So, I’ve been thinking a lot about a Facebook post I wrote about the Berenstain Bears a few weeks ago. It’s a show that both Gingers will watch together and they love the books. As I’ve reacquainted myself with Bear Country, I found I have A LOT of questions. Like, if there was ever something from my childhood that I needed a VH1-esque “Where Are they Now?” show or a People Magazine cover story, this is it. This might mean I need to get out more and/or accept children’s literature and entertainment more at face value…. Something to think about…
Without further ado, here is how I’d like to imagine an interview with Mama Bear might go.
(I should probably preface this with I love The Berenstain Bears, I adored reading the books as a child and am enjoying sharing them with the Gingers. I’m not just saying this bc I don’t want to get served by the Berenstain estate with a lawsuit that has a cute little rhyming poem at the beginning that nicely ties up the problem I’m facing…)
Mother of Gingers (MoG): Mrs. Bear…hmm, I’m not sure what I should call you. It seems like calling you Mama is wildly inappropriate, maybe that should be my first question? How do you like to be addressed?
Mama Bear (MB): I’m so glad you asked- I’ve been dying clear this up for ages, since the first time I came home to meet my husband’s family. See, my actual name is Martha, and that is what I went by when we were dating. His grandmother was there the day I went to meet everyone and misheard my name as Mama. The woman was a literal effing grizzly, and she was of the old school…
MoG: By “of the old school” you mean…
MB: She still hibernated, and had just come out of hibernation that day. She was crabby. Once again- LITERAL grizzly bear. Crabby in this case means, “will rip your face off if you attempt to correct her.” The woman was terrifying. There were rumors she had finished off not one but two National Geographic writers. So if she wanted to call me Mama, I was going to be Mama. Neither of my in-laws to be were about to argue with her, nor was Papa, who at the time was called Quincy. Here we are forty-plus years later. The lesson here is sometimes you should push back against family, otherwise you can find yourself going by the wrong name for decades… Just maybe make sure you have a tranquilizer dart handy first.
MoG: Thank you so much for clearing that up! I’d always wondered what the odds were that your actual names were Mama and Papa. So Mr. Bear’s actual name was Quincy?
MB: Oh, yes, but I felt like if I was going to have to go by my new name then I was going to call Quincy “Papa” to hopefully make a point about how ridiculously out of hand the whole thing had gotten. I believe that’s called being passive-aggressive? Then we got the book deals, and later the television shows, and at that point we were best known as Mama and Papa Bear, and here we are…
MoG: I should have said this at the outset, but I was so sorry to hear about Mr. Bear, you have my deepest sympathies.
MB: Oh, thank you so much dear. We miss him terribly, he was a wonderful man, such a character. However, we always felt that we were so very lucky to have him for as many years as we did. The dear man was impossibly accident prone and had absolutely no common sense. It is a little known fact that we briefly considered suing the show Home Improvement for possible infringement. I mean, the father on that show was an absolute ringer for Papa. Woodworking shop/ Tool show… there’s not that much difference there, really. We didn’t peruse it because once again, the prevailing thought was it would be bad for our brand.
That being said- I know a lot as been written about us reflecting stereotypical bear parents in the wild, and frankly I find that offensive. Ours was a great love story and we complimented each other, he brought a bit of unpredictability and fun to my life and I brought structure and security to his. It’s not a story that could be summed up by a little rhyme or a children’s book devoted to solving a single problem!
MoG: Mrs. Bear, you’ve mentioned your brand a few times, would you want to add some more detail to that topic?
MB: Oh, yes I would. Early on, there was a set idea of how we needed to present ourselves to be successful. I was a mother with two young cubs and I wanted to ensure our family’s financial security. So, I made everyone toe the line- opportunities like that didn’t come around all the time. Come to think of it, I could probably teach Kris Jenner a thing or two if we’re being honest.
Speaking of being honest- do you seriously think any woman in her right mind would wear the same blue polka dotted muumuu and MOP HAT with her only alternative being an odd little flowered hat for going out for years on end? Even if she is a bear, that’s still concerning.
MoG: I do have to admit I have wondered about that from time to time…
MB: I’d be worried if you didn’t. Quincy and I were inexperienced when we wrote our first contract and somehow signed away wardrobe rights…Next thing you know, polka dotted muumuus, overalls, pink jumpers, and the same red shirt as far as the eye can see. I will never wear polka dots again. I understood the need for staying true to our brand in the early days, but we all felt like it was getting ridiculous in the later years when all of the other bears in the books and on the shows were wearing contemporary fashion. Although, it DID help hide the fact we had to switch the cubs out every now and again..
MoG: Excuse me, switch the cubs out?!?!
MB: Oh dear, I wasn’t supposed to say that. But I feel like it should be obvious. The books and shows went on for years, but Brother and Sister never aged? How exactly would we have managed that?
MoG: Hmm… Now that you mention it, I can’t believe I didn’t think of it sooner
MB: I can believe it, dear
(Interviewer note: Who knew there was such a biting wit under that sweet demeanor and mop hat for all those years?)
MoG: Moving on, what are the actual Brother and Sister up to now? In light of the information you gave me about your and Mr Bear’s names; are those their real names?
MB: Oh heavens, no! Once again, that was part of the branding. For a show and book series that was meant to show the normal day-to-day life of a an average bear family, there certainly was a lot of managing going on behind the scenes. I guess we really did pave the way for the Kardashians…
Back to your question: Brother’s real name was Steve, and Sister is Elisabeth. The whole thing came about because Steve couldn’t say Elisabeth’s name and called her Sissy. Then the good idea fairy visited someone and it was decided it would be cute if they were Brother and Sister. Once again, if I’d known how long it would go on, I would not have gone along with that plan. It did make it easier when we brought in replacement cubs and my cubs were able to go do their own thing.
MoG: And what are Steve and Elisabeth up to now?
MB: I don’t want to say too much, as they’ve worked very hard as adults to have their lives be private and separate from their early years. Steve lives in California and is a vegan (it’s very important to him I mention that, all the time) lawyer working in the industry. His wife is a (vegan as well) yoga instructor who works with Goop. They have three children Grandson, Grandson, and Granddaughter.
MB: I’m joking again, dear. Their names are Mulholland, Rodeo, and Sunset
MB: I know, I think Grandson, Grandson, and Granddaughter may have been better.
As for Elisabeth. She lives in New York and heads her own design firm “No Bows About It.” I’m sure even you could guess where the whole no bows thing comes from. She’s doing quite well and travels frequently.
MoG: I realize I’ve taken up a lot of your time, If I could ask one last question- What are you up to these days? You’ve given us such insight to your past and I know we would all love to know about your life today.
MB: I’m very fortunate that our years in the books and on the screen have provided me with lots of opportunities and freedom in my golden years. I did truly love to quilt and insisted on that story line to give me a chance to break out of the rut I’d gotten into. Now I have an Etsy shop that sells my quilts and I’ve branched out into some clothing lines. I have high hopes for a collaboration deal sometime next year. I’m wearing one of my new pieces now.
(Mrs. Bear is wearing a very stylish flowing dress in blues and greens complimented by thick bangle bracelets and gold hoop earrings. There is not a frill, polka dot, or mop hat in sight. Her look is miles from what I am used to seeing her in.)
I split my time between a condo in Florida, an apartment in New York and the mother in-law suite at Steve’s. Fortunately, there is a kitchen in the the suite, because I truly believe that bears are not meant to be vegan. I’ve also gotten into cruising. I attempted it once years ago with Quincy but had to spend so much time keeping him from falling over the side and other accidents that it wasn’t exactly a relaxing vacation! I’m living every day to the fullest and the one upside to the whole Martha/ Mama thing is that I’m not immediately recognized. Of course being a bear always means I get some curious looks, but what can you do?
MoG: Thank you so much for you time. It has been an honor and a delight to hear your story. I wish you all the best in your retirement!
Mrs. Bear chatted with me a bit more, stood to leave, and gave me (what else?) a bear hug.