My Granddad And The Summer Of The Flying Bears

359px-The_Favorite_by_Georgios_Iakovidis

The Favorite (Georgios Jakobides); image in the public domain

When I was little, I spent most of my summers at my granddad’s house, and my favorite part of spending time with my granddad was listening to his stories.  He would never say a word until I’d finished my chores, and I used to hurry so fast through all the scrubbing and dishwashing that my grandma said I should come with my own caution sign because the floor around me was always wet.  But I just wanted to hear the stories.

He didn’t tell his stories to just anybody, either.  People would come by the house and ask about this story or that one, and mostly my granddad would answer them, but sometimes he didn’t.  When I asked him about it, he said he didn’t mind telling a story just to pass the time, but talking to a person who’d already made up his mind not to believe you was just plain dumb.  I was still young enough that I didn’t understand what he meant, but looking back, I guess he wasn’t wrong.

The summers I stayed with my grandparents, if I wasn’t begging my granddad for a story, I was begging him to let me play with the flying bears.  I’ve never heard of any other place in the world where the bears could fly, but where my granddad lived, you almost couldn’t get them to stop.  It got to be a problem after they built an airport near the town; pilots would look up to see a bear in the sky ahead of them banking left, and they’d be so busy staring at the bear that they’d steer off course and end up halfway to the next state before they thought to look at the controls again.  Of course, these days all the controls are automatic, so that isn’t a problem anymore.

The flying bears loved hearing my granddad’s stories as much as I did, and it was a rare night when we didn’t see at least one bear touch down in the garden.  It just about drove my poor grandma crazy because they’d always land in the vegetable patch and trample the vegetables, and she couldn’t get anything to grow there until my granddad built a little landing strip for the bears in the field out back.  Even then she’d still mutter about paw marks on her linoleum, but I saw her putting out a bowl of acorns and pine nuts once or twice when she thought no one was looking.

I used to play with the cubs while the grownup bears visited with my granddad.  I don’t know how many times I got told to stay on the ground, but you can’t expect a child not to ride on the back of a flying bear cub and do barrel rolls just above the treetops when the chance is right in front of her.  We used to fly way up near the stars, and I would tell the cubs all the stories my granddad told me about the constellations and what they meant.  The cubs tried to teach me how to sing bear-song a few times, but I don’t think I ever got it quite right.

I asked my granddad once how the bears learned to fly, because the cubs said it just sort of happened, like walking or swimming.  My granddad told me that, back when he was young, the bears couldn’t fly at all.  One day, though, a bear cub climbed almost to the top of a tree when the branch he was standing on started to creak, and he realized the branches that high up were too small to hold him.  The cub got scared and couldn’t climb down, and his mama couldn’t climb up after him because she was too heavy and the branches would break.  None of the bears knew what to do.

The branch kept creaking and the bear cub kept crying until his poor mama was half out of her mind.   Finally she couldn’t take any more, and she reared up on her hind legs and jumped as high as she could toward her cub.  Instead of falling back to the ground like all the other bears thought she would, though, she just kept going higher and higher.  She flew all the way up the tree until she was high enough to grab her cub just as the branch he was standing on snapped through, and if her landing was a little clumsy, well, no one thought any the worse of her for it.

My granddad got that story from the mama bear herself, though she never shared it with another human being.  She told my granddad that she wasn’t scared at all on the way up, but the whole time she was flying back down, she was convinced the wind was blowing off all her fur and she was going to crash to the ground as bald as a baby field mouse.  She didn’t, of course, and by the time a week had passed nearly all the bears could fly, except for the very old and the very, very young.

(When I asked the mama bear why she told that story to my granddad and nobody else, she said it was because, after she got her cub down from the tree, she took the cub to my granddad to have him fix up some scrapes and cuts, and somehow she found herself telling him everything.  I used to go to my granddad with my scrapes and cuts, too, so I understood.)

I got a little older and started going to a different school during the rest of the year.  It was a very good school, where they made us wear uniforms and tested us on things we hadn’t learned yet, but the teachers there weren’t very nice.  At my old school, my teacher told me he always looked forward to reading my essays about what I’d done over the summer, so the bears and I made sure to do things my teacher would enjoy reading about when classes started up again.  I used to save the essays and read them to my granddad when he stayed with us during the holidays, and he liked them, too, and said he guessed my teacher must be pretty smart.

At this new place, when I wrote my summer essay, my new teacher made me stay after class and lectured me about how stories have no place in works of serious nonfiction.  I tried to explain about the mama bear and her cub, but my teacher said everybody knew bears couldn’t fly, and then she told me it was time I grew up and made me write a new essay where I copied out the encyclopedia entry on bears.  When I got to the end and found out that my teacher was right and bears couldn’t fly, I felt just like that cub did when he climbed too high in the tree, except the mama bear couldn’t rescue me because everybody knows bears can’t fly.

My parents didn’t understand why I was so unhappy that fall at my new school, and I never told them.  I didn’t want them to know how childish I’d been.  The next time my granddad came for the holidays, he asked to hear my essay and I gave him the copied-out encyclopedia entry.  He read it all the way through, frowned at the paper, and then frowned at me until I told him the whole story.  When I finished, he frowned at the paper again and threw it into the fire.  I asked him if it was true that everyone knows bears can’t fly.  He said, “Of course everyone knows bears can’t fly.  But the bears don’t know it, and don’t you go telling them.”  And I felt better.

My granddad passed away not long after that, and it wasn’t more than a few days after his funeral that the bears flew for what turned out to be the last time.  Before then, I’d never seen more than two or three in the air together, but that day so many bears took to the sky at once that they blocked the sun and turned the town almost as dark as midnight, though the clocks said it was 12 noon.  In every home and office and store, people stopped what they were doing and went outside to watch the flying bears.  We all knew they were telling us goodbye.

I was staying with my grandma when it happened.  I saw the bears as they skimmed over buildings, circled once above the graveyard, and then flew in a long, slow procession over my grandparent’s house.  I saw all the young cubs I’d played with, now almost grown and looking far too dignified ever to have done barrel rolls.  The bears flew down to skim low over the landing strip behind the house, but never landed, instead climbing higher and higher until it became impossible to tell one bear from another.  Then they turned toward the west and flew out of sight, and none of them ever came back.

I haven’t seen another flying bear since that day.  I haven’t even been to the town in years.  We sold the house after my grandma died and I never had a reason to go back after that.  To own the truth, I don’t much want to go back.  I don’t want to see how things have changed since the summers I spent there as a child, and I don’t want to know what the town looks like without my granddad somewhere in it, telling his stories.  If I go back now, I’m not sure I could still believe that bears ever flew there at all.  Some days I know they never did.

But the bears don’t know it, and I’m not about to tell them.

Why I Got Nothing Done Today, Told In The Style Of A Lying 8-Yr-Old

[Editor’s note:  Now with pirates!]

Embed from Getty Images

 

I really tried to take out the trash, I swear, just like I was supposed to.  But, see, right when I was emptying the trashcan into the bag, these pirates came in and just started, like, attacking the trash.  Every time I tried to throw something away, they would spear it, you know, with their swords, until their swords were all full of empty Lean Cuisine cartons and that old candy bar you said I shouldn’t eat.  Which I didn’t.  And then when I went to throw out the rest of the trash, some of the pirates snuck in front of me and hid all the rest of the trashcans so the other pirates wouldn’t find them, and I was so mad.  And then, and then, when I finally got everything in the trash bag and I was trying–no, really, I was!–to throw out the trash bag, the pirates, like, made me walk the plank!  And then while I was swimming back, they took all the trash and put it back in the trashcans, and they took all the trash bags with them so I couldn’t throw anything out, I swear, they really did.  It wasn’t my fault, you know, ’cause I could have fought the pirates if you hadn’t have took away my sword after Halloween.

Then I tried to clean the bathroom, ’cause I felt so bad about not being able to take out the trash.  And I turned on the faucet in the tub to, you know, get lots of water for the cleaning, and then, then this mermaid came out of the faucet and started splashing around in the water.  And she was getting water, you know, everywhere and I couldn’t get her to stop ’cause I don’t speak giant fish lady.  I tried, really, I did, but she only giggled and splashed even more, so I turned off the faucet and she just, you know, swam down the drain, and that’s why there’s water all over the bathroom.  It wasn’t my fault.  I didn’t know there was a mermaid in the faucet, I mean, there never was before. Embed from Getty Images

So then I was, you know, gonna vacuum the rugs.  But then, see, this monster came in ’cause it heard the vacuum, right, and it thought the vacuum was growling at it.  So the monster was trying to fight the vacuum, and every time I tried to push the vacuum onto one of the rugs, the monster would rush at me, and I had to run away.  And then, see, when I ran upstairs, the vacuum followed me, ’cause it was scared, and then the monster, you know, the monster followed the vacuum.  So then the vacuum and I tricked the monster into getting in the closet, and then we shut it in and stayed real quiet until it fell asleep.  But we couldn’t, you know, do any more vacuuming, ’cause then the monster would wake up.  I really tried, but the monster messed everything up, you know,  and anyway you should stop yelling ’cause I’m pretty sure it’s still up there.Embed from Getty Images

 

How to be a bad influence almost anywhere

Matala caves

Matala caves (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I went to a nearby park over the weekend with a friend.  We walked a little ways and then came upon a roped-off area with a sign saying “Please don’t climb in the caves.”  Silly.  Of course we climbed in the caves.  It got a little tricky when the rocks underneath started sliding out from under our feet–possibly the reason for the sign–but for once I wasn’t wearing heels, so we were more or less all right.  I ignore all warning signs on principle, anyway.

A nearby family reunion spilled over into the meadow in front of the caves, and three little kids came up to the rope.  They were old enough to read the signs and young enough to obey them.  That’s a nice age to be at.  All of the curiosity with none of the moral anxiety.  One of them saw us and shouted, “You’re not supposed to be in there!”  I smiled and shouted back “We’re rebels!”  Always trying to set a good example, me.

My friend and I explored the caves as far as our mutual fear of spiders allowed, then set out to climb back down.  Suddenly, we saw the same three boys as before tearing across the meadow on bikes, which I’m fairly sure they weren’t supposed to be doing, shouting “Rebels!” at the tops of their lungs.  I waved at them, then saw their parents glowering at me and pretended I’d been stretching.

And the moral of this story is:  if you work very, very hard and are lucky enough to have the opportunity arise, it is possible to be an extremely bad influence almost anywhere.  Especially if you’re with the Little Blind Girl, who is on the government watch list of Very Bad Influences and has practically set the standard.  Rebels!  Yeah!

They start young these days

Rotating globe

Image via Wikipedia

Melissa the Ragamuffin held her beloved niece close in her arms.  “Time to go to bed, Peanut,” she said softly.  Peanut frowned.  “Don’t want to go to bed,” she informed her aunt.

Melissa laughed.  “But if you don’t go to bed,” she told her niece, “you’ll never get your beauty sleep.”  “Don’t want to be beautiful,” insisted Peanut.  Melissa ruffled her niece’s hair and asked, “What do you want?”

Peanut’s tiny forehead wrinkled.  She looked around her room, and pointed to a globe on a shelf.  “Want ball!” she exclaimed.  Melissa smiled and said, “That’s not a ball, sweetheart, that’s a globe.”

Peanut looked puzzled.  “Globe?” she asked.  Melissa nodded.  “It’s like a picture of the world.”  Peanut looked triumphant.  Proudly, she announced, “Want world!”

Oh, sweetie, don’t we all!

Breaking news

I can’t look at the headlines anymore; they scare me and make me sad.  So I’m making up a news story of my own, front page above the fold:

Adorable Child Plays With Happy Puppies

Image via Wikipedia

In a shocking turn of events, young Abigail I’msocute approached a group of rambunctious puppies and quickly become embroiled in uncontrolled frolicking.  Ms. I’msocute, 2 years old, was unarmed at the time and appeared unsteady on her feet.  The mob of unruly hounds was observed furtively sniffing at her hands and appeared, according to one witness, to be soliciting treats.

The infant’s mother, Mrs. Amelia Lookatme, could only watch the drama unfold as her child romped, giggled, and shrieked in truly blood-curdling fashion,  at times covering her face with her hands, then suddenly pulling her hands away in jerky, agitated movements and yelling to the puppies that she could see them.  It is unknown whether Ms. Imsocute was later able to identify any of the malefactors for the authorities.  Onlookers described them as unusually small, dark, and fuzzy wuzzy.

Lookatme was eventually able to reach I’msocute and separate her from the unrestrained animals.  She later commented to the paper, “Those puppies were so adorable, I just wanted to cry.”  Both Lookatme and I’msocute appeared to be unharmed, but were clearly affected by the experience.  When contacted for a response, the attorney for the puppies declined comment, merely wagging his tail and gazing soulfully at the reporter.  More on this harrowing attack of adorability as details become available.

I expect a call from the Pulitzer committee any day now.