An 1950's Excerpt from the Childhood Diaries of me, Tommy Testosterone…
My Grampie lived a hard life. Born at the end of the 1800’s, the man cut wood way out in the northern Maine willy-wags for a living. Often, Mom tells us, even when everybody in the nearest town slept soundly, he was off all by himself under the light of a lonely moon in the wilderness, felling trees and sawing them up with his crosscut saw… and my God, the man actually remembers (and too often recounts) a little skirmish he apparently had with real live Indians once… he remembers climbing onto some old white workhorse and driving them off his property… Hence, all the warnings I get about how those Indians out there are waiting to get me.
Oh, I know how crazy it is that he harps at us about wild Indians, right here on Pleasant Street no less (I mean, it’s been decades since anyone’s found any new arrowheads even, down on the river bank by Indian Cave even). And yet he persists.
But then again, he’s always cautioning us about the bears, as well…
“Whar you goin’ this hour o’ night?” he’ll ask.
“Uhmmm, just putting my bike back in the barn before bed…?” I’ll say.
“Be watchful! Them b’ars is a night-time animal. Always nosin’ ‘round out here after dark. B’lieve me, I know all about b’ars… Say, I ever tell you ‘bout the time I had this b’ar… big bruiser he was, too… crawled half-way in through my bedroom window…?
(Oh… only about a gazillion time, Grampie!)
Yes, bears— and I realize too, of course, that there are no bears in the middle of Dover-Foxcroft either… but see… OK… I admit it…
I do have… this little… ‘thing’ about bears. All right, I’m haunted by an occasional, recurring bear-dream… have been ever since I was a toddler… ever since Mom painted The Bears right up there on the headboard of my crib.
Unfortunately Mom’s a pretty good artist, so The Bears came out looking a tad too realistic for my tastes. I mean, wouldn’t it have been nice to have something a little more Disney-esque? Winnie-the-Pooh and friends, say? Or, even that big, friendly ol’ Zipadeedoodah fella from Song of the South? But no, I have to get stuck with the big, black, bison-headed bears… bears you’d name Bruno, or Samson, or Hercules… bears that need to be wearing muzzles, that ought to be chained to boulders. Sure, they’re wearing cute red cartoonish coats (which, my middle-of-the-night imagination is only too happy to suggest were probably clawed off hapless victims) but see, they look… well, just like real bears.
So throughout those endless nights of my impressionable tot-hood, the dark breezes outside would see-saw that same old branch back and forth across my bedroom window like some boot hill bass fiddle bow as the moonlight eerily illuminated Bruno and Hercules and Samson… inside the crib… with me! Mornings would find me hunkered way down in a far corner at the foot of the bed beneath my pillow and blankets, my groggy little head wedged as far out through the bars as I could get it.
Anyway, in The Dream I’m always behind the barn in the back field, heading for the incinerator with my wastebasket full of trash-paper in hand. First I’m gazing at dark humps, which are the distant mountains rising above the tall grass… only suddenly, they’re not mountains anymore… and they’re not far away either… and they’re moving… moving this way… and it suddenly dawns on me that these are the humped shoulders of approaching bears, and for the life of me, I can’t turn around or run or walk or drop the wastebasket or do anything!
So yeah… thanks, Grampie… for stoking that grizzly old dream of mine back up every time you get the chance. You know, I've come to imagine you as that woodcutter of Peter and the Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood… except that you never go on and on about wolves— only the Indians and bears (well… except for that never-cry-wolf story you told us… the one where the little kid goes screaming to his death for telling a harmless fib, that is)…
Beware the bears and the Indians... Beware the bears and the Indians... Beware the...
Oh, and the Gypsies! Did I mention the Gypsies?
“Yes, the Gypsies’d like nothing better than to kidnap a fine boy like you. Bring you up as one of them! (‘Course, that goes for the Injuns, too!)
So anyways, pleasant dreams, Tommy!
And oh… don’t let the bed bugs bite!”