Posts Tagged ‘Smokey the Bear’

Mahoney Ranger Station. Jarbidge, Nevada. 1957-59

There was a spider under the ironing board. I stood, transfixed, as it carefully made its way along the bottom of the ironing board. Overhead, above the top of my head, the iron hissed and steamed. The faint scent of starch drifted down. I could see my mother from the waist down, and beyond her, my brother sat on the floor coloring. I was not supposed to get close to the ironing board, so I watched the spider from a few feet away. It paused, raised one leg and waited. Then it moved forward again.

“Dey’s a ‘pidey dere.”

“Big or little?” My mother moved the fabric and touched the iron down again. The spider, startled by the movement, dropped a thread and scooted down it.

“Hangin’.” I watched as it dangled dangerously close to my mother’s legs.

“Good,” muttered Mom. “Don’t touch it.”

I was distracted for a moment and when I looked again, the spider was gone. It made me sad. I liked the spider.

We lived in a white house with a green roof and trim. The back yard was an acre of grass with a swingset at the far end and a forest that surrounded us. Aspen, pine, basalt rock. A tall pine tree stood in the very small front yard, between the picket fence and the front door. A wide gravel parking lot stretched between the house and the tall white barn, pastures on either side, and a corral by the barn. We were encircled by forest.


But then – there was the Bear House.

It was a log cabin structure right next to the clapboard house. The logs were piled atop a rock foundation and a large, heavy, door met the little walk way with silence. A flag pole on one end of the cabin, and dark, gloomy windows set in the heavy logs. Only my dad could enter that building.

Only my dad could work with the bears. He kept them in there and somehow, he managed to keep them tamed and quiet. The bears were afraid of him. But they were not afraid of little kids and they would eat us.

I was terrified of the bears. Sometimes, I dreamed about the bears. I’d wake up in a cold sweat, screaming for my mom. Inevitably, I woke the baby up and my big brother, too.

We took baths in a galvanized steel tub between the house and the bear house. I could hear the bears prowling behind the stone foundation, and feel their eyes staring out through the chinks in the rocks. The hair on the back of my neck would stand up.

For some bizarre reason, some stretch of imagination beyond my knowing, my parents and my brother thought my fear of the bears was funny. Hysterical, even. Adorable. Something about the bears being “all in my head”…

I was not amused.

Winnemucca, Nevada. 7th Grade. Substitute teacher. Mrs. R (until my brother corrects me, anyway – I suddenly can’t remember her name). I groaned inwardly when I saw her standing at the front of the class, taking attendance. I was already picked on. Puny kid, shy, few friends. And there she was. Reading our names out loud.

“Jackie Wilcox.” There it was. That look. She smiled and raised her head to look at me.

“Did you all know that Jackie’s father works for Smokey the Bear?”


<groan> Can I just dig a hole in the ground and die now?

“Let’s all sing the ‘Smokey the Bear’ song.”

My only consolation was that the popular kids who picked on me had to sing it, too. And she did the same thing to my brother when she taught his class.

Everyone sing along now.

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