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Papa Bear

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He’s wearing that tie,
the one with the faded stars
that grandma used to hate,
but the one that my mother gave him when he came
home for leave from the war.
The faded color and poor focus of the ancient camera
make his spectacles rest even farther down on his nose.

A chubby arm cuddles forcefully,
my mother on his left, and my adopted-aunt on his right.
Several medals hang on his right top pocket,
listing his achievements in World War II.
A fresh cut grass in the background,
at a mysterious party that my mother does not remember.

“Papa Bear,” my mother called him.
“That’s what everyone called him.
He was never Bob, or Grandpa.
Or son, or brother.
Just Papa Bear.”
Big, and cuddly, and muscular,
with a smoker’s voice.
That’s how everyone knew Papa Bear.

Muscular arms,
built from days and months and years of military training,
enclose his two great-granddaughters.
Seeming as though they couldn’t be closer,
is not what it seems.
An illusion.

My mother,
as a small child in a flowey pink dress,
holds his hand tightly.
Not seeming to care that he didn’t grab
as tightly has she had.
Not seeming to notice,
as much as my aunt in her sunshine yellow dress,
and pressed white socks,
that he seemed even more distant every day,
that he seemed to have a growing number of headaches,
that he seemed to be stumbling rather than walking around.
And maybe the print of the photo,
and how my aunt appears to be staring out past the lens,
off to something else, that she won’t have to focus on
her grandfathers arm, shaking ferociously against her neck.

My mother has no formal remembrance of Papa Bear.
Just faint memories,
that might actually just be dreams.
But, in those dream-like memories,
she remembers him being very distant.
Whenever he would be on leave from the war,
he would just sit in the corner,
in that favorite green leather chair of his,
and smoke his cigar
and read the paper.





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