My Papaw Harry. The toughest man I ever knew. I reckon I was about 5 years old on that day when I sat sideways on his leg and watched him draw a picture of the full-tailed bear as he told me...
I was coming down the side of the mountain, down the footpath on my way home from school, barefoot. There was this root that stuck out just above the trail as you rounded the bend to go down. Next to it was a pile of toe-nails from where everyone tripped on it.
I jumped over the root (I had long-since learned to do so, since one of the toe-nails was mine) and rounded the bend. Right there in front of me, the path was blocked by this big ole bear.
He opened his mouth and growled at me, growled so loud and so strong that I felt his breath blow my hair. Without even thinking about it, I shot my arm down his throat, grabbed the inside of his tail, and I pulled that bear wrong-out-sidewards! (He even showed me the scars on his arm to prove it!) And then I pulled out my knife and I cut off his tail. That is why, to this day bears only have a little stump of a tail.
If you don't believe me, check them out next time you are at the zoo. Those bears know that if they mess with a Shepherd, they'll get what's coming to them.He even drew me a picture of what bears used to look like with their long tails. I was spell-bound. I was convinced. This man, my Papaw, had turned that ole bear Wrong-Out-Side-Wards.
As we all grow up, we yearn to discover who we are, where we came from, what is our story in the grande story of life? I learned that he fought in World War II, and that he worked as a welder at Black Clausen in downtown Middletown, OH. I learned that our family came from the Hollers of Kentucky, and that my dad had grown up with a brother and 3 sisters in a house that was heated by a big buck-stove in the basement that made the floor so hot you couldn't touch it, and the pump on the kitchen sink had to be thawed with water from that stove-top in the morning before you could get a drink. The walk to the outhouse on a cold winter night was thick with fear as the wind chased your feet down the path.
My family was tough. We are authentic. We found our way through the hard way. My Papaw could not be stopped with a tough life, or even by a bear. He passed life lessons down to his children and grandchildren by way of stories. Much like generations of old infused value into their children.
When things get difficult in life, I remember that day and I remember that when that old bear stands in your path, sometimes you have to roll up your sleeve, defy the odds, take the teeth, and pull that ole bear Wrong-Out-Sidewards. Our scars give our lives authenticity and help us remember who we are.
I have a couple of things that I treasure from Papaw that my dad handed down to me. Each item has its own lore that I tell my own son on late evenings as the day grows quiet and the sun slips beneath the horizen. But the stories he told me... those are the most priceless things that I have, and I see the sparkle in my own son's eyes as I tell him The Story of the Bear.