The Bear in the Basement

There was a bear in my grandparents’ basement. I don’t know why. Maybe he was an escaped circus bear, hiding from his former masters. Maybe he was just a wild bear who followed the smell of fried catfish inside the house and fell down the stairs.

And why wouldn’t there be a bear? There were rattlesnakes on Uncle Bob’s porch and wild pigs on the table at Thanksgiving.

My grandparents weren’t very concerned about the bear. When Pop mentioned him, my grandmother just chuckled.

The bear was shy. I’d go downstairs to get a board game or search in vain for my dad’s old comic books, but I wouldn’t see the bear. I listened for him and moved as quietly as I could, peering around corners and wondering if there was a passageway behind a set of shelves.

When I’d get upstairs, Pop would ask me, “Did you see that bear?” I’d say no, and he’d say something like, “Yeah, I haven’t seen him in a few days.”

Sometimes Pop would go to the basement, and he’d clap his hands or slap a box and yell, “Hyah! GET back, bear.” There’d sometimes be a short roar in response.

One morning, my sister and I were in the kitchen, and Pop came in. He opened the basement door and sighed. “Boy, I hope that bear isn’t down there today.” He went downstairs.

My sister and I jumped out of our chairs and leaned in through the doorway. Pop yelled, “Hyah! GET back, buster!”

I shut the door. Pop yelled, “What’s going on?” My sister and I laughed.

“GET back, bear!”

The bear growled.

I locked the door. We heard Pop start coming up the stairs.

My sister turned off the basement light.

Pop yelled, “NOOO! Quit that! Owowowow!” The bear roared. Feet stomped and paint cans thudded against the walls.

My sister and I howled in laughter as Pop pounded on the door, yelped in pain, and pleaded with the bear to stop.

Then everything fell silent.

My sister and I looked at each other and said nothing. We waited.

Slowly, I reached over and unlocked the door. I turned the knob.

The door burst open, and Pop rushed out on all fours. He chased us into the living room, slashing with his paws and roaring like the bear he was.

I read this at Pop’s funeral a little over a year ago. Ten years before he died in his late 90s, I mentioned I was moving back to Texas (temporarily, as it turned out). He said, “Try to make it in time for my funeral.” I gasped. Pop laughed and said, “Hell, I’ve had a good life.” The dude was my hero. The dude is my hero. Call your family, people.