My Grandma Was a Bear

My Grandma Was a Bear
My Grandma was a bear!
Even her human body had the shape of a bear
with ample flesh beneath her white-haired bun.
Each Spring she’d emerge from her cozily cluttered den
after Winter’s reclusive semi-hibernation again.
My Dad was her dutiful cub. She’d call him or Mom
to drive her to the cabin at Kenogami Lake
once the snow was gone from the ground.
There, she’d inspect her small cottage possessively
and walk the well-worn paths of her territorial bounds.
Then she’d sit to rest and hide among her bear trees…
How she loved and protected her trees!
No branch was cut without her say.
Grandma’s near-impoverished life revolved around
the cyclical foraging for food—
berries in the gardens and the woods
and vegetables we’d all plant on command.
Black flies and mosquitos filled the air.
Despite their attacks and our ever-aching backs,
we got the job done.
When I was a little goldilocks girl, I recall
Grandma guiding me to the strawberry patch
with dire warnings to stay only on the paths.
This she-bear made me fear my step and touch
both on her land and in her home.
You didn’t dare sit on her chairs or eat her porridge
without her expressed permission.
(Only Grandma could sleep in her curtain-enclosed bed—
that mysterious and private inner sanctum.)
I was instructed to eat little and gather much
of the various summer and autumn berries
transformed on her rustic woodstoves
into precious jams and treasured preserves.
It didn’t feel like child’s play to me,
working in Grandma’s No-Man’s Land
of primal instincts and survival lessons.
But then, she’d reward me with ginger-snap cookies and
the fun of her ancient comic books and antique toys.
In time I came to love the work-play
of my family’s days of gardening, hunting, and
gathering.
(Fishing wasn’t just for pleasure.
We also ate partridge, moose, ducks, and deer.)
This love was my family’s legacy.
We inherited a strong-willed resourcefulness
that would make any bear proud.
That was always Grandma’s strength,
even as her body grew weak.
“It’s a great life if you don’t weaken,” she’d say in pain,
smelling of her favoured remedies:
garlic, ginger, and cloves,
veterinary linament, wintergreen oil, and bear-grease rub.
Added to this was the aroma of insect repellent spray.
Her scent was distinctive beyond compare.
Neighbouring cats didn’t mind that strange scent.
They often paid her homage with gifts
of hunted mice and chipmunks and birds
that she’d find lying on her steps outside.
Why did they need to feed her? I wondered.
Grandma saw herself in the mirror of life one day.
When she opened the back door of her home in town,
she found herself standing face to face
with a startled, upstanding bear.
Respectfully, she retreated inside,
slowly backed away, and quietly closed the door…
We all laughed about the visiting bear
who paid Grandma her respects—
But years later, I’m now fully aware
that my Grandma, too, was a bear!
March, 2000
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