Ducking Wilder Responds:
A Bear Tale
Our grandparents often told us when
we were young of their journey west during the Great Depression, and
how they both worked with a black bear in a peach cannery outside
Bakersfield, California - a real, four-legged bear. They swore the
company paid the bear in cash like the rest of them, that he could
speak in a guttural English/Chinese mishmash and that he drove an old
Packard coupe to which he later attached one of the first Airstream
trailers. C'mon, Ducking, do we need our genes checked?
Hello, Cynical Progeny.
I am reluctant to provide
an answer to your question. I do not wish to shatter your concept of
the world. Then again, it would do disservice to our culture and your
sense of wonder if I mollycoddled - and I never mollycoddle.
Here is my advice. Embrace your grandparents, love them, care for
them in their old age, and always, always revere them, for they have
much wisdom to share. The story of the bear is true.
The first record of the bear appears in 1929, a few weeks after the
Crash. Pontius Dellafugue, a wealthy manufacturer of some useless
household widget, like so many others of his ilk, went bankrupt,
tits-up if you will, and leapt from his soon to be repossessed private
train as it surged across a trestle in western Colorado. His body was
never recovered. I do not think anyone attempted to recover it.
Dellafugue's manservant, Emile Strabo, did not realize his employer
was missing until late the next day when the train was nearing San
Francisco. Upon arrival, Pinkertons swarmed the cars in a futile search
for the manufacturer. They discovered only a note describing
Dellafugue's decision to end his life and willing his remaining
possessions (a few suits and a silver-handled hairbrush) to his pet
bear, Miosmo. The case was closed almost as quickly as it was opened.
You can imagine Emile's rage at being left out of the will. That
night, after the dicks had scuttled off into the dark, Emile stole back
aboard the train and released Miosmo from his holding car. A footnote:
Emile became one of Hollywood's most famous ventriloquists in the early
sixties, appearing on several variety shows of the time. His wife and
later widow, Brenda Decardo, a minor actor, is said to have died with a
silver-handled hairbrush in her hands.
Penniless, shoeless, and disoriented, Miosmo, an Asian Black Bear,
began wandering the San Joaquin Valley. It was still a fairly wild area
to the east of the valley, and while over the next two years, Miosmo's
presence initiated several reports to the sheriff, nothing significant
was done "about the rogue bear wandering the orchards." The cops were
busy with transients flooding into the valley looking for work.
Clubbing Okies was more important than a bear "stealing clothes off a
wash line" or "nipping a pie from a window sill." (quoted from police
Enter William Bustaigne, a fruit grower near Bakersfield. In his
diaries, he writes often of Miosmo. Here is a passage from one of his
"The Bear spoke to me this morning! I am mad, I must be
mad, but I clearly heard him ask for a bar of soap and to be release
from his stinking cage. I was cutting up some peaches for breakfast
when he called to me from across the courtyard."
Bustaigne eventually released Miosmo, he being a progressive and not
about to keep a sentient creature locked up in a stinking cage. The
Bear, as the orchard owner called him, evidently impressed Bustaigne
with his ability to pit peaches using the long curved claws of his
forepaws, and Bustaigne set him to work in his canning factory. This
was around 1936. Factory records show a Miosmo Bustabar on its employee
register for the canning seasons of '35 and '36.
After 1936, there is no record of The Bear. Bustaigne's journals
note only that Miosmo had saved a tidy sum working in the factory and
with it, purchased a "newfangled house trailer," then said his goodbyes
with a bear hug and left.
There seems to be plenty of documentation confirming Miosmo's
existence. Is it likely he could speak, hold down a job, and drive
manual transmission vehicles? Folklore is perhaps the most important
glue of our society. Sadly, its existence today in a world obsessed
with freshly painted surfaces, is waning. Our desire to construct and
tote the lore of our ancestors is diminishing. Without its adhesive
quality, who knows how we will fare as civilized people. In that
spirit, I will grant you - yes, it is very likely. Keep the flame of
your grandparents story burning. Give it to your grandchildren. It will
warm them, I assure you.Ducking