The Bear and I

When I was young, just starting school, I loved bears. Part of this was no doubt due to my love of the show “Gentle Ben”, about a black bear, that was often on TV. (I also loved watching “Danial Boone” if you remember that one. Me and bears, bears and I – maybe it was due to my teddy bear, who was often my ‘best friend’ when I was coming up. Boy, I loved that bear – still do – and he resides at my mom’s house, safe and sound with his ‘poppa’, “Grandpa” bear.

But this isn’t a story about stuffed bears and animal toys. Its about a real bear and me.

We took a trip from the sand hill plains around Augusta Georgia on year – it had to be when I was in first or second grade – up to the North Georgia mountains and beyond. Being poor, we did what so many families did back then: we camped somewhere around the Cherokee reservation. I still remember the ‘town’, with it’s (I guess) concrete teepees, trinket stores, and the hot sun filtering through the pines. Here, some forty-three years later, I can still remember the big open air shelter where the Native American Indians put on what I believe was the “Unto These Hills” open air drama . It was quite dramatic, even though I didn’t understand what it was about, but I was awestruck seeing those Indians dance in their regalia and hearing the pounding of the drums. It was high excitement at the time for a boy my age. I remember, too, how we begged and begged every time we would visit (we must have been camping near it) – or at least in every store we visited for one of those fancy Indian headdresses. My parents eventually broke down and bought my brother and I each one – a luxurious expense for a family so poor (but of course us kids had NO idea we were poor – and my dad was back from Vietnam, which meant more money in the household).

Occasionally while we were driving we would see black bears along the road. All the cars would slow to a crawl, and I would get all excited. “Brother Bear!” I’d yell, pointing. I was convinced bears were my friend; that they were “good people”, and I was a brother to them, and they to I. I was absolutely fearless about them.

Then one day we arrive at a big parking lot and pull in. People are standing outside of their cars in a long arc, and I look to see what they are looking at – and oh! Look! Brother Bear! I’m hopping up and down in my seat, anxious to get out and see this great animal – a friend of mine. So we stop, my dad opens the door, and we get out. My mom and dad – well, I don’t know. Maybe they started snapping pictures like all the other tourists.

Brother Bear!, I thought, cutting my through the crowd like a curious chihuahua to the forefront. I didn’t even pause. I was going to say hello to my furry fuzzy friend from Appalachian wilds. I paid no attention to the crowd, just happy to see my friend snuffling along in the parking lot. He was big — but not that big — and he was furry — rich and black — and oh my yes, what big claws, too. He stopped his snuffling and rambling to look up, no doubt wondering what kind of idiot — or tasty snack — this human thing was.

I stopped just an arm’s length from the bear.

Oh my! Brother Bear! What a fine coat of hair you have! And what beady black eyes you have. And what a long pretty snout you have! And how cute your whiskers are!

Brother Bear stuck out his head with interest. I could swear it was grinning, it’s face just inches from mine. The big black eyes regarded me with interest.

My, Brother Bear! What big teeth you have!

Smiling, I did what any six or seven year old boy would do when presented with this situation.

Reaching up, I petted him on the nose.

 

 

That I lived to tell this tale tells you something — but what, I haven’t a clue. The luck of a child? A well-fed park bear? A really fast parent? Or maybe Fate’s fickle finger, or the hand of God reaching down, pausing, and saying, “Hmmm — not this time.” Who knows?

 

All I know is that the next thing I knew, I was getting snatched up like a fumbled football and hustled away from the bear. (Do you know how hard it is to see straight when you’re getting hustled away tucked underneath someone’s arm? At least I was able to wave good-bye. Or at least I think I did.)

I know it must of made for some excitement to the crowd; it would of been a great photo op for someone, and I rather imagine it about gave my mom a heart attack. (My brother, meanwhile, would of been muttering under his breath, “eat ‘im! EAT ‘im!”) And of course nowadays, my mom and dad probably would have been cursed and faulted for not keeping track of their wayward child. And, no doubt, someone would of posted it on Youtube or one of the video sites. Heck, I might have been famous.

As for me — I was just sorely disappointed my meeting with my friend had been so rudely interrupted, and I wasn’t going to be meeting him again.

Because, I swear, the next thing that bear was fixin’ to do was give me a sweet little lick.

Whether to greet me or eat me: I’ll never know.

 

sigh.

 

I reckon it’s just one of those things that got left undone. Which may be for the best.

 

(waving goodbye with a salute to Brother Bears — everywhere!)

 

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