kitchen. Uncharacteristically he held out his hand and told me to stop.
"Billy,” he said firmly, "Stand back, we have a bear in the rumble seat."
It was as if an invisible wall erected itself around the car. Mother, Ruthie and I stopped dead in our tracks, shock frozen on our faces, each of our brains trying to decide what it was we just heard Dad say.
Mother finally broke the silence. "Ray Marshall,” she said deliberately, “if you have a bear in that rumble seat you can just turn this car around and drive back to Canada.” I heard Mother's words but when I looked at her, I saw that her mouth was barely moving. She was talking slowly and precisely through her firmly clenched jaw.
My mother was a big woman and when she was mad, she would gather herself upright so that her full height and weight became massive. She was that way now and as I looked down at her side, I saw that, as she was slowly talking, she was pushing Ruthie under her arm and behind her back. Why hadn't she bothered to push me behind her back, I wondered?
It was a fleeting thought. My attention was quickly drawn back to Dad and his two friends. Dad was not about to be told what to do in front of them. It was one thing to nod in agreement at the dinner table but quite another to acquiesce in front of the men. Danny and Paul were looking at their feet nervously kicking stones while the silence and locked eyes between Mother and Dad seemed to last forever and probably would have had not a muffled adolescent growl penetrated the night. The moment was shattered and all eyes turned to the rumble seat. Dad, Danny, and Paul gathered around the handle of the hatch and with slow deliberate movements, Dad lifted it.....
My Dad would go on to tell us that his Dad kept the bear in the basement for almost one year, bringing it out once a day for a walk and fresh air. They fed it scraps from the table each night and hauled buckets of waste out each day.
My Grandfather owned one of the first gas stations west of the Mississippi River and on Sundays he'd put on a leather football helmet and he'd put a leash and a muzzle on the bear. Then, in the parking lot of the gas station he'd have a boxing match with the bear. It was quite a show and my Grandmother would sell pop and beer from the little convenience store they also owned across the street.
Finally, when it got too big they gave it to a little traveling circus. The bear died shortly after that.