Once upon a hot summer day, Martha Bear® and her advisor and companion grasshopper, Airborne, were chilling, or trying to, outside the Oklahoma City World Headquarters of greenlightWRITE.com and GraciousJaneMarie.com. They had taken a road trip from Amelia Island Florida with the express purpose of touring the Oklahoma facilities for the latest business techniques and to visit Jane Marie's sister, Nancy, and her family, since world headquarters are located in Nancy's house.
"That's a fine pedicure you have there, Martha Bear®," commented the hopper, hovering only inches from her toe claws as he dodged the water droplets splashing up from the dishpan that Martha had begun filling with water.
"Thank you," she replied, sitting down on a rock to enjoy the cooling temperature of the water that was now covering her tootsies. "What with my large hips and round tummy, it is a struggle to groom my feet, but I did it. After filing off the points of my nails, I always like to use clear polish so as not to be garish."
As he turned off the water, Airborne said, "Garish is one thing no one can ever call you."
"What about me?" called Teddy O™, Senior Ursine Editor (OKlahoma), and Martha's counterpart in the business.
"Well, if it isn't Teddy O™, Bear from the Planet Awful," offered Airborne, none too nicely. "I don't know if garish fits you Teddy O™, but I can think of a few other colorful words that might."
"Airborne," Martha Bear® cautioned. "Be sweet."
The grasshopper pulled back his paper-thin lips and flashed his tiny white choppers. "But of course, Martha. Teddy O™ is our host and as such, we must treat him with all the respect he deserves."
"Right," Martha Bear® readily agreed.
"I like that," Teddy O™ said. "OK, now to my reason for leaving the comfort of Nancy's mending basket where I was snoozing. I had a dream I was driving a car. Since I've never driven before and you have, Martha Bear®, I'd like you to give me lessons."
Taken aback because this was the last thing she expected Teddy O™ to ask her, Martha's immediate reaction was a silent, but very clear NOOOOOOO! She squirmed on the large rock and managed to slip off, her feet tipping the dishpan and dumping the water. Brushing herself off, the gentle bear stood up. But all the while her mind was churning as she tried to think of the words to tell her friend it wasn't a good idea for him to drive. Ever. Martha Bear® knew Teddy O's reputation for tom-foolery was well deserved. And of course Airborne's whispered words of warning did little to calm her apprehensions.
Oblivious to Martha's tortured thoughts, Teddy O™ said, "It's like this. I've decided I need to improve myself. For example, I'm trying not to burp so loudly. Now I could tell you my goal is never to burp out loud again, but that would be bad for business, particularly since the baby bib with my picture on it that says, "Born to Burp," is one of our biggest sellers. I mean I can't do anything that might discourage sales. Being the proprietor of MarthaBear.com's General Store & Online Emporium, Mr. Whickers, who's inside counting all the apron strings in stock to make sure there are two per apron, - anyway, he's always on me about improving my business sense. So, since I'm on this self-improvement kick, I think driving would show I'm much more than just a hunkie, good-lookin' bear among bears. I want everyone to know I am capable."
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Capable of what? considered Airborne, but he kept his concerns to himself.
"Think about what this could mean. I could drive from Oklahoma to Florida and back, and bring all my friends to meet you, Martha. It seems like the perfect plan."
Martha Bear® spoke from her heart, the organ by which she sees, since she was crafted with no eyes. "Teddy O™, first let me say you flatter me when you ask me to teach you to drive. And I understand you want to improve yourself. That is a very honorable thing for a bear to want to do, but if I am to be honest, I worry that ... that I might ... that you might ..."
Teddy O™ could see her stressing. He didn't like it, so he finished her sentence for her. "You worry I can't reach the pedals. Hey listen, it's not a problem. I've got it all figured out. I've already borrowed a couple of garden stakes Nancy's vines didn't really need. I'll use them like stilts." He recognized Martha's unhappy glance and quickly added. "Don't worry. I didn't leave the plants to flop over. I stapled them to the wooden fence."
Martha Bear® shook her large heard, Airborne shook his small head in unison, and Teddy O™ went on. "I'll just tie the stakes to my feet, and then I'll be able to reach the gas pedal and brake. See, I already know the names of car thingies. And I can sit on a milk crate and a couple of pillows to see over the wheel. It'll be perfect."
Martha Bear® saw see Teddy O's excitement. She couldn't bring herself to say no. Besides, Teddy O™ didn't give her a chance.
"I'll meet you bright and shiny at 10 a.m. in the driveway tomorrow morning. Nancy's car's in the shop getting the dents pounded out, so we'll use yours. I'm really glad you drove to Oklahoma this time instead of taking a hot air balloon or that produce truck like before. It's so much handier for everyone, don't you think? Bye for now; I'll see you then," he called out gaily. Stopping suddenly, Teddy O™ said, "Naturally we'll have to postpone our lesson if it's raining, but there's not much rain during Oklahoma summers so don't worry. And remember, Martha Bear®, responsibility is important. Don't ever forget that."
When Airborne opened his mandible to speak, Martha held up her paw to silence him. "Not now, hopper," and she walked away, her head hung low with concern.
The next morning, Martha Bear® was up at dawn after a restless night. As requested, she met Teddy O™ in the driveway, but she wasn't feeling her brightest or her shiniest - despite her large breakfast and fortifying mid- morning snack. Martha was surprised to see the little bear was already on his stilts and that he wasn't alone. All three of Nancy's critter staff of dogs, General Dogsbody, Haggis and Blondee, were listening to his instructions.
"Attention, all doggage! Martha Bear® is here." Teddy O™ spied Airborne. "Along with her bug buddy. This is the plan. Since I already have my learner's permit ..."
Martha was very glad Teddy O™ had taken it upon himself to do things the proper way, though she did wonder what computer glitch had diverted the Oklahoma Department of Motor Vehicles from its normal businesslike mode enough to allow the small brown bear to make his driving lessons official.
"Martha will drive me to the parking lot of the high school. Summer school is out, so nobody will be around and I can practice driving around the lot, parking in the spaces and parallel parking. After a few minutes, I'm sure I'll have the hang of things and then I can drive home. That's where you fleabags come in." Teddy O™ heard the low rumble of growls coming from his audience and thought a change of wording might be in order. "Excuse me, that's where you pups come in. I need all three of you to stand by the side of the road and pretend you're those orange cone street markers. I don't want to run over Nancy's grass when I practice pulling in."
The three dogs eyed one another nervously. Then, as a well trained unit, they turned tail and ran for parts unknown.
"Hey you guys," Teddy called after them. "It'll be fine. I just know I'll be as good at driving as I am at editing GraciousJaneMarie, the Newsletter." When the dogs didn't come back, the bear looked disappointed. Then he said, "Airborne, you'll do in a pinch. You can flutter over the curb and if I come too close while backing in, you can ..."
"I think I hear Nancy calling me. See ya!" The hopper flew over the roof and was gone from sight in a jiffy.
"I think it's best to go to the school parking lot and see if you even like driving," Martha Bear® advised. "You may not, you know."
Teddy O™ mumbled, "Well, if Wink E Bear can do it, so can I."
So that was it, Martha thought. He's trying to keep up with the Wink E. For some inexplicable reason, Teddy O™ was insecure when it came to Wink E, her bear friend back home on Amelia Island who was known for his good and admirable character. Feeling that Teddy O's spirits needed boosting, she instructed, "Come along. I'm ready when you are."
When Teddy walked to the car on his stilts and opened the door for her, Martha saw, as promised, the milk crate and pillows on the back seat. She helped her furry friend untangle his easily crossed stilts despite a flashback that reminded her of an unfortunate water skiing experience in her past, and focused instead on the task ahead. In mere moments, they were at the nearby school. The excited student got out of the car, balanced on his stilts and walked tall around the front of the car, making his way to the driver's side. Martha Bear® positioned the crate and pillows and lifting Teddy O™ in her arms, she deposited him in front of the steering wheel.
"I'd better adjust the mirrors, Martha." Teddy reached up and twisted the rear view mirror. He managed to get the side mirrors turned backwards before she could stop him.
"Hang on a moment, Teddy O™. Let's not rush things."
But it was too late. He'd turned on the radio full blast, twisted the key in the ignition, pushed one stilt on the gas and they were off! To Martha's horror, they were flying around the parking lot, the wind in their bear fur, with Teddy O™ hollering, "Wahoo!"
"Slow down! Slow down!" screamed Martha Bear®.
"What'd ya say? I can't hear you. The music's too loud."
"Well then, turn it down," she cried.
"What kind of a driving instructor are you, Martha?" he shouted. "You know I'm supposed to drive with two paws on the wheel at all times!"
Her usually full bear lips narrowed into a slit as Martha forced herself not to lose her temper. Reaching over, she pushed the off button on her radio. "I just hope the speakers didn't crack," she told him, "And stop this car! I'm dizzy and going to toss my cookies."
He slammed on the brake with both stilts. "Cookies? Did you bring cookies?"
Martha Bear® shook her head in nauseated frustration. "No, no cookies, Teddy O™."
"Now look what you've done. You've made me hungry. I've had enough driving lesson for one day."
"Me, too," agreed the big white bear.
"Oh wait! You forgot to have me practice backing up. It'll just take a sec."
Before she could control him, Teddy O™ had thrown the car into reverse and hit the gas. Martha Bear® heard the scraping sound of metal on brick and since her rear view mirrors were backwards, she had to crook her whole body around to see what he'd hit.
"Rats!" he yelled. "Oh well, freak not, lest ye be freaked."
"Huh?" wondered Martha, now worn to a frazzle.
"You know, Jane Marie always says that, 'Freak not, lest ye be freaked,' which means this is no big deal. Nancy has a house account at the local garage. She gets a quantity discount because her girls bang up their car so much. Heck, we'll look at the scrape when we get home. I may be able to fix it myself with a little spray paint. I think there's a can of red in the garage." He could see that Martha Bear was sad. "Look here, old gal. No one got hurt, the wall is totally undamaged and this car is just a piece of metal."
Martha realized that Teddy O™, for all his faults, was right about this. "I'm sorry for being distressed. What's important is that we're all in one piece. Still, I am a bit weary, and we'll call the school board to let know what happened when we get home, so let's ..."
Teddy mashed the gas pedal. "I'm right on it, Martha. I'll have us home in a jiffy."
To Martha Bear's surprise, Teddy O™ pulled into traffic, but not without coming to a complete stop and looking both ways. She watched the speedometer and noted he was not exceeding the speed limit. He used his turn signals when necessary and even pulled to the side of the road when an emergency vehicle needed to pass. While they waited, Martha took the opportunity to commend the little guy. "Teddy O™, despite the mishap with the brick wall, I want you to know I recognize the fact you've been studying your driving instruction booklet. It certainly shows."
"Yeah, I have. At night, when everybody is asleep, well, everybody except those Whickers mice - man, they do love to scurry around looking for crumbs or lint for one of their multitudes of nests or whatever it is they do. Anyway, except for the mice guys, I'm the only one awake. There's no distraction of humans or doggage or phones or music or printers. Well, you know what I mean. I've been taking my driving manual into the powder room with me. It's all nice and private and quiet."
"Good bear. A little more practice, perhaps with Nancy," she hinted not too subtly, "And who knows, before long, maybe you'll be able to take your written test."
"Hey," he said abruptly. "What's taking that person in front of us so long to move?"
Martha Bear® craned her neck for a better look. "I can't see anyone."
"They must be even smaller than I am," Teddy O™, observed. "They're shorter than the headrest. They need to be using a box or something like I do." With that, he honked the horn. He'd expected some sort of acknowledgement, but there was no response. He laid on the horn this time. Still nothing.
"Oh my. Oh my, my," Martha told him. "Critters and people are starting to come out of their houses and point and laugh."
A small crowd began walking in their direction. One last time, Teddy honked the horn. Nothing. "This is nuts," he concluded. "I've had enough." He turned his head to look behind, saw there were no cars and carefully backed away from the car in front of him. Passing on the left, he threw a quick glance into the driver's window of the blue mid-size car and his mouth fell open. About that same instant, Martha Bear®, too, realized the facts. There was no one in the blue car because it was parked at the curb along with three other cars in front of it.
Teddy O's tan fur turned orange. Martha Bear® realized this was the very first time she'd ever seen him blush. Teddy peeked at Martha from the corner of his eye and could tell she was trying with all her might not to laugh. Suddenly, she burst forth in tiny bear giggles, which quickly escalated into big bear guffaws. "Don't feel bad, Teddy. I'm as silly as you. I didn't realize it was a parked car, either!"
With that said and assured that she didn't think him an imbecile, Teddy O™ let himself go and joined in her hilarity. He wiped his furry arm across his eyes to dry his tears of laughter "That was pretty funny, huh?"
"Yes, it was."
Still, he had to add something, because bears have their pride, after all. "You won't say anything about this incident to anyone, will you? You can tell them about the scratched fender, but not the parked car thing. I have a reputation, you know."
"Yes, Teddy O™. We all know your reputation. It will be our secret."
"Good. I knew I could count on you." A couple of minutes later, they pulled into Nancy's driveway. "Hey look Martha, I didn't need the doggage after all. I didn't even run over a single blade of Nancy's grass."
"Well done!" Martha helped Teddy O™ out of the car and watched him remove his stilts. They went around the back to survey the damage to the car.
Teddy O™ rubbed his paw across the spot where brick had met metal. "It's not bad. I'll just get some sand paper and that red paint. I'll have it nice as new in a jiffy."
To Martha Bear's complete amazement, he was right. In no time, he'd repaired the car and unless someone knew there had been a minor mishap, the scratch would have gone undetected.
Stepping back to admire his handiwork, Teddy asked, "Got anymore things you need fixed?" When she thanked him, but said no, he replied, " You know, I'm pretty good at this auto body repair stuff. I might consider giving Nancy's mechanic a run for his money."
Martha Bear® just let Teddy O™ talk. She knew auto body repair would not appeal to him for long because he was a bear who needed to do new things, conquer new challenges. Hence the driving.
What he'd said next, proved her right. "Ya know, driving isn't all it's cracked up to be. What with me having to get laced up in stilts and then climb into the car and sit on pillows and having to pay attention where I'm going, and if I make any kind of mistake, I smash the car up or worse. Zowie! It's almost a bother. Now that I know how to do it, I'm not so thrilled about actually doing it. I think I prefer flying or traveling by train or bus. That way I can just sit back and leave the piloting to other people." He thought in silence for a moment. "I'm wondering what I can do now that's I'm an accomplished driver."
"Without a license," Airborne, added, appearing when he heard bear voices.
"Let's see," Teddy O™ pondered. "Hey, while I was in Nancy's garage, I noticed her wire is not properly strung on the spool. Maybe I'll go into the wire straightening business. Then again, the gardening shears look pretty dull. Perhaps I can make some mad money sharpening tools. Ooh, maybe I can sort screws and then … "
Martha Bear® left Teddy O™ in the garage to work on his next escapade. As the large white bear went inside the house in search of a much needed comfort snack and some Beary Juice, she saw Nancy was working on the website.
"How did the lesson go?" asked the publisher.
"Considering the potential for disaster, it went very well overall."
Nancy didn't need to hear the particulars as long as her bears had come home safe and sound.
"Can I get you anything, Nancy?"
"No thanks. We'll be having lunch in an hour."
"Mmm. Sounds good." Martha Bear® thought about how Teddy O™ had tried something new and succeeded and that was, of course, a better thing. She also thought it a most wonderful reason to drink Beary Juice and eat Nancy's Snickerdoodle Cookies. Munching, she went back to the garage to find Teddy O™ tangled inside a knot of wire – just as she'd expected. Martha took a delicate sip of juice before seeking out the wire cutters to begin freeing her impetuous friend.
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