A Little Black Bear and a Fridge

Renee and mom

My mom kept the fridge on the porch. It was not convenient. But Mom despised the sound of the electric hum. “I’m living out here in the woods, and I have to deal with that sound?” she would ask, rhetorically. The electric hum would wake Mom up in the middle of the night and distract her during family dinners. She was highly tuned—not in a livewire way but in a focused way. She paid attention. She was the first to spot animals on the pasture, the first to point out a tree that might fall, the first to sense when something was not going right. If she needed quiet at night, so be it. The fridge would stay on the porch. The adult kids, myself included, thought it was charming, if not simply quirky and fun, like our mom. My dad didn’t think much of it, but he’s not sensitive to sound the way Mom was sensitive to sound. In any case, we all agreed: It was not convenient.

You had to open the back door and prop it open with your left foot, while you leaned out, opened the fridge door with your other hand, stretched farther to grab the butter you needed for baking, then clasp the butter to your tummy, slam the fridge close, and scoot back into the hallway without getting your socks wet on the porch. Did I mention the back porch roof used to leak so that the top of the fridge was always wet, too?

But this is not a post about electric hums, butter, or baking. This is not a post about leaky roofs and honey-do projects that never get done. This is a piece about a little black bear and how Mom got a new fridge, moved it inside, and put it the closet.

We called the black bear Andy. We call all black bears that visit the property Andy. I don’t know why.

If you’ve even seen a little black bear, that is, Andy, sitting in a huckleberry patch and eating huckleberries, you’ll understand the agility with which it can use its paws. A bear sitting on its butt picking berries from the plant looks a lot like a dog with hands. The bear can pick berries and plop them in its mouth. It’s not a mashing motion as berries go from bush to mouth; it’s graceful and also pretty adorable (if you’re watching from a safe distance and know without a doubt that no mom is around).

Given this knowledge, is it surprising that a bear might be able to open a fridge door, take out the huckleberry cake, and only the huckleberry cake, and finish it off?

The bear didn’t place the cake tin back in the fridge; it just left it on the freezer. No crumbs on the porch or freezer, either. Yes, our freezer is also on the porch (though that seems less surprising than a fridge on the porch). I guess a freezer is bigger, and harder to open, and obviously has fewer smells than a fridge. Andy left the freezer alone.

But who is silly here? If a bear comes once for cake, wouldn’t a bear come twice? We were originally flummoxed when the huckleberry cake disappeared. I thought my dad had eaten it. The whole cake. He swore he hadn’t. I didn’t believe him. To prevent father-daughter nattering, my mom said, in jest, “Maybe a bear ate it?”

“And left the cake plate neatly on the freezer?” I asked. “Um, no.”

The next time, the raid of the fridge was not so neat. It’s how we figured out that Andy probably ate the cake, though of course we don’t have proof. This time, plastic wrap from enchiladas was strewn across the porch, carrot tops were nibbled and discarded, and the proverbial spilled milk was indeed spilled. Everywhere.

My mom turned off the fridge, and we cleaned out the entire contents, throwing everything away and bleaching the interior. Mom got on the phone to Sears. You could hear her asking over and over, “And how is the electric hum on that fridge?”

We didn’t have to buy a new fridge, but the porch fridge was small, and we figured a new fridge should be a regular size. We could make lots of cakes and fill the fridge up with cakes, and no little black bear would come inside. (Though why not, right? If Andy can open a fridge door, could he open the house door?)

Turned out the new fridge hummed just like the old fridge, so Mom stuck it in the closet. It’s not convenient, but it reminds me of my mom and of Andy the bear… every time I open the closet door and prop it open with my foot, and open the fridge door, and grab the butter, and clasp it to my tummy.