Have you ever had an unexpected guest show up at your house at the end of a party and change the whole mood of the day? Well, I have, and we named him “Henry.”
It was July 3rd, 2011. We had just completed another spectacular birthday celebration for my younger daughter, Makenzie Rae, who was turning ten. It was late in the evening. Almost everyone who had attended the gathering early that afternoon had already vacated. Other than my immediate family and the half a dozen girls that decided to invite themselves to a slumber party, I was slowly putting my house back together again.
Joey and I had already cleaned up the front and back yard and all the hazardous waste from his over-the-top firework display. We stuffed all the remnants of a great day into our two city-designated trash cans, a recycle bin, and our neighbor’s receptacles.
The rat, Templeton, from the story of Charlotte’s Web, would have had a field day with all the partially eaten goodies the thirty or so kids present wasted – not to mention all my scraps from the party’s preparation that morning and the entire day before. Being the catering professional I am, I have always had a passion for creating incredible children’s parties, which always included an extensive selection of culinary delights and exciting games and crafts to fill the entire day and into the evening. Our pool home in Tavares was the perfect setting for whatever my crazy mind came up with.
The only thing about Makenzie Rae’s birthday parties that changed from year to year was the number of candles on her cake. Whether I made cupcakes, layer cakes, or sheet cakes, the theme was always red, white, and blue. This year, my baby girl was insistent on the Cool Whip, flag cake made with blueberries and strawberries. With three boxes of cake, four tubs of white icing, half a flat of cut strawberries, and two quarts of blueberries later, we had the most fruit-tacular cake I had ever made. It was so appealing that even in the form of waste in my trash can, it enticed Henry to come to dine.
I took my last search through the yard to ensure everything was put away before I plopped myself on my front porch swing. Just as I did, I heard a loud thump on the side of my house just feet from where I was seated. I knew we had stuffed the garbage cans pretty tight, and it sounded like maybe a squirrel jumped off the roof and tipped one of my pails over. I could hear something rummaging around. However, I would have never expected it to be what we saw that night!
The black bear that roamed our yard was about two years old, weighing about 200 lbs. When we first made eye contact, he was holding a Betty Crocker icing tub to his face trying to lick out whatever he could slurp off the plastic container. When he realized I was watching him, he pulled the tub away from his face leaving a white milk mustache on his black fury nose. Then, he turned away and quickly pulled himself up in our 100-year-old Water Oak tree – like he was climbing a wood fort ladder before finding himself a comfy place to spread out and finish snacking.
Immediately, “GI Joey” went into full lockdown mode and found nothing cute or appealing about having this visitor. Being imaginary Disney World residents, my girls and I wanted so badly to go outside and get a better look. We gave him his name! But Joey didn’t have it.
By now, a Florida Fish and Wildlife agent was on my property along with most of my neighborhood. Still, Joey wouldn’t let any of us go outside. He didn’t want anyone near the bear. The funniest part was Joey kept threatening to get his shotgun and shoot him down. Not that I would ever let that happen, but it didn’t matter what I had to say. The game warden and the two city and county officers kept reminding my hubby that it was unlawful to kill a black bear. If he didn’t stop repeating his intentions, they would have to arrest him!
“Okie Dokie,” I thought before nicely asking my husband to come inside and let the professionals handle it. Then, we went inside and saw everyone crammed against my picture windows, watching Henry in the spotlight.
“It’s all good. Everybody go about your business. The show is over, and Henry will return to his home when he is ready,” I explained.
By the time I got the girls settled in for the night, Henry and all the spectators had dispersed. Although he had left a messy path of garbage from my front yard clear into the nature reserve behind my house, he was no longer residing in my tree.
The following day, we saw the tornado Henry actually created, and an official Warning Notice stuck to my mailbox near my front door that read: “Do Not Threaten Black Bears Under Any Circumstances!”
It was attached to our mailbox with a magnet that cites the proper procedures for dealing with local wildlife. Both of which Joey added to the trash, grunting, “Whatever!”
Lesson learned: Don’t mess with black bears in your yard, or you will end up doing time in the nearby “general population.”
Laugh on. Peace out!
Lisa DeMarco is a columnist for Villages-News.com