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Ducking Wilder Responds:
A Bear Tale

Dear Ducking,

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?

Disbelieving Grandkids

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 records)

Enter William Bustaigne, a fruit grower near Bakersfield. In his diaries, he writes often of Miosmo. Here is a passage from one of his journals:

"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.

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