The first story I remember my mother telling me had to do with a family of bears. I don’t remember much about the bears, but they were clearly Lithuanian bears because the story was told in Lithuanian. Karta gyveno mesku seima. Once there lived a family of bears. The bears were brown and had cute little ears. That’s all I remember. My first book in Lithuanian, a long poem titled Meskiukas Rudnosiukas, was about a little bear with a brown nose. Sliumpu pumpu, sliumpu pumpu went the refrain, a rhyme that suggested the somewhat lumbering steps Rudnosiukas took to get to the hundred beehives he planned to visit during the day. At night he listened to the stories of his mother.
Years later my first husband ruined the charming sliumpu pumpu refrain by using it to refer to sex.
“Let’s sliumpu pumpu,” he’d say.
Now that I think of it, my ex had committed other grave bear offenses. During our contentious divorce, he threw away not only my collection of feminist theory books (I was in graduate school), but also the first toy given to me by my immigrant parents, a teddy bear, a Steiff they had bought at Marshall Field’s soon after I was born. In those days children didn’t have a roomful of stuffed animals fighting for attention. The nameless bear had been my only toy for years.
My father’s nickname was Meskis, or Big Bear. He had a bear-like way about him—he was stocky and strong and not very graceful–though at 5’8” he wasn’t very tall.
“Mano Meskis,” my mother would say. My Big Bear.
On camping and fishing trips to Canada, we’d sometimes visit a garbage dump deep in some now forgotten woods to watch a family of bears rummage through the trash for food. We were safely ensconced in our blue Ford station wagon, and we certainly weren’t the only family there. The scene looked like some absurd drive-in theater where the movie never changed. Some people even brought pop corn.
My friend Teresa sent me a short clip about bears today, thus all of the reminiscing.