“Hunting is not a sport. In a sport, both sides should know they’re in the game.”

Paul Rodriguez

A very leftwing friend of mine, a tad to the left of Lenin, suggested that Paul LePage won re-election because the “bear issue” was on the ballot. She said that had it not been on the ballot, all the pro-LePage hunters would have stayed in the woods looking for doughnut-eating bears, instead of coming to the polls in town. Sans proof, I had no response to that. Both sides were shouting so loudly I tuned them out.

But I am glad those bear commercials are gone. I refer, of course, to those painful shots showing a poor animal, lured by dozens of decaying pizzas, crullers and sugar-loaded glazed jelly doughnuts, and with its leg crushed by a steel trap, being shot in the head by a person holding a pistol. Do hunters hunt bears with pistols now? Papa Hemingway, close your eyes and hold your ears. In the end, I voted against the traps. And guns? I wouldn’t know which end of a gun the bullet came out of.

I have never been fond of killing things, which is why I was known as the “sissy” brother among the five, and I’ve always been fond of bears for some reason, even though I’ve never confronted one face to tooth. The closest I’ve come to bears was on a television shoot on, of all places, Bear Mountain above Los Angeles. Because of Los Angeles smog, we had to go to the top of the mountain to find a clear blue patch of sky. As we got out of the trucks, I noticed all the damaged tree trunks around us.

“How’d that happen?” I asked.

“Bears do that,” they said. The director told me to stay close to him. “There has never been a Hollywood director killed by a bear,” he said. True story.

I have slept with a bear, a teddy bear actually. I never had a teddy bear as a child, even though I coveted my little sister’s. I finally got one this year when She, who has always had a teddy bear, bought me one. It was a Brooks Brothers promotional thing. I have it on my bed. My sister would love it.

A few nights ago, bored with television, I decided to research teddy bear history. Of course most of you my age know that it was all about President Teddy Roosevelt of all people, a Republican I might add.

The online Theodore Roosevelt Association gave me the answer:

It seems that in 1902, Roosevelt went on a hunting trip with Mississippi Gov. Andrew Longino down in the Southern woods. I guess Mississippians had better relationships with presidents in those days.

Well apparently everybody “got their bear” but the president. This didn’t look good for the governor, who was trying to make some political points, so the next day he sent his guides out to get a bear for the president, who, by the way, was known as a big macho hunter, so he wouldn’t go back to Washington in disgrace.

Out they went and found them a big black bear their dogs had trailed. They tied the poor bear, old and lame, to a tree, and called to the president, “We have a bear for you, Mr. President.”

Roosevelt took one look at the poor thing and refused to shoot the suffering and injured bear, as it would be unsportsmanlike.

A newspaper cartoon grabbed the story and blew it up, and it stuck with Roosevelt throughout his career, solidifying his reputation as a real compassionate and professional big game hunter.

So, teddy bear? The site tells us that “a political cartoonist decided to lightheartedly lampoon the president’s refusal to shoot the bear.”

Berryman’s cartoon appeared in the Washington Post on Nov. 16, 1902. A Brooklyn candy shop owner by the name of Morris Michtom saw the cartoon and had an idea. He and his wife, Rose, were also makers of stuffed animals, and Michtom decided to create a stuffed toy bear and dedicate it to the president who refused to shoot a bear. He called it “Teddy’s Bear.” And there you have it.

Theodore was clearly a Republican my leftist friend might even find joy with. I just can’t imagine old Teddy, widely known as a “passionate hunter who loved the thrill of tracking and chasing” and a skilled marksmen whose first hunting trips by the way were in the backwoods of Maine, walking up to a trapped crippled animal with jelly on its lips and executing it with a pistol shot.

I just can’t imagine.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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