Aunt Hazel was never known for her cooking. It is true that certain things turned out quite well. She could make a mean gooseberry pie, but the mean part was that it came back to haunt you an hour or so after you ate it.

But there was one thing she was infamous for and that was her cakes. She had never made a cake that was edible, although she was determined and kept trying.

One of her unsuccessful attempts occurred when hers and Uncle Hickory’s family was young. They decided to take a family trip into the woods. This was in the days when a person could travel through Yellowstone and black bears would come right up to the car. The bears also undauntedly came right into the camp grounds. I’m sure, however, it was the episode with Aunt Hazel that turned the whole bear population into the untrusting creatures they have since become.

You see, the family had no sooner set up camp, then Aunt Hazel decided to bake a cake. It was Uncle Hickory’s birthday, after all. If Aunt Hazel wasn’t a stellar cook with a stove, her cooking in the out of doors came close to violating every known environmental quality law on the books.

Uncle Hickory laid out a roaring fire while Aunt Hazel prepared her “secret recipe”. The reason it was a secret was because she tried to do it out of her head from remembering how her mother cooked. It should be known that Aunt Hazel’s mother was indeed a good cook. It was just that Aunt Hazel had never felt it was important and therefore had just learned it haphazardly, thinking she could pull it from memory when needed.

Once the fire had burned down to nice coals, Aunt Hazel put her mixture into it. The smell that emanated from the pan was about that of hot tar and turpentine and it looked like it smelled. It bubbled and brewed like a witch’s cauldron then hardened into a gooey, charcoal-looking concoction.

After a dinner consisting of burnt hot dogs, Aunt Hazel brought the “cake” to the table. Everyone looked at it, reluctant to be the first victim to taste its contents. Aunt Hazel figured Uncle Hickory should get the first taste since it was his cake. He felt that where it was supposed to be his celebration he should be spared from this cruelty. Nonetheless, he got a knife and dutifully tried to cut out a slice. That was as far as it went. Once the knife was inserted the caked wrapped itself around the knife and refused to let go. Uncle Hickory got a fork to try to get the knife free but the fork also became stuck. After struggling in vain for a half hour to free the utensils, Uncle Hickory disposed of the cake into a trash receptacle. The family sang happy birthday and sat down to raspberry jam spread on hot dog buns for Uncle Hickory’s festivity.

The family had just settled into bed and were barely drifting off to sleep when a ruckus in the campground brought them to immediate alert. Garbage cans were banging and a bear was bawling until the whole camp was in turmoil. Uncle Hickory looked out to see a yearling black bear with his teeth sunk deep in the cake. He was bawling and rolling among the garbage cans, knocking over everything. The bear tried to pull the cake from his teeth, only to get his claws stuck in it. The more he tried to get free, the more stuck he became.

The bawling brought other bears on a dead run. One, apparently the young bear’s mother, obviously thinking the cake was attacking her offspring, tried to slap the cake away from him. But the cake was stuck tight and each powerful swipe only sent the young bear tumbling into more garbage cans. Finally, with great ferociousness and anger, the mother bear started shredding the cake to bits, stopping only to growl in anger when it would stick to her.

Uncle Hickory’s comment that he knew how the mother bear felt brought glares from Aunt Hazel. When the cake was dismantled, the bears disappeared into the night, never again to trust humans.

And that was how, Aunt Hazel, single-handedly, cured bears of wandering into camp grounds to dine on food prepared by humans.

 

Daris Howard, award-winning, syndicated columnist, playwright, and author, can be contacted at [email protected]“; or visit his website