Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"Don't Poke the Bear"

 When I was growing up, my Mom told us many stories that she relayed from her time as a young girl growing up on a farm in Southwestern Ohio.
     My Mom was born in 1916, so many of her stories relate to the early 1930's and the great depression.
     But one of my favorite stories is one she told every time there was a fight in our house. My parents were foster parents to several hundred children over thirty years, from 1948 to 1980, so with the constant mix of kids, there were plenty of disputes.

What usually happened is that after she broke up the combatants and cracked their rears a few times, she would gather all the kids around and tell this particular story. Here goes:

            Down the road a ways lived an ornery old farmer who didn't have much of a farm. But he had real fertile land, so he didn't have to work all that hard to get a good harvest. He had lots and lots of acres, but in the middle of his farm was a group of real rocky hills covered by lots and lots of trees. It was so rocky and so wooded that the farmer never tried to grade it flat or plow it. He just let it be, he made enough money and fed his family pretty well off the land he could use.
      Now up in the rocky hills there was a cave, and in that cave there lived a bear. The bear didn't care much for people, but he had enough berries and other critters running around nearby that he had a pretty good life.

    So we had a farmer and a bear, who both had pretty good lives, and left each other alone. But the farmer was a proud man, and he didn't like the bear. He felt the bear was free loading on his property. The bear, on the other hand, felt the farmer took advantage of him. Whenever the bear started chasing the deer herd, the farmer would wait until the bear had the deer heading towards the farmers house, and shoot one. Then when the bear went to get a deer, the farmer would shoot at the bear as well.

     The farmer and the bear didn't realize it, but the farmer not cutting down the forest gave the bear lots of fruits and nuts to eat, and the bear chasing the deer gave the farmer fresh meat. They had a pretty good thing going, but both were too stupid to see it.

     Well one day it happened that the farmer was out hunting rabbits when he saw the bear walking along at the edge of the woods, minding his own business. The bear wasn't bothering anybody, he was just getting some exercise, and he didn't see the farmer. The farmer, being a mean old bastard decided he would get rid of the bear once and for all, so he aimed his gun and fired. The bear was hit in one of his legs, but he managed to run away and hide from the farmer.

     But the farmer wasn't done. He headed up into the woods with his trusty hunting dog Boo, to try and finish off the bear. The Bear was badly hurt but he smelled the hunter coming. So he laid down in the tall grass and lay very still, as if he was dead.

    Now Boo the dog smelled the bear, but he wasn't stupid enough to go up to him, he froze and pointed the bear out to the farmer. The Farmer crept up to the bear, and seeing him lying there bleeding laughed at him.
   "I finally got you, you fat bastard!' The farmer took the barrel of his gun, and poked the bear hard right on his wound. The Bear jumped to his feet and knocked the gun away, and then mauled the farmer horribly, ripping his claws against the farmer's body again and again, until he was too tired to stand.

    Boo the dog ran off for home, where he got the attention of the farmer's wife and the hired men, and lead them back to the farmer, who lay dying on his own land. They carried the farmer back to his house and put him to bed. The game warden and the pastor were both called.

     On his death bed the farmer confessed what he had done in shooting the bear. After hearing the story, the game warden picked up his rifle and headed out to the scene. He tracked the bear to the mouth of the cave, where he lay dying as well. When the warden walked up to him, the bear could barely lift his head, he had lost so much blood. The warden shook his head and started to cry as he raised his rifle. "I'm sorry old bear, it doesn't matter who started it, but the law is the law." Then he shot the bear dead, putting him out of his misery.

       Some might think this is a bit harsh of a story to be telling little kids, but it has a good morale to it.
      It is the idea that we shouldn't go picking a needless fight with someone like the Farmer did just because we can. That's not a good reason. When you think about it, there are no good reasons for picking a fight.
      And the other lesson to be learned is that when you pick a fight, you might be getting more than you bargained for, and there are no guarantees that you will win. Just ask the farmer.  He had shot the bear, and won the fight, but then he went and poked him when he didn't have to.

    So the lesson of the story is: "Don't Poke The Bear."

Monday, July 19, 2010

If Stephen Vincent Benet were alive today....

July 22nd would have been Stephen Vincent Benet's 112th Birthday. Unfortunately, he died in NY City in the early 1940's, but many people don't realize that Benet was born, right here, in the Lehigh Valley, in Fountain Hill.

How about that? A Pulitzer Prize winning Author born right here?! Think it's something we should be proud of, and maybe celebrate? I do, but it seems no one else does. Benet was awarded two Pulitzer Prizes, his second posthumously for his unfinished collection of poems detailing the plight of native Americans during the settling of the American western Frontier. It was titled "Western Star" and Author Dee Brown was inspired to write "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" by it.
Benet also is credited for the original text that inspired the Play and movie, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, but is most famous for his short story that also inspired a Movie, "The Devil and Daniel Webster."

Anyway, as a frustrated, unpublished would be novelist, I tried to imagine what would happen if Benet were to submit his works to a literary agent in this day and age. Follow me now, as I give my vision of the conversation of what happens when he discusses his signature work, "The Devil and Daniel Webster"

Literary Agent (LI): "Thank you for your submission Mr. Bennett, it's quite...er.. fascinating."

Stephen Vincent Benet (SVB): "Excuse me, my name's Be-Net, pronounced Ba-Nay, if you don't mind. So are you interested in publishing it?"

LI: That depends, do you have an Internet presence? Do you blog? are you on Facebook? Have you ever Tweeted?

SVB: Internet? Tweet? What are you talking about? I am not a vain man, I would not require my face on the cover of my book. Will you agree to publish it or not?

LI: "It isn't much, Mr. Ba-Nay, This Daniel Webster, is he related to the guy who writes the dictionary, by chance?"
SVB: "as a matter of fact yes, but he was also a great U.S. Senator.."

LI: "Oh, you mean like Hillary Clinton, could you rewrite this and make Webster a woman?"

SVB: "I don't think so, I wrote it as a tale of warning, and..."

LI: "I don't care what you wrote it as, what I care about is can I make money from it. Now I might be able to sell this if you spice it up a bit. Could you rewrite it to make say, Lindsay Lohan the defendant? Then you could put The Spears Sisters and Paris Hilton, Nicole Ritchie on the Jury of her Peers,
Now that, People will want to read! Do you get my drift, Mr. Banay? Oh wait, Could you make Brad Pitt the Judge? Anyway you can work Angeline Jolie and Jennifer Aniston in would also help the marketability!

The Devil and Lindsay Lohan, now that, Disney would want to make a Movie about! What do you say, Mr Benet, interested? We could make a lot of money!"

SVB: "I Don't know, it seems sort of like I'm selling out my true story, I'll have to think about it."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

One of many things my Dad taught me

         I have read some things on the Internet and in the mainstream media the last few days that have me pretty ticked off.

 I am going to relay an event that happened almost twenty years ago. I was twenty eight years old and was living in a house I had purchased from my parents. It was November of 1990, right after Thanksgiving. I was at home on a Saturday afternoon watching College Football when my Dad rang my doorbell. I lived next door, so in his mind it was easier than calling on the phone.
        My Dad was an officer in a church organization that went out whenever they were asked and delivered food to needy families. A call had come in that a family had been overlooked in the need for Thanksgiving baskets, and had no food or money. He needed someone to go with him, and asked me.

     First we went to the church and made a basket from the goods in their pantry. We took a Turkey from the Church basement freezer that was extra from the big basket delivery that had been done on Wednesday. Then we went to a market and purchased milk, fresh bread and vegetables.
       I drove us to the home of this family, in a real crap hole of a neighborhood a few miles from ours.
     The paperwork said there were four children ages 3 to 9 in the home. At the door a large Jabba the hut like man started screaming at us that he could feed his own damn family and get the f**K off his property.
     Then he turned to the woman and started beating her, chastising her for calling for help, and he stated that it was good he hadn't left for work yet.
      I wanted to intervene, but my Dad stopped me, and told me to get back in my truck. We drove away, and he had me pull into a fast food drive thru and get him some coffee and I got myself a soda. He had me park and he turned on the radio. We listened to a football game for a few minutes, and then he turned it off.
    "Let's go back" he ordered.
  "Why?" I asked.
   "You heard the fat man, he was about to leave for work. He might be gone by now."

  So I drove back, and the nasty bastard was gone. The mother looked like hell but I kept my mouth shut. She had enough problems. The kids asked us many questions and thanked us for the food. The oldest girl was especially happy to get chocolate pop tarts.

      As we drove home, I asked my Dad why he bothered going back, after the way the so called Father had spoke to him, and he told me something that I never forgot and I remember to this day.
   "I won't let kids go hungry just because their dad's an asshole."

   I translated that as I should never hold what a parent does against the children.

   You can think what you want of me, and whatever actions I should have taken and did not that day, but it was a different time and place. I have not forgotten the lesson.

    And that is why when I see people posting comments on blogs, facebook, or other social media disparaging children because  a parent or parents has done something imbecilic I shake my head in disgust.

     Whether it is the kids of Russian spies or the kids whose mother faked their kidnapping to cover her embezzlement, we can never deride the children or hold their parents sins against them.

    It is wrong to ostracize any child of any creed, race or color that way. And that's what I think of the matter.