Friends and Neighbors:
Here comes a bear story!
We had known for a long time that the bear was there. My father claimed they had once come face to face with each other when he was out hunting quail. My father was given to telling tall tales, and if the story wasn’t exciting enough he was not above supplying additional dramatic details. According to his version the bear was black, weighing three or four hundred pounds, that it was eating apples that had fallen from Old Man Withrow’s orchard, and that the two of them had passed a moment gazing at each other before my father stared him down and the bear disappeared into the woods.
There were other reports from witnesses with less imagination than my father. Owen Goolsby reported sighting bear tracks six and eight inches wide over on Wales Mountain. Cuss Gibbs had watched the bear wade across the Rockfish River down near Power House #l. Virgil Pugh had come across spore behind his barn that might have been bear but he wouldn’t swear to it.
And then came the day when my mother was alone in the house. All her children had left home except for Brother Jim who commuted to his job in Charlottesville and he wouldn’t be home until after dark.
The phone call came from Aunt Dolly Ragland who lived at the end of the country lane that ran in front of our house. Aunt Dolly lived alone and all the neighbors kept a watch over her because she was sometimes given to what the local folk called a touch of “dimension.” There were times when she would get lost in the house she had occupied for seventy five years until some neighbor would stop by and help her find her way home again.
My mother reported that she sounded as if she was trying to keep calm when she said, “Doris, would one of your boys stop by here for a minute? There’ a bear trying to get in my back door.”
With none of her boys at home my mother called to Uncle Donald who had retired from Sears and Roebuck in Charlottesville and who was out spading the garden to plant his early spring peas.
“She’s at it again, huh?” said Donald. “Last time she claimed it was a pole cat under the house.”
“Well, you just never know. Maybe you ought to take a look just in case.”
Donald went in the house and when he came back out he was carrying his 21 gauge shot gun and was followed by his wife, Aunt Alma. There was no way such a modest gun would stop a bear but it was the best Uncle Donald had. If nothing else it would pepper the bear’s behind with birdshot, make a loud noise and frighten him away. Aunt Alma and my mother watched from a distance but they had no clear view of Aunt Dolly’s back door because it faced the other way. They could hear Aunt Dolly shouting and there was fear in her voice so they knew it wasn’t just dimension.
“Watch out, Donnie,” she cried. “He’s just about broke the last plank through.”
Aunt Alma and my mother recalled what happened next. ”We saw Donald raise his gun and fire and then the skinniest, hungriest looking old black bear you can imagine ran away from the house and headed for the Rockfish River.” He had obviously been in hibernation all winter and it was desperation that led him to Aunt Dolly’s house. While Uncle Donald fixed Aunt Dolly’s kitchen door she invited every body in for a glass of buttermilk and the bear was never seen again.
I was reminded of this event recently when I too came out of hibernation. Unlike that old bear I didn’t sleep the winter away. I just spent it driving back and forth to solicitous Beverly Hills doctors who, even in the face of my extreme age, continue to try to piece together the many ailing parts of what I laughingly call my body. I won’t bore you with them except to mention, hoping for maximum sympathy, that the most recent curse I have suffered is with gout of the left knee. Superstition has it that gout is caused by too much red wine, too much rich food and
blood pressure medicine. I am thinking of giving up the blood pressure medicine.
So spring has come again and this old bear is out of the woods. Thanks to the shot Dr. Venturapalli injected into my knee and massive amounts of prednisone the pain has diminished and I can now walk without a cane. One of the other many medications I am taking is causing occasional hallucinations so if you will welcome a crazed old bear with hallucinations back into your life I’d appreciate the chance to get caught up.
First I want to send my sympathy to all you folks in the Midwest and east who have been hammered with all that snow. Many of you have shared photos of the stuff at depths hard to imagine and I have enjoyed the beauty of it without experiencing the inconvenience.
Out here we have had an unusual amount of rain. These severe storms come so rarely that nobody knows what to do. Hardly anyone owns an umbrella or a raincoat and when the drops start falling the natives call one another on the phone and say, “What does one do?” The smart ones move out of their homes if they happen to live below of the fire ravaged mountain slopes where the roads become rivers of mud frequently carrying boulders the size of basketballs. Jane and I live on a hillside, but fortunately the hillside above us is stable.
One of the burdens I want to get off my chest is the guilt I feel because I have not answered your letters.
I swell with pride as I read each one. What outpourings of admiration and gratitude and appreciation you so
generously send. The only way I can accept such adulation is on behalf of the Walton team. We were a remarkable group, every member of the team – actors, writers, directors, executive staff, and a remarkable crew were superior in their field, dedicated to project that each of us loved. Many participants in a television series will say, “We were a family.” On our set it was remarkably true.
So why this guilt? The answer is that there are just more letters than I can respond to. Which is painful to me when they express such sentiments as “Your show changed my life.” “The Waltons are the family I never had.” “The Waltons is the way I wish my family had been.” “Because of the show my daughter intends to become a writer.” ”The show is life transforming.” These are very humbling messages, and I apologize that they have not been answered with a proper response.
So spring has come again! In the east the daffodil and crocus are reaching up through the snow. The dogwood and red bud won’t be far behind. Here in California the magnolias and ornamental pears are in full blossom, the hummingbirds are already nesting, the temperature is in the eighties, and this old bear is out of the woods. I’m energized again. Watching Shaun White defying gravity of his snowboard in Vancouver I considered taking up the sport but Jane talked me out of it.
Many years ago there was a great gang of kids here on our street.. There was a nice kid in the neighborhood named Jeffrey Van Zanten. I was home a lot of the time and often they would include me in whatever games the gang was up to. One day, while I was flailing away at the typewriter, Jeffrey came to the door and asked Jane if Mr. Hamner could come out and play. If any of the kids from the present gang ask Jane to let me out, I’m ready!
So long for now.