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Stealing the Bear

Updated: Mar 27

                                                     

             



My dad died in November. I got a new hip in January.  Then the holidays.

It’s March, I’m in Mexico,with a full moon shining over the ocean.


         In May I visited my Dad at his house in Vermont. He was 94. I stumbled into his basement which smells like mold and mildew, and looks like a place an axe murderer would lurk. I do not like going into this basement. On the ground, under the bookshelf, I find a bear statue. It is actually two bears, on top of each other, mirror reflections. It is very heavy.  I lug it up the steep stairs from the basement to the kitchen, and then outside, and heave it into my rental car. I don’t ask my father about it. I just take it. It occurs to me as I put it in the car, it will cost a fortune to ship. I wrap it in a towel and put it on the floor of the passenger seat. I don’t know what I am going to do with it, I just know I am taking it. The next day I am driving to my good friend David’s in Princeton, NJ. I will figure out what to do with it then. The last time my daughter visited I found her putting some glasses in her suitcase. “What are you doing?!” I said. “What the heck?! You can’t just take stuff without asking.” She sheepishly returned the glasses to my dining room cabinet. I’m with a friend and I am telling her about my children’s propensity to take things from my house without asking. “She smiles and says,” Oh I remember doing that, in my parent’s house in Germany. I took two little silver spoons. I just had to have them.” We laugh. What is this urge to take objects from our parents houses? I feel better knowing my friend Anne has done it too. My daughter and I are not kleptomaniac weirdos.

 

           My dad who has been very healthy in body and mind into his nineties, begins the process of being between worlds. It is November and I am with my brother in Vermont, tending dad as he begins his exit from the world. Periodically he exclaims “It’s time to wrap this up!” And Guy and I look at each other and nod, smile, and shrug. We play Frank Sinatra in his study while he snoozes in his wing back chair, which has been his central command post for the last decade or so. We slip into the dreamy, liminal space with him. His dogs from previous parts of his life visit. He tells us about his King Charles spaniel Nip who visits frequently, and sits next to his chair. He becomes agitated about catching a flight for a business trip, insistent that he must set the alarm for the early morning flight. He also insists there has been an intruder in the house, and we must call the police.  This period of exiting life fascinates me. I wonder why we don’t talk more about it, or educate about it. It’s a ride. So similar to giving birth, where you can’t control the timeline, you just have to surrender and ride the wave.  One morning I come into my dad’s study. He’s had his breakfast and has shuffled into his study with his walker, one of us walking behind him to make sure he doesn’t fall. I sit opposite him in one of the cozy armchairs. His light blue eyes which are cloudy with glaucoma and cataracts move around the room. He is mostly blind, but I am never quite sure what he is seeing or not. Occasionally he surprises me with a comment like ”You’re wearing shorts!”.

           He says “There are a lot of bears” I say “Bears? Here? In the room?” And he says “Yes”. There’s a big one right next to you.” I say, “Should I be scared? And he says no, as his right hand comes up and scratches the back of his head in one of his habitual gestures. His eyes keep wandering around the room, wide eyed in amazement at all the bears.

                In May, after putting the bear sculpture in the car, I drive south to NJ where my dear friend is a prep school teacher. “David, I took this sculpture from my dad’s house. I don’t know why, I can’t really get it home. Maybe it should stay with you in your office at school?” David lights up “My friend in the ceramics dept., he is brilliant at building boxes for art. I will get him to make one!” After a few days I leave David, and the Bear, and head further south to visit my daughter in DC. I let go of the Bear. I picture it keeping David company in his office. The Bear arrives several months later in a beautifully constructed wooden box. I have my dad’s Bear. I am thrilled.

              My dad and I both shared a love of bears. My father would go to Alaska every summer fishing with his buddies. He planted the idea in me. I wished he would take me, and felt that if I was a son, he might have.  I was very disappointed  he couldn’t see how badly I wanted to go. Many years later I did travel to Alaska with a fly-fishing boyfriend. I went soley to bear watch. It was an amazing experience. We saw bears every day, up close from fishing boats, as they grazed with their cubs. We also saw them running on the beaches below us as we flew to different fishing locations in sea planes. When I next saw my father, he was very interested in my bear stories. I felt sadness that it wasn’t an experience we were able to have together, that he wasn’t the type of father that wanted to share an experience he loved with his daughter.

            My father died several days after I left. My brother was with him. My brother helped him with the final stages of “wrapping it up.”  I spent a lifetime afraid of my father, and longing for tenderness from him. In his nineties when I visited him, I would stroke his hair, and kiss him on the top of his forehead, and say I love you. He would sometimes respond with I love you too. It was a bit of an experiment.

Did I love him? I’m not sure. In my fifties, I thought I will reach out tenderly to him, and give him  the thing I always wanted. In the meantime, I have the Bear.

 

           






      

        

         

         

          

      

 

       

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Awesome exploration into your inner work Thanks for sharing...

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Betina, I'm so enjoying catching up on your writings this morning. I met you at Ocamora last fall!

Maybe our paths will cross again. Thanks for sharing yourself through your writings and art.

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