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  • jrblackburnsmith

Bear Hunt!

Image: a bear

I am an adult child of an alcoholic. In fact, I come from generations of alcoholics. My father broke that cycle when he became sober when I was almost eight. Dad quit drinking and smoking at the same moment; he said he had to quit them both because smoking was too intertwined with drinking for him. He was sober for 47 years before he died.

Image: Dick Smith with his 47 year token, February 2016

As a writer, I struggle sometimes with how addiction is portrayed in literature and films. The effects of addiction are devastating, and watching someone you love sink to rock bottom is a terrible experience. However, it is not the only experience of addiction. Not every drunk is a violent s.o.b.

(Writer's note: I'm dating myself using a phrase from my childhood, but it is the perfect phrase for this piece.)

Dad's parents (and many of his relatives) were also alcoholics. Most of them, including his parents, never found sobriety. My memories of them are filled with moments in which they were drunk. When they got drunk enough, things got ugly, but because I was young, I frequently didn't see the ugly parts. More often than not, I saw the charming, funny parts.

A case in point were backyard bear hunts (or should we call them beer hunts?) Grandpa RL would arm us with weapons, from the garage. Usually, he gave us the wooden poles that supported the clotheslines in the yard.

(Writer's note: In the sixties people really did hang their laundry outside to dry on sunny, warm days.)

What we were supposed to do with wooden poles if we found a bear was a question well beyond my five-year-old brain, but they did have metal clips on them, so maybe that was the weapon part. My grandparents lived in Lakewood, Ohio (essentially Cleveland) and I never questioned why the bears we were hunting chose to live in the city, either.

RL would march us to one of his neighbors' houses and ring the bell, and then ask about the neighborhood bear. The friend would tell us he had most recently seen the bear in the yard or alley behind his house and we would race off to find the bear while RL and his friend had a beer or two. Eventually, we would return empty-handed --we NEVER found the bear-- and RL would march us to another friend's house, and we would repeat the exercise. This could go on for four or five houses. That's a lot of beer. When RL knew his friends were busy, he would bring a coffee cup filled with whiskey (why fool around with beer if you are not talking to anyone?)

These bear hunts were super important to us, and to RL as well. They created a powerful bond, even though he was not really spending the majority of that time with us. As a grandparent myself, I treasure anytime I get to spend with my grandchildren and hope they will have powerful memories of those times later. The bear hunts do not erase or blunt the times when RL said or did terrible things while he was drunk, but they open a window into the complexity of his behavior and help me see him as the perfectly 'human' being he was.

Love: a story of grief and desire is now available as an audiobook! Available on amazon, and wherever audiobooks are sold.

Win a free Kindle edition of Love: a novel of grief and desire: I work with Reader's Favorite on the Kindle book giveaway. If you go to you can sign up for the monthly giveaway. You can scroll through the list of giveaways (over 500 each month) or sort the list by title or author to find Love: a novel of grief and desire and put your name in for this month's drawing. Good luck!

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