A little bear and a light.

So I’m sitting at work crying. The reason is, this morning I found out that a fountain in my hometown of Geneseo, NY was hit by a large truck and badly damaged. This fountain is the most recognizable and beloved symbol of Geneseo. It is a large granite pool that sits in the middle of Main Street. At its center is a column topped by a small bronze bear that holds a welcoming light in its paw. It has held this light high in good times and bad. It celebrates all the holidays with us. It has played a large role in countless pranks over the years. It has provided water for livestock. It is an anchor for students coming to Geneseo for college, and for those of us who have travelled too far away from home.

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Photo by Christopher Haley

As a young child I remember marching past the fountain in the horrible Halloween costumes my mom made or bought for me. She was not crafty. I remember standing by the fountain Christmas caroling, and watching Buzzo’s Marching Band on Memorial day. I played my french horn in the elementary and high school marching bands, and my nephews played trumpet and trombone years later in those same bands marching past that same fountain. As a senior in high school, I rode past it in a World War 2 jeep, on my way to recite the Gettysburg Address by the War Memorial in the town park. Vintage war planes flew overhead in tribute to the fallen.

My Mom watched every parade, every year and clapped so embarrassingly loud, cheering for the firemen all in step, in their crisp uniforms. Cheering for the firetrucks as they drove past the bear and the fountain. She applauded veterans, boyscouts, cubscouts, tiger scouts, brownies and girl scouts, convertable cars with teenage beauty queens and octogenarian war heroes. All under the watchful eye of the bear.

poppy parade
Photo by Gretchen Crane

We all had to drive around the fountain on our road tests, sweating out the challenging left turn off Center Street. My grandmother, when she first moved back to New York took her driving test in Geneseo. After knocking down garbage cans on Center Street, and bouncing off the fountain in her classic Cadillac, she was denied a license. She never could figure out what all the fuss was about.

As teenagers, weekend excitement included driving up and down Main St, looking for other teenagers to look at. We’d drive from the stop light on the south end of Main to the center of town, around the fountain, back to the light… over and over. We followed the cars of the boys that we had crushes on. I don’t think they ever knew we were there.

My Dad was chief of police in Geneseo for many years. The fountain was large in his professional life. I remember him protecting it on Halloween, after the kiddie parade, when “vandalween” began and all the “bad” kids were out there with eggs and shaving cream. He had countless stories of hauling college students out of the fountain, of trying to prevent them from putting soap in it to make mountains of bubbles that would overflow on to Main Street. He understood how impossible it was for them to resist playing in it. His job required him to keep them out. I am sure that he ended up in it a time or two when he was their age, but he never admitted that. The bear was stolen more than once, but usually it was returned in a few days. Nobody liked it when the bear was missing, but again, folks understood how irresistible it could be. A famous photo that made it to the Tonight Show was taken by the fountain. A donut shop had opened, fortuitously, next to the sign for the police-only parking spot. Jay Leno thought that this was hilarious. I visited my cop Dad there on cold days, putting my hands over his ears to thaw them, because a knit hat was out of uniform and not to be tolerated.

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Photo by Gretchen Crane

So, I’ve been crying off and on all day, thinking about the fountain, and home, history and community. I think of all the people around the world who are suffering such huge losses as a result of war and terrorism. If damage to the fountain has made me this sad, how do they survive the bombing and defacing of ancient art work, the looting of museums, the absolute destruction of whole neighborhoods, whole cities? How do they live with the death, disappearance, homelessness and refugee status faced by the people they know and hold dear. What if my whole hometown had been destroyed? What if I had to flee my home, family, neighbors, community because of bombs raining down from the sky, in cars, or strapped to bodies?

I am so grateful to have grown up in a beautiful, peaceful, friendly small town. Main Street is vibrant and creative, mixing local color and depth with the energy and abandon of college life. I moved away more than twenty years ago, and still see many people I know and love every time I visit. These kind, community-minded people are a treasure. It isn’t always easy to live in a small town, but they do it with grace and style, and a very good sense of humor.

There’s a bench out front of Aunt Cookies Sub Shop. It is a perfect place to watch life happen in Geneseo. It is right next to the fountain, where the cars all have to slow down. You can look up Center street toward the Riviera Theater. For so long the Riviera inspired sadness, as it slowly decayed over the years. But now it is a symbol of rebirth and hope. The Riviera was in terrible shape, and people whispered that it couldn’t be saved. Luckily they were wrong. If the Riviera can rise from the ashes, so can the bear and the fountain. I know my home town is up to the challenge. I pray for the bear and the fountain, and all the people around the world who suffer from loss of community, family, identity. May they all find their way home, to a warm light held high, just as the citizens of Geneseo are lit by the light in the paw of a small bronze bear that watches over Main Street.

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Photo by Christopher Haley
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Photo by Curt Grant

 

40 thoughts on “A little bear and a light.

  1. Similar feelings today… Hard to be so far away and see these pictures. Doug was also Chief of Police in Geneseo and I know he’s looking down with both sadness and certainty that it will be repaired. Thank you for your words.

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    1. Our true treasure is the connections we have with each other. The outpouring over the fountain is like a giant hug over the distance. As usual, I’m feeling super grateful for the people I’ve had the privilege to know!

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  2. Jane as soon as I began to read this beautiful, story I knew it was written by you. Thank you so very much for so many wonderful memories. This story is as beautiful as you and your mother. She would be so proud of you. I love you Jane.

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  3. Relax, it’s a just piece of metal and stone. All the important pieces are intact, the trucking company has insurance, and everyone is on board with putting it all back together.

    What’s that quote? “The things you own end up owning you”

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  4. Beautifully put and so, so true.
    I was one of the college kids your father failed to keep out of the fountain.
    So many of my best memories center on Geneseo, the fountain, the Bear and all the uptown spots and shops.
    Sad as we are Palmyra is vastly worse. Thank you for putting it in perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Beautifully said and it is the common ground of all who have lived there. It is what you expect to see upon coming “home “.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow i some of my first memories are of geneseo and that foutain! It was there when the streets were dirt and horses were the mode of transport. My family had the Brown’s horse farm just out past the golf coarse.. The farm is now gone , i moved away in 2013 but still return to geneseo now and then and the welcome of seeing the foutain brings a feeling of home. I truely hope they restore it.

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  7. Jane, thank you for taking the time to do clearly describe our little spot on this planet. I experienced on the ground here the near immediate transition from horror at the fear of loosing the bear, to deep resolve to get to work with the reconstruction. In people and things we have said goodby to many of our community icons. Some, sadly, forever and with them a bit that can’t be reproduced. But I have no doubt the fountain will be back in place as a perch for that little welcoming bear, hopefully in time for your next visit.

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    1. So much that we have no choice but let go of. I’m glad there is so much hope for the bear. The silver lining in it all is the way people have come together to share their sadness and set the resolve needed to restore the bear. If there’s anything I can do, please let me know!

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  8. Thank you for the lovely tribute to the fountain, the bear, and to Geneseo itself. We were indeed lucky to grow up there, and the fountain MUST be repaired. We can’t lose it.

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  9. Myself and family has been visiting Geneseo and our wonderful friends of 36+ yrs at least once a year. I fell in love with this “little guy (aka bear)” the first time I laid eyes on him. My very ‘non-mushy’ husband even loves him! Our 3 children have adored him almost since their own births. They each have memories of tossing pennies in for good luck. Of begging daddy to hold thier tiny hands so they could walk around the rim (knowing full well they’d never dare to touch thier little toes to the actual water). Each very excited of thier first memories of seeing him light up the night… And of course the countless pictures, some serious but most goofy, while posing in front of or near “Mr. Little Bear” as our youngest referred to him as each time she was told we were going back to visit Aunt Jan and Uncle Bill ( if you’ve lived in Geneseo long enough, you know these two amazing, dear beautiful friends of ours!). I’ve no doubts in my mind that the wonderful people of Geneseo and people’s far and wide will ban together to do whatever it takes to get ” Mr. Little Bear” sitting high and proud once more, always keeping a light on for those close by and those wishing that could be! My thoughts and wishes are with the people of Geneseo… You CAN do this!!!
    With Love from,
    The Lyddy Family of Massachusetts 🙂

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  10. That fountain with the beloved bear bringas back hundreds of memories for so many of us. Growing up in Geneseo was the BEST! As a senior in high school, we had our class picture taken on that fountain and it was on the inside cover of our yearbook! Ask your brother Bill about it, as we grew up together and probably have many of the same memories of all the fun times on Main Street. From Pontillo’s Pizza to Ulmer’s Drug store, we all remember the view of the famous fountain with the bear which always continued to draw us all back home! Thank you Jane, for expressing what we all feel about Geneseo!

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  11. Jane,that was such a well written and wonderful tribute to our much loved fountain and dear sweet bear!! But I now feel compelled to share some of my memories. They would include: Checking
    for the hand painted sign that would hang in the winter months, signifying ‘ice skating today” to decide if we should make the hike to Highland park with our ice skates or not. Being auctioned off at the fountain as a fund raiser to what became my first job at the age of 14 to Jack Carr’s Restaurant. Meeting at the fountain for various events. Our whole senior class climbing in and around the fountain for our senior picture, and then 40 years later some of us doing it again!!!!! Ooh the memories!! Those were the days!! I’m sure the fountain will be repaired and our beloved bear and lantern will be restored and all will be right with Geneseo again. Then in another 50 or however many years there will be more fountain memories for all of those who are fortunate enough to live in this wonderful town we call our own!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wonderful Donna! I love to hear people’s reminiscences! Were you auctioned off? How did that work? I agree, the future looks bright for the bear. Maybe we just all needed a reminder of how lucky we are!

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  12. Jane – I don’t believe there have been better words written or uttered regarding the (yet again) temporary loss of The Bear. They triggered deeper memories for me and a deeper appreciation of growing up in Geneseo. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Robin! I was surprised at how strongly I felt about the poor bear’s crash, but have felt so blessed by the way so many people have drawn together. What a great hometown we have!

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  13. Jane,
    You have done a beautiful job of sharing your feelings and memories of growing up in Geneseo. I share many of those memories; but I grew up in Geneseo in a different way. On January 3, 1973, I began my career in Geneseo as a first year teacher at the “old high school”. From that very first day I learned so much from the 7th graders at GHS.
    Reflecting back to those days I think it is fair to say that I too “grew up” in Geneseo.
    The fountain and the bear were symbols of the local history I had to learn in order to “teach” it to the 7th graders! I always loved that westward facing bear.
    Life has taken me away from Geneseo, but it holds a special place in my heart. The pictures of the fountain always make me think of the hundreds of young people with whom I worked and learned. I am so proud of the wonderful caring adults they, like you, have become. You should all know that Mrs. Duff and I are indeed proud of you. Geneseo was a great place to live and work. I will always hold it dear.
    Gary DeBolt

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  14. Hi Jane,
    I was going to sit down and take as much time as needed to compose an essay about the Bear and our town. 40 years away and the thoughts keep rushing back, so many that trying to find a start, middle and end is futile. Any point at which you select just gets you going. All roads lead back to the Bear and the middle of Main Street. Our dad ran the Birds Eye plant in Avon and trucked us 9 kids up to Geneseo in 1970. 3 went to Geneseo State, 3 went to Geneseo Central and 3 to Holcomb…how is that tor balance. The common thread through our shared 20+ years in town was the Bear. No matter how innocent in your perspective or revolutionary in your causes, we were all one in the eyes of the Bear. Pilgrims passing through town, some staying longer than others, but all transitory compared to Emmeline.
    The Bear is the great equalizer…all from Geneseo share her fame and her pride. No one is more important than the other, the Bear sits above all others, not in superiority, just keeping that watchful eye. Reminding us whether we are 4, 40 or 84 that we are children of Geneseo…a truly magical place where doors are left unlocked, neighbors really care for each other, kids play with one another and sled down the hill in never ending winter.
    You can never get away and who would want to lose touch with this wonderland. And there is the Bear, reminding you that no matter how far you go or whichever path you choose to go down, once you come back to that place at Main and Center…you are always welcome home.

    Thanks for putting all those lovely and true feelings into the lovely woven words you wrote.

    Don Schoder

    Liked by 1 person

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