I’ve been thinking about my Grammy and Papa’s farm a lot lately. We moved so frequently that their house felt like home. We spent nearly all our summers there. Summer’s filled with tag, hid-n-seek, stealing strawberries from the garden and rhubarb eating contests with our cousins. Oh so many cousins. Growing up in a big family is awesome, and you learn things. Things passed down from oldest cousin, to next cousin to next, all the way down the line. You learn about things. Things like, the Bear Cave.
My grandparents had a strange and scary basement. A long shallow set of stairs led to the bottom. All along the wall on your way down were creaky shelves filled with strange things. Dust covered boxes of nails, old forgotten seed packets, everything covered in spider webs. You’d be sure to find a glass jar for lady bugs or lighting bugs on those shelves but you’d have to reach your hand into the Indian Jones-like abyss to retrieve it.
If you made it to the bottom of those stairs you’d find no dry wall or cement floor, just dirt and more cobwebs. And, the biggest secret of all. The Bear Cave. Past the washing machine and beyond the string that you used to turn on the naked light bulb was a hole in the side of the wall. Large and round it reached past the foundation. I remember the first time I saw that hole. It was a hot summer day and in the damp cool of the basement, my sweaty shirt clung to my back , goose bumps covered my bare legs. I stared at the jagged cement around the opening and the black beyond.
My oldest cousin, Jammie, stood tall, Chris only a year younger at her side.
“This” she said in a hushed tone, “Is the bear cave.”
“Bear cave?” my sister Courtney asked nervously, “Is there a real bear in there.”
“I’m pretty sure.” Jammie paused for dramatic affect.
Chris broke the silence, “People have been lost in there. Disappeared.”
I was to afraid to ask who. Long lost relatives no doubt, or ancient native americans or people on the underground railroad. Lost to the Bear Cave.
“When we’re older we might go in and explore.” Chris said decidedly.
I wanted to go with him. I wanted to be brave and I was curious. What if the cave extended past the cornfield? What if there was treasure at the end or a skeleton? But I knew we’d never be old enough. I could feel in my bones voices warning us to stay away.
After that I would sneak down there and stare into the black. Trying to see the end of the great dark hole. Wondering what it would be like to take a flash light and climb into the cave. When my baby sister and younger cousins were old enough to trek down the basement stairs we told them we had something they needed to see. We quietly crept across the cold dirt floor.
I pointed to the hole and said solemnly, “This is the Bear Cave.”
“People have been lost in there. Disappeared.” Courtney said in a hushed tone.
The younger kids stared into the cave, into the black, eyes wide.
They looked into the Bear Cave.