Hummingbirds returned and though no one thought to fill the feeders at the lodge, the tiny birds hovered around the rims of Cokes and Shirley Temples on the lodge’s patio. Nature is beautiful and we were sorry she wasn’t there to see the pristine lake and feel the sunlight on her face. Grandine had passed away in February and we’d put off saying goodbye to her until July when the ground thawed, the travel ban lifted, and we could gather to plant our matriarch’s ashes in the town burial grounds. The family hadn’t gathered in one place for years. We hadn’t had a good excuse.
We listened to the wings of a hummingbird as it approached our table, but the stillness was broken by shouting from the kitchen. The waitresses walked out followed by the cook. New seasons at the lodge came with new difficulties. After two hours our food arrived. One of us quipped it could be worse. We could have been accosted by bears.
Bears are shadows. Some legends suggest they are the restless souls of those who die in the bush and only find their way back to town once they can navigate by scent. Bears are no respecters of private property and even less of the dead. They follow people to their graves, and if they are curious or hungry or sense there is something just below the ground waiting for them, they dig up the deceased's urn. Perfume, peonies, baked goods – all sorts of things can turn a bear into a ravenous necromancer. They hunger for what others have. Grandine would shudder at their mention.
The flat graves with only ground markers clutched at the cemetery soil. We agreed that Bears have no respect for the dead. They walk wherever they want. The granddaughter of woman Grandine knew baked a dozen blueberry cinnamon muffins and tucked them into her Nona’s coffin. The bear ate the muffins in front of the horrified family and nosed around the bodice of the dead woman’s dress. No one could chase the creature away. Grandine’s ashes weren’t likely to meet such a fate, but just the same we were prepared to defend the family plot with a shovel the groundskeepers left for us to add our handfuls of earth to the open ground.
During the priest’s awkward homily, we stared at Grandine’s photograph and her urn. The priest said life and death were about being careful, especially in the cemetery. Only yesterday, a bear tried to jump on the back of a woman’s bicycle as she rode home with a bag of doughnuts for her husband. If there were two lessons learned from Grandine’s life it was to serve the Lord gladly and keep clear of bears.
One summer afternoon when some of us had gathered for a barbecue in a town two hundred miles south, Grandine phoned to say hello to the family. She was interrupted partway through a story.
“Oh! Would you look at that! There’s a bear on my back porch peering in the window at me. He’s knocking on the screen door. He wants in!”
"Don't answer it we shouted into the receiver." We were afraid when the call went dead.
When she called back, we asked what she did to chase the bear away?
"I had a piece of Northern Pike in the freezer so I opened the window and tossed it into the garden. When he came back, I sprayed him with Raid. The bear got the message, He was welcome to a little bit but not everything. From that day on, Grandine seldom left the house. Her fear, she told me was climbing up the stairs to be and crawling between the sheets and finding a creature asleep beside her. We assured her that would never happen,
"Don't be so sure," we said.
When she died, one of her daughters who still lived in the town said a bear had left his scat on the back porch and that was a bad sign. In northern communities, a bear entering a house carries the same superstition as a bird.
The difference between bears and birds is that bears are smelly, unpredictable creatures some say are harbingers of death not frightened fragile little creatures racing headlong toward a window. Their break-ins can ruin a kitchen or a car. They spoil the good moments one wants to remember. They disperse mourners, terminate camping expeditions, and clear restaurants. They are most dangerous when they stand on their hind legs and snarl. The garbage cans at the entrances to the cemetery were bearproof. They were difficult even for humans who, filled with grief at the visitation of a loved one's resting place made most people carry dead flowers and spent candles away in paper bags they could toss in their kitchen bins.
When the grave was filled in, Grandine was finally at rest, we hugged and told each other we ought not to wait so long to get together again. We shouldn’t have to have an excuse such as a funeral to enjoy each other’s company, and we filed out of the grounds but halted at the cemetery gate as a bear pawed among the fresh graves. The cemetery’s garbage bin lid proved too much for the curious animal and it disappeared into a thicket of cedars as we sighed and said a collective thanks that someone had heard our prayers. Or perhaps the bear had simply come to say goodbye to the lady who fed it a fillet of frozen pike.
All Rights. Bruce Meyer.
Bruce Meyer is the author of 70 books of short stories, flash fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. He is Professor of Communications at Georgian College and has won or been shortlisted for numerous international and national prizes. He remains in the classroom even though he has celebrated his 65th birthday and despite the illness he is battling.