© James J. Doyle 2012
Baby James seemed to sense something.
In Grandpa Jim’s arms, the 18-month-old toddler fidgeted and turned his head left-to-right watching the dark forest. Squirming and wiggling, he held on tight. It was clear he did not want to stay where he was, and he did not want down.
“What is it Fourest?” Grandpa Jim asked, calming his grandson. Baby James was a fourth, and with so many named James in the family, he had become “Fourest.”
“Is the baby alright?” Mary asked. She and nephew Justin were hefting and dragging black plastic bags of recycle and garbage to the storage shed for the landlord to pick up in the morning. The week was coming to its end, and eighteen adults and thirteen children in one cabin had generated a significant number of bags.
“He’s antsy,” Jim said. “It may be the dark. I don’t know.”
As Grandpa Jim and Fourest watched, Justin and Mary stacked the bags inside, locked and bolted the shed. Together, they headed back to the house.
A few dim yard lights lit the parking area.
Everyone was leaving in the morning, and uncles and older children were already moving luggage into the vehicles.
“I’m staying out here to load the car,” Justin said. The back gate of his SUV stood open and Justin’s bags with those of his wife Annie and their five young children sat on the driveway.
“See you inside,” Jim and Mary called as they walked to the front door which faced the parking.
Baby Fourest did not look toward the lights of the house. His head over Grandpa Jim’s shoulder, his eyes still focused back into the night. He stared at a space between the towering lodge-pole pines.
Stepping through the front door, Jim handed Mary the baby who wiggled and stretched to keep his gaze outside as the door closed and Mary took Fourest to play with the other children while Grandpa Jim found a comfortable chair in the main room to catch up on his reading.
* * *
“It’s a bear!” Grandpa Jim’s son Daddy James yelled as he ran through the living room and out the back door to the deck.
Grandpa Jim jumped up to join the rush of relatives.
On the large first-floor deck that wrapped along the back and one end of the house, the adults gathered on the end overlooking a part of the parking. Justin had been loading around the corner of the house near the front door. The crowd of spectators bent over with elbows on the rail, squinting out toward the shed about seventy-five feet away.
A dark shape moved and swayed in the shadows.
“Where are the children?” Aunt Annie asked, worry in her words.
“Mary grabbed your bunch,” someone answered. “Hauled them upstairs to the second floor with the rest of the kids.”
Overlooking the deck on the second-floor balcony, Justin and Annie’s children, nine-year-old Patricia, seven-year-old Harry, five-year-old Jack, three-year-old Eleanor and almost-two Maggie, squeezed their heads between the wood railings to get a better view. Behind them, Mary stood holding Baby Fourest. The faces of the other children and adults peered out of the second and third floor bedroom windows.
Flashlights started coming on from those who had rushed to retrieve their torches.
In the puddles of shifting light, a brown bear ambled forward, heading toward the deck. The heavy furry body rocked from side to side, paw to paw, and the big head swayed back and forth, left to right.
On the balcony, Fourest let out a loud piercing “Eeeek! Eeeek!” The baby almost jumped out of Mary’s arms. He moved his head back and forth and left to right as his finger pointed and swayed at the bear. It was as if Baby Fourest was the bear and he was orchestrating the animal’s movements.
On the ground, the brown bear slowed, lifted its large white nose toward the balcony, and sniffed the air in a curious, now familiar fashion.
“Let me in!” pierced through the night. “The front door’s locked!”
“It’s Justin!” Aunt Annie screamed for her husband.
“Oh, no,” Mary exclaimed from the balcony. “I locked the door when I grabbed the kids.”
An aunt and uncle sprinted to rescue their cousin.
“Hurry! Someone hurry!” Justin yelled. “It’s a large female.”
“Justin must have gotten close to the bear,” a more analytic relative commented matter-of-factly.
With all the commotion, light and noise, the bear stopped, sat back on its haunches and seemed to contemplate the situation. A shrug shook the shoulders of the big animal. It rolled forward on all fours, shifted around, threw a baleful glance to the gathered throng, waddled into the shadows and was lost to the night.
No one moved or spoke. Even Baby Fourest was still.
“It was at least 350 pounds.” Walking to the railing to stand beside his wife Annie, Justin was talking nervously. “I heard the shed door rattle and dragging and scratching noises. I thought maybe Mary and Grandpa Jim had taken more bags to the shed and could use a hand. So Daddy James, young Harry and I walked over to help. James saw the bear first, yelled, grabbed my son and sprinted for the front door. I took a quick look at the bear and took off running after them. James carrying Harry ran inside and left the door open. I was almost there when the door slammed shut. I heard the click. I was locked out with Momma Bear!”
“I’m sorry, Justin,” Mary said. “I was inside playing with your kids and Fourest when James ran through yelling ‘Bear!’ I closed the door, threw the lock and gathered the children. I didn’t know you were still outside.”
“It’s okay, Justin,” Annie said, consoling her husband. “You’re as big as a bear anyway. The two of you could have sat down and had a snack together.”
“And I would have been the snack,” moaned Justin.
Before he could lament more, his cousins slapped him on the back and dragged him inside to help ready the kids for bed and finish packing for the morning launch back to home and work.
* * *
“And then Patrick ran outside and slapped that black bear right on its behind and off the bear went, high-tailing it into the woods.”
“Is that real?” Jack asked from the top bunk.
Grandpa Jim sat on the floor in the middle of the bunk room. The small flashlight in his hand was the only light. Five bunk beds full of children circled around him. He’d just finished telling the story of “Patrick and the Black Bear of Leach Lake.”
“The bear was very real,” Grandpa Jim answered. “It was a small black bear, not as big as the brown bear we saw tonight. We heard something rattling the metal garbage cans. Before we could stop the kids, Patrick and a few other cousins were out the door and following the bear from cabin to cabin as it hunted for snacks. It was scary for a while. All the flashlights and noise must have bothered that bear, so it left, probably hungry. I think I heard it come back early in the morning for a quick breakfast, but I didn’t wake Patrick.”
“Did Uncle Patrick really slap the bear?” Harry asked from a top bunk.
“I couldn’t see everything through the window of our cabin. It was dark and the window was dirty. It makes a good ending. And, you know . . . the best stories are real stories. I’ll let you ask Patrick next time you see him.”
“Do you want to get that close to a bear?” Patricia asked from a lower bunk behind him.
Grandpa Jim swung around.
“I would say, ‘No!’ Emphatically, ‘No!’ Bears are wild animals. Always be very careful around any wild animal. Okay? Especially a big one.”
“But, that bear tonight looked sad,” Jack said.
“And hungry,” Harry added.
Grandpa Jim twirled on the floor to look up at one and then the other of the brothers.
“Your observations are well made. I thought the same thing. In fact, it reminded me of a song about bears.” Grandpa Jim cleared his throat.
“So meet a bear and take him on out to lunch with you,
Even though your friends may stop and stare.
Just remember, that’s a bear there in the bunch with you
And they just don’t come no better than a bear!’
No, they just don’t come no better than a bear!”
“I really like that song,” Grandpa Jim said, almost as if he were talking to himself. “I think we each have a bit of the bear in us, a part of us that may not fit in and may even surprise some folks. And, like a bear, we can sometimes use a friend or maybe even a free meal with a bunch of new friends to help us on our way.”
Grandpa Jim stood and addressed the children in his adult go-to-bedtime voice. “Enough with this talk and storytelling. You young ones need your sleep. I will see you downstairs early for breakfast. Goodnight, God Bless, sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite.”
Shining the light toward the door, Grandpa Jim did not see the thoughtful glances that Harry and Jack exchanged as the room went dark and the other children curled into their beds.
* * *
Morning light filtered through the east windows.
Grandpa Jim stepped off the last stair and entered the kitchen eagerly. He and Justin competed to see who would be the first up, out and down to join Justin and Annie’s kids for Breakfast Club. Grandpa Jim saw with satisfaction that he was the first.
On five stools pulled up to the island, the five young faces of Patricia, Harry, Jack, Eleanor and Maggie were buried in five bowls of cereal.
The five siblings always beat the other children and adults.
Grandpa Jim wandered to the boxes of cereal on the counter, scanning the brands.
“Ok, who’s got the Fruity Fishies?” he asked. He opened a cabinet, took a bowl and faced the children. “Where are those Fishies?”
Five heads turned in unison to look at the table behind them.
Grandpa Jim shifted his gaze over their heads and focused on a box of Fruity Fishies tipped up on the white nose of a brown bear munching the colorful little fishes as they dropped out of the box and into its large mouth.
“He likes them best,” Elly said,
“Best?” Grandpa Jim whispered, his voice almost inaudible.
“Jack and I tried all the cereals,” Harry explained.
“Tried?” Grandpa Jim shook his head, looked at the table again and said in what he thought was a calm voice but really was shaky and incoherent “No bear. Parents. Bear go. Go bear.”
“Gud baar,” almost-two-year-old Maggie confirmed.
“No baar. I mean ‘bear.’ How, how to go? Go. Go.” Grandpa Jim made shooing-away movements with his hands.
“I’ll do it,” Jack said resignedly, walking around and taking a box of Coco Gravels from the counter. “Harry and I experimented. The bear likes these second best. This is how we got him in.”
Jack made a trail of Coco Gravels on the floor to the back door, where Harry held the door open as Jack extended the trail onto the deck. “You hide behind the door, Harry,” Jack instructed, as he walked back to the end of the table. Standing there, Jack shook the box. The bear turned its head and dropped the now empty container of Fruity Fishies. Jack poured a small pile of Gravels onto the floor. The bear stood, pushed the chair back, dropped on all fours and waddled to the start of the cereal trail. Jack ran to the back door, shook the box even louder, set the box down on the deck outside the door and jumped back inside. The bear watched Jack, lowered its head and started munching, following the trail to the beckoning box. As soon as the furry rump cleared the door, Harry closed it and threw the latch.
Hearing the click, the brown bear looked back, lifted its nose, swayed its head back-and-forth five times, snatched the cereal box in its mouth and lumbered off across the deck and down the back steps.
“Happee baar,” Maggie said, waving as she crowded with her siblings at the window beside the back door.
Standing over them, Grandpa Jim took a deep breath and slumped back against the counter.
* * *
“What’s been going on here?” In his pajamas, Justin stood on the lower stair holding Baby Fourest. “Fourest escaped and was crawling down the stairs. He seemed to be in a hurry. So, I snatched him up and hollered back to Daddy James that I was taking his son down to Breakfast Club.” Surveying the cereal littered on the table and the floor, he observed, “It looks more like a party here than breakfast.”
Setting the baby down on the floor, Daddy Justin stepped forward, crunching on cereal pieces, and scooped up daughters Maggie and Eleanor in a big bear hug, covering them with growly kisses before setting them back down.
On the floor, Fourest toddled toward the broken cereal. Rather than reaching down for a snack, as any toddler in the world does, he stared at the back door.
Two shrieks of “Eeeek! Eeeek!” brought everyone’s attention to the baby.
Fourest started dancing. He rocked from one foot to the other, side to side. His baby head swayed back and forth, left to right. One small finger moved up and down, pointing to the back door. A happy baby grin was on his down-turned face.
“Baby Fourest is a bear,” Jack laughed.
“Babee baar,” Maggie confirmed.
With a concluding “Eeeek! Eeeek!” Fourest saw Grandpa Jim and ran to him, arms up. He was scooped into his grandfather’s arms. Over Grandpa Jim’s shoulder, the baby waved out the window to the deck, wiggled back around to grin at the roomful of familiar folks, smiled and waved to everyone.
Patricia tugged at the arm of the grinning Justin. “Daddy, Daddy. There was a bear to breakfast. Harry and Jack did it. They were the ones who opened the door and made a trail of cereal for the bear to follow. The bear sat at the table and ate cereal right out of the box. It was a real bear, Daddy. A very big real bear, but very polite.”
Justin looked around at the cereal, his children and Grandpa Jim holding Fourest.
“Good try, my little Breakfast Club. The baby bear dance was particularly well staged. Fourest is a natural. I can see what’s happening here. I heard about your Grandpa Jim story last night. ‘So meet a bear and take him on in to breakfast with you.’ Is that it?” Justin shook a finger at Grandpa Jim. “Now you have my kids doing it, telling stories.”
“No, Daddy,” Tricia interrupted. “It’s not a story.”
“A real bear,” Elly emphasized.
“Beeg baar,” Maggie said wide-eyed.
Justin scanned the room, saw Baby Fourest smiling and moving his head left to right across the group.
Daddy Justin nodded and laughed. “Okay, okay. It is good for your imaginations, and I’m all for creativity, but don’t think you can pull the fur over Daddy Justin’s eyes. No sirree, my little mob of munchkin storytellers, you’ll have to get up earlier in the morning to get that one by me.”
“But, Daddy . . .” Patricia began.
Justin knelt down in front of his daughter and looked her straight in the eyes. “Patricia, my most excellent, thoughtful and eldest daughter, you can tell everyone your story. Let them enjoy the tale and decide for themselves.” He kissed his daughter on the forehead.
Standing to his full 6 foot 10 inches, Daddy Justin turned and lumbered to the cereal counter doing his best imitation of the Baby Fourest bear walk to the delighted giggles of all in attendance.
“Now, it’s time for this big bear’s breakfast,” he growled, shifting to a normal tone of voice as he scanned the boxes. “Say, who ate all the Fruity Fishies? You know they’re my favorite.”
* * *
They really did try.
As more adults and the other children came down for breakfast, Patricia, Harry, Jack, Eleanor and Maggie told them what had happened. They even got Baby Fourest to do his little dance and point at the back door.
But try as they did, the children could not convince anyone that a bear had come to breakfast that morning.
The family laughed and joked about it and said what a good story it was and aren’t those children just the most imaginative and creative ever.
Grandpa Jim listened to every word. He nodded, smiled and let Justin and Annie’s children tell their story.
* * *
Home from vacation, late at night, when Daddy Justin and Mommy Annie had gone to bed, Patricia, Harry, Jack, Eleanor and Maggie gathered on the floor in one of the bedrooms — where they were sure their parents could not hear them.
The five siblings talked and laughed and told the story again and again, taking turns doing the baby bear dance and pointing like little Fourest.
Harry and Jack smiled at the girls, and Patricia, Eleanor and Maggie smiled back.
They knew what had really happened.
Patricia said, “Sometimes the best secrets are told the most.”
They all nodded.
They had tried over and over and over again to make it not a secret.
Still, no one other than Grandpa Jim and Baby Fourest believed that a big furry guest had joined them for Breakfast Club.
Grandpa Jim even wrote a story explaining the whole thing and called it “Harry & Jack and the Breakfast Club.”
It didn’t help.
In fact, it made matters worse.
Now, everyone knew it was a story.
I mean, wouldn’t you believe you could meet a bear and take him on in to breakfast with you?