Friday, 30 July 2021 10:45

COLUMN: What happened to the bear?

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Pee Dee River Pee Dee River J.A. Bolton

Back in the '50s, when I was just a lad, my family lived on Highway 74 west of Rockingham. Back then 74 was just a winding two-lane road with a lot of hills to go over before you reached the Pee Dee River. The river was just a few miles down the road from where I lived. On each side of the river bridge there were two stores, one in Richmond County and the other in Anson County. Both stores sold all types of merchandise and goods. Also, each store sold all types of fish that were caught in the nearby river; such as shad, mullet and catfish.

In the evening and on Saturdays when my Dad got off work, he and I would drive over to the store across the river. At that time it was run by an older fellow by the name of Charley Perkins. If my Dad and I were going fishing, we’d stop by Charley’s store and buy some bait, get us a couple of R.C. Colas and a Moon Pie. Most of the time we’d just sit around the store and listen to some of the local characters tell their stories and tales.

To tell you the truth, that’s probably where I got my background in the art of storytelling, 'cause them fellows could tell some big whoppers and they’d have you believing them too.

The biggest reason I liked to visit Charley’s store was that he kept a big black bear in a cage behind his store. You couldn’t do that today 'cause animal rights groups would have you put under the jail, don’t you know. Old Charley was making a little money selling peanuts to throw to the bear. The bear also liked soft drinks and even a beer once in a while. Why if’n you were brave enough, you could take the top off and slide the beverage into the cage and the big bear would slurp it right down. When he drank it down, why, he would then throw the empty bottle back at you wanting more. 

You know all things must come to an end and so it was with the bear.

One day a couple of hunters from the mountains was a traveling down Highway 74 headed to Wilmington to go bear hunting. The men stopped into Charley’s store to take a break and get something to eat. The men noticed the bear there behind the store. They walked over to the bear’s cage and asked who might be owning this here bear. Some of the fellows said that thar bear belongs to Charley Perkins, the man running the store. The hunters went into the store where they found old Charley sitting behind one of them big cash registers like people used to have. Y’all know, the ones with a big crank on the side.

Well, those men asked Charley if’n he’d be interested in selling his bear. Charley said he didn’t rightly know, but what would they be a doing with his bear? The hunters were honest and told him that they wanted to use the bear to train their dogs with.

Old Charley loved a dollar, but he knew that the bear was bringing him in some business too. He told the hunters he didn’t much want to sell his bear, but before he could get the words out of his mouth, one of them there hunters reached into his bib overalls, pulled out two hundred dollar bills and laid them on the counter in front of Charley. You know $200 back then was a lot of money and Charley’s eyes got as big as a saucer. Somehow or the other, Charley got a hold of himself and told them hunters “No, I don’t want to sell my bear!” Well, them hunters wouldn’t take no for an answer and pulled another $200 and just threw in on the counter.

Folks, anybody that knew Charley Perkins knew that if’n he made up his mind, won’t no power on earth gonna change it. Charley spoke up, right loud, and told them hunters, “You two fellows get on down the road, you hear! The bear ain’t for sale!”

Well about two weeks later, according to Charley, the same two fellows came back through and poisoned his bear. Now, I don’t know for sure if’n that’s what happened, don’t you know, but anyway the bear died as dead as a doorknob. If’n Charley Perkins could have gotten his hands on them two fellows, why there ain’t no telling what he’d done to them. Charley could get mighty ornery, that is if’n you got on his wrong side.

Things were fairly quiet at Charley’s store after word got out that Charley’s bear had died. Folks still stopped in and there were still some mighty big stories told. But to me, why, things, they just won’t the same without the old bear.

J.A. Bolton is author of “Just Passing Time,” co-author of “Just Passing Time Together,” and just released his new book, “Southern Fried: Down-Home Stories,” all of which can be purchased on Amazon. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..