The Brown Bear

I DID NOT EXPECT to own the bear. My thought process when I raised the blue bidding card –no. 88– was influenced by my eclectic love of taxidermy and the fact that bears are my favourite animals. The price I raised my card for was very inexpensive for a full-sized brown bear; surely, I rationalized, people will bid much higher. I sat, smiling softly while the auctioneer continued prattling with a speedy ferocity that was difficult to understand. After a pause, I understood one phrase clearly.

“Sold! To the lady in the back!”

It took me a moment to realize that I was the lady in the back. It took even longer to process that I now owned and was responsible for a taxidermied bear. I had admired the bear before the auction began. The bear sported a stupid grin that seemed out of place amongst his more fierce looking counterparts. His chubby arms and short legs standing erect gave the creature a ridiculous but lovely bumbling quality.

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A stranger from the auction remarked to me, “That there’s the biggest teddy bear you’ll ever own!” Though I was annoyed that the stranger felt comfortable to associate me with teddy bears, he was right.

The auction took place in Swift Current, but I spend most months of the year in Halifax, pursuing my undergraduate degree: double majoring in Creative Writing and English Literature. Now halfway through my degree and home for the summer months at my parent’s farm near Cabri, I spend a lot of time feeling untethered. The prairies are my roots but they are pulled up when I go east for school. When I’m in Halifax, I miss family, only to return to Saskatchewan and long to be near the ocean and the friends I’ve made. The concept of home is difficult because both Cabri and Halifax are my homes now.

The future also serves as an unknown that makes the idea of home difficult. I yet have no idea where life will take me. I’ve felt inklings of the comfort and inner peace that comes with the idea of home in cities as far away as Paris and Madrid. I’m uncertain where I will live post-graduation nor what I will be doing with my degree. When I focus on the uncertainty, it can frighten me.

The bear brought all these feelings to the surface. What am I going to do with a bear? How will I take it home? Will Mum and Dad let me store it in their house? Will I take it to Halifax? How much will that cost? What happens to the bear if I leave Nova Scotia after completing my degree? All the questions caused my anxiety-riddled mind to panic. I clipped to the back of the building, to the site where the bear was on display. “Perhaps,” I thought as my high heels clicked, almost silent amidst the sounds of the auction continuing around me, “Perhaps it’s smaller than I remembered.” It wasn’t. Though maybe small for a bear, the creature stood taller than me.

As someone learning to live with generalized anxiety disorder, I’ve been taught by therapists to recognize signs of a panic attack. I could feel my face flush, I began to sweat despite the room feeling somewhat cool moments earlier, my head grew light, and I could feel my heart beating much more quickly than it should. I needed to take a step back from the situation. I attended the auction with my close friend and her mother, so I was lucky to have them nearby to help calm my sudden and unexplainable distress.

For the sake of exhausting all of my options, I spoke to one of the auctioneers before calling my father to break the news of the bear. The auctioneer confirmed what I already suspected: I am not allowed to rescind my offer and am responsible for my purchase the moment it is declared sold. The auctioneer told me they could sell the bear on my behalf but I would be on the hook for the price I bid, even if it were re-sold for a lower price. In this scenario, I would be out money and not even have the ridiculous bear to show for it.

I phoned my dad.

“So . . .” I stammered into my cellphone, “I may have just bought something.” He knew I was going to the Ralph Berg taxidermy auction that day.

“Oh, okay. What did you get?”

“A bear.”

There was the briefest of pauses. “Did you actually?”

Dad was more entertained than I expected, but busy with farm-work and unable to drive a truck to the city to help take the bear home. He did request, however, that I send him a picture.

I happen to be very lucky to live in a small town with big-hearted people. The ladies I went to the auction with offered to drive back to their farm near Abbey, just to get a larger vehicle for bear transport. It didn’t come to that. I asked my father’s cousins, who were helping at the sale, if they happened to have a large vehicle with them. I explained my situation and they kindly offered to take the bear to their home near my family’s, where I could pick the bear up when Dad’s truck became free for non-farm use.

I now only had to be worried about what Mum would think. She, very reasonably, does not understand the appeal of a stuffed, dead animal sitting in a house.

I wasn’t aware that she and Dad were in the same room when I phoned him, nor that she heard his side of the conversation. Earlier that morning, she was on the phone with a friend, remarking that she would be unsurprised if I brought home something very small from the auction −an armadillo, for instance. I imagine her mind raced when she heard Dad, on the phone with me only a few hours later, mention the need for a truck.

When I leave Saskatchewan for Halifax at the end of summer, the bear will be tucked out of Mother’s site in a faraway corner of my parent’s storage room. It will remain there until one day –perhaps as far away as ten years from now– I have a home of my own. I’m not sure how I’ll get the bear to me, wherever I may live, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Dad enjoys the bear’s presence very much. While I’m home, the bear stands in the basement, beside the fake fireplace. I can hear laughter from my father when he walks down the stairs and, after momentarily forgetting about the creature, sees the bear. He asked if I’ve given it a name; I’ve started calling the bear Antigonus “Gus”. The name comes from Shakespeare’s play, The Winter’s Tale. The character of Antigonus is chased offstage during scene 3 of act 3 in Shakespeare’s most famous stage direction, “Exit, pursued by a bear.” My Antigonus looks like he would be scared off by any other bear.

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Dad told me that Gus will always be able to bring plenty of laughs in the future. I think the uncertainty of the life ahead of me –the uncertainty of working with a liberal arts degree and the elusive idea of home– will continue to frighten me from time to time. But whatever the future has in store, there will always be a stupidly charming bear named Gus waiting for me at my family’s farm, ready to tag along with me wherever I may go.

(Originally published July 2017 in The Herald, p. 10, Edition 352.)

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