Saturday, November 14, 2015

THE HOBO BEAR

When I was a kid, I remember snow storms so bad that school would be shut down for weeks, water pipes would freeze preventing any water from coming into the house at all, and because it was so cold, some nights we would have to sleep in our snow suits. Snow would pile so high that just one corner of the roof of the shed was visible, and when you tried to get out the door in the morning, you’d have to jump over four maybe five feet of snow, depending on which direction the wind was blowing the night before, and if you couldn’t push the door open wide enough to escape, then you’d have to pour hot water over and around the door to get the snow to melt. Any lock, mail or house, would have to be blown on with hot breath for a few minutes before attempting a twist of the key. Shoot, one time I went to check the mail and did that, but I put my lips too close and was stuck there, desperately heavy breathing until it thawed enough to let go. It’s not so funny when it happens to you. During those times, roads were accessible only by Ski-doo. If you had a machine like that you could go just about anywhere.

One time I remember, I went to visit my Grandma. The same day school got out for Christmas break, my uncle drove me to my grandparents’ house. I was always happy to go there, at any time of year. I was the oldest and only girl in my family and my grandparents’ daughter, Ruby, was only a year older than I, so we were more like companions than relatives. When I reached puberty, I wanted to be around Ruby because it seemed like she had it all together.

Now, when you stayed at Gram’s house, you worked for your dinner, literally. She wasn’t a hard woman, but she just had that persona whereby if you didn’t work, something bad would go down or, you might not get a treat later. She would hide candy in her room and in the evening, if you did your share of the work, you got a treat. So, mornings were spent cleaning, with the guys getting off scot-free. The dishes took the longest to do, because there was always a crowd in the house. If Ruby did the dishes, then I would make the beds and sweep the floor, and if I did the dishes, then she would do the floor and beds. After that, plans for supper would be made or there would be laundry to do, and not the automatic washing kind where you put clothes in, add some detergent, and press a button. Oh, no, this was an old fashioned type, where you put water in the drum from the kitchen tap, then wash load by load, sometimes in the same water, unless it got really dirty, then when all the washing was done, the rinsing was done using the same process. Which is why laundry took the entire afternoon, or, if it was started in the morning, then it could be done by after lunch. Of course, Ruby and I never did get up that early. By the time all the clothes got hung on the line, it would be time to make dinner, which was always around five. After dinner, the dishes and floor would have to be done again. And the clothes, after having been on the line for hours, would be freeze dried. If we got a little wind then it could dry a little, but most times, clothes would come in frozen stiff and would have to be hung to dry around the wood stove. So, our routine after all that, would be to wash off the dirt and grime from our bodies, put on some fresh clothes, whatever was dried first, and get out of the house. Gram would watch the clothes so that they wouldn’t burn, but we had to pack them up and put them away when we got back.

One evening, we decided to go for a little walk on the marsh road; the Ski-doo trail would be easy for walking. We got dressed up in our winter clothes and headed out. Oh, that first blast of air would feel so fresh, after smelling Javex all day. Our breaths would be like tiny clouds escaping our bodies when we talked. We mostly sang when we were out walking. Ruby loved Air Supply, we both loved Rick Springfield, and we could sing better than Pat Benatar. Oh, if only we had grown up some place else, we would have been rock stars.

We crossed the road and took the Ski-doo trail that led to the marsh. The marsh wasn’t that snow-covered as tufts of marsh grass could be seen. It was windy the night before so the wind had blown snow across the marsh and it had drifted at the edge of the marsh. There, the drifts were five and six feet high, the best for making caves. We chatted, sang, and happily hiked along the trail. It was good to get out in the fresh air and to feel snowflakes on our faces. Sometimes we’d walk with our faces in the air to catch some flakes, until someone fell down or a neck got stiff.

We were now in the middle of the marsh, which was the length of three football fields. We turned around to see how far we had come and to see if anyone had their Christmas lights on yet. When we turned around the first thing we noticed was the beautiful gray silhouette of the sun setting toward the icy
Atlantic. We looked at the main road, lights were on, but no one had turned on Christmas lights yet.

We were still watching the sun go down when Ruby pointed to something at the edge of the woods, right where we had entered the marsh. It was too small to pick out, might have been a person, but it was coming too fast. There was no noise so it wasn’t a Ski-doo. The sun had set and the sky was graying, darkening, making evil shadows everywhere. Softly falling snowflakes had turned big and angry. We kept looking at the big, black thing closing in on us. Ruby started to panic. “It’s a bear!”

And with that, she was like a wild woman caught in a trap, looking around to find a hiding place. Then I started looking around too, because by then it did start to look like a bear. It was big and black and coming fast. We were stuck in the middle of the marsh with no trees to climb and no place to hide, but then I spotted something ahead. “There, that old car wreck, come on, Ruby!”

Well, we ran as fast as anybody could run in heavy boots, snowsuits, mittens, scarves, woolen hats, etc. Ruby kept looking behind and that slowed her down, she even fell once, I had to go back and pick her up. And then I made the mistake of looking up; I saw the big, black, hairy thing, and it did look like a bear! I got Ruby up and turned around, and so there we were running arm and arm, falling and freaking out!  But we made it, we made it to the wreck and climbed up on the roof and sat there, hoping that it would be enough, hoping that it wouldn’t climb up and eat us. We were breathing like they do in those dirty movies Ruby’s brother used to watch. Beads of sweat formed on my forehead and I had to take off my hat. I was overheated and running on empty. My mouth was dry and pasty. Ruby was sitting up, statuesque, she was frozen with fear, and her eyes were as “big as cups” as the old people used to say. I nudged her a bit and she came out of it.

“What the hell is it?” she said, standing up. I stood up, too, and we could see that it was now at the spot where we had first seen it and in any minute it would be upon us. We kept squinting our eyes, trying to see through those big-ass snowflakes, trying to make out what it was, but all we saw was a fast moving shadow. Then it disappeared. We remained on guard, back to back, trying to hear it, trying to see it. Then BAM!! It was on the car. Ruby got knocked over first, then I slipped and fell on my butt. Ruby was screaming and then suddenly stopped. I tried to get to her, but when I tried to get up, I fell off the car and into the snow. I got up, but then it jumped me and I fell backward. I started screaming but then, then I started laughing. And then I heard Ruby laughing. It was licking my face. I could see what it was now because it was right in my face. “Sailor!” I yelled, laughing.  It was Sailor, the town’s hobo dog.


It’s been many years since Ruby and I sat down and talked about the old days, but this story remains a classic. Boy, did we feel like fools… lol. But in our defence, the snow was heavy, it was just about dark, and we did live in the country, it could have been a bear.