Thursday, January 29, 2009

Making Love with Mama Bear

Have you ever met a couple who just shouldn’t have married but did anyway? And the girl wasn’t even pregnant? If so, you’d understand that trying to grow up with parents like mine was a bigger challenge than convincing the pope that “be fruitful and multiply” does not apply anymore: nor do a lot of things in the Old Testament (which I’ve read at least four times, the New Testament, probably 50).

After my dad did the dirty deed and said, “I do,” and my mom did the dirtier deed and said, “I do,” they headed up to the cabin for their cheaper-than-going-out-to-a-nice-dinner honeymoon. Dad’s always been “poor,” and getting married provided no exception to prove his point.

I will admit, we had a really cool cabin in northern Wisconsin near Lone Stone Lake. Grandpa and Dad, both carpenters, built it of beautiful logs cut down from the land and treated to endure the weather—inside and out. They constructed built-in double bunk beds on either side of the large main room, so Mom could sleep on one side, Dad the other. Our cabin also had a wood-burning pot-belly stove, a large wood table in the room’s center under a light, and a pump to draw water into the sink. They later added an additional bedroom on the entrance side, close to the rarely traveled gravel road.

I loved the way our cabin smelled—like cedar. All of our bedding—flannel sheets, pillows, and wonderfully warm quilts—had the same smell that made me want to stay in bed all day. [You know? If I were married and had a cute guy… oh, that’s a different story.]

Did you notice I didn’t mention anything about indoor plumbing?

After we moved to Minnesota in ’65 when I was five, my parents assessed the pros and cons of keeping the cabin, now a seven-hour drive away. They did end up selling it about a year later, but not before we shared a near-death experience.

We invited our new next-door neighbors, Rudy, Alice, Mark, and Mary, to accompany us to northern Wisconsin. After the pain-in-the-prat drive, we unloaded the maroon Buick station wagon and began preparing for the following day’s fishing excursion.

The next morning, Dad, Mark, and I were in our rowboat casting lines, whooping and hollering when we’d land bite-size crappies, sunfish, and bluegills. Yep! We caught quite a string. Too small to eat, Dad decided to put them in back of the cabin next to the biffy (that’s Norwegian for Schei├čenhaus) to bait raccoons for dinner.


During the day, Rudy kept busy being nervous: Alice made him that way. Mom and Alice fixed dinner, Mom putting just the right amount of arsenic in Dad’s portion, then setting it aside.

Nighttime finally fell. The parents played poker and talked strangely like Minnesotans do, while we kids did what kids without TV do: We used our brains. That made us tired, so we went to bed.

Occasionally, Dad would get up, dim the interior lights, and turn on the back spotlight to see if a coon had discovered our fish offering. At 10:30 Dad let out a yelp! We didn’t have a coon eating our bluegills, we had a big, mama bear, whose rear end faced us as she dined. “Quick, wake the kids!” he ordered, feeling steely from the arsenic.

Mary and I awakened fairly quickly and were peering excitedly out the back window, while Rudy, Alice, Mom, and Dad stirred, rattled, then jumped on Mark. You see, Mark was a teenager who could sleep through anything. F-i-n-a-l-l-y, Mark rose and joined us in the grand sighting.

But it wasn’t grand enough. Dad insisted that we bang on the window to try to get Mama Bear to face us. She waved her paw at him and told him to forget it. So he decided to go outside and convince her.

Wearing his thongs (they call them “flip-flops” now; thongs are worn elsewhere), he walked the length of our cabin to the only door and stepped into the black outside. Then he walked the entire length of our cabin toward the outhouse and the bear, apparently unfazed by my dad’s presence.

“Raar,” Dad exclaimed, trying to get the big fur ball’s attention. Nothing. “RAAR!” he said again with more passion. That one garnered a turn of the head. “RAAR-ER-RAAR-ER-RAAAR!” Dad growled.

That must have been a mating call or a declaration of war, because that big mama bear turned quickly, bared her teeth, and started loping toward Dad. Flip-flop, flip-flop, flip-flop went his feet as he yelled, “Joooooooanie, open the door!”

I screamed and started bawling, because I just knew Mom would lock the door and say, “Fend for yourself, sucker!” To my utmost surprise and relief, she actually opened the door for him. He breathlessly fell into the safety of our cabin, wiped the sweat from his brow, and said, “Thanks for not locking the door.”

copyright © 2009 by Auntie Eartha. All rights reserved.

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