Saturday, July 25, 2015

Singleton tells of wrestling a bear for five minutes during a Sweet Water carnival

George Buster Singleton
(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “High school reunion brings back memories” was originally published in the July 13, 2000 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)

This past May 17, my high school graduating class decided to get together for a time of fun and to relive some of the times when we were in high school.

Each member had his chance to relay to the others present some of the fond memories of those times at Sweet Water High School.

When my time came to relay some of the memories of yesterday’s school days, it seemed that the rest of the class wouldn’t let me sit down. It became a question and answer session for those who wanted to hear again about memories of past events.

As I stood before those present, I thought about how times have changed since we were in high school together. I see many things happen today that during those years would have been unheard of.

If one passes our schools of today, we see many automobiles sitting in the parking lots. Many of the students of the higher classes have their own automobiles to drive wherever they please.

I reminded the class that if we came to school and there was an automobile sitting out in front of the school, it meant one or two things. Either the county superintendent of education had driven down from Linden, the county seat, or someone from a ways off had gotten lost and had stopped to ask directions.

Today, we don’t have the ample parking space for all the fancy and beautiful automobiles that our students drive to school.

As we sat there and relived the memories of those days, I was asked to tell about our senior year football banquet. All the players were told by Coach Foster that if we did not bring a date to the banquet, we could not come ourselves. Since very few of our families owned automobiles, two of my teammates and myself hired an old man we knew to carry the three of us and our dates to the football banquet.

Seven people were crowded in the old 1937 Chevrolet for the trip to the banquet. The only one in the group who enjoyed the trip to the banquet and the return home was the old man who drove the old car. He seemed to have had a wonderful time, he did all the talking. No one else was able to get a word in edgewise.

When the time came to order our class rings, I wore the largest size in the class, therefore, my ring was the most expensive. I had worked the summer before as a deck hand on a tug boat that pushed barges up and down the Tombigbee River.

I had saved my earnings to put me through my senior year in high school. I nearly fainted when I was informed that my class ring was going to cost me a whole $12.

It was during our senior year when a small carnival came to the small town of Sweet Water. Coach Foster gave strict orders to the football players that no one was to go to the carnival. The rival game of the year was just a few days away and no player had better be caught at the carnival on either of the two nights. Hard times were ahead if this happened.

The small carnival was to be in town on Friday and Saturday nights. Our first game was to be with our great rival, Linden High School. This game was just a week away and the last thing anyone wanted was to get Coach Foster mad and upset.

Three other players and I just couldn’t see how we would be caught if we waited until Saturday night to attend the carnival. Since no members of the team would be there to rat on us, we felt very safe as we strolled around the carnival grounds, seeing everything that was free. None of the four of us had any money but things were about to change.

Over in the corner of the carnival was a small arena. Here a crowd gathered as a man challenged anyone from the crowd to come forth and wrestle a very large brown bear that sat silently beside him, secured by a leash around its neck.

“Anyone who can stay in the ring with this 540-pound bear for a period of five minutes will be paid the total sum of $5 cash money,” the man yelled. No one seemed to want $5; there were no takers from the crowd.

Unaware of what was taking place, my loyal and good friends had decided that I would get in the ring with the large bear. With the money I won, the could enjoy the rides of the carnival and see all the side shows as long as my winnings lasted.

When the bear handler yelled out that there was a challenger in the crowd, I looked to see who it was. My friends were pointing at me.

I couldn’t run because I was surrounded. I couldn’t understand how this had happened. Everyone was clapping and cheering. I decided quickly that if I survived this ordeal, I was going to murder my friends in cold blood for getting me into this mess.

The large crowd had moved back and formed a large circle. I found myself standing inside the circle as the bear handler removed the leash from the large bear’s collar. I knew that my time had come; no more would I play on the fields of competition against our school rivals. If I was lucky, I might be able to watch from the sidelines in my wheelchair.

I felt the bone crushing pressure as the large animal caught me in a bear hug and lifted me from the ground. I managed to get my leg behind the bear’s leg; we both fell to the ground. I landed on top, but not for long. The large bear flipped me clear, and as I landed on my back, the bear was on top of me.

The handler made the large bear get up off of me, but as I stood up, I was grabbed again, the air crushed from my lungs.

The five minutes, which seemed like hours, were finally over. I staggered to my feet; the bear handler came over and congratulated me while presenting my friends with my winnings. I was so tired and hurting that at that time, I didn’t care what happened to the money. All I needed was a place to lie down and hurt; I felt as if I had been run over by a train. Little did I know that the worst was yet to come.

As we were about to leave the carnival (after all my winnings had been spent by my friends) there standing before us was Coach Foster.

I found myself wishing that I was facing the large bear again, instead of the man standing there with his hands on his hips. Something told me that life would never be the same for the four of us; it wasn’t.

After 200 extra pushups and 150 extra laps around the football field, we finally got back to our normal practice. We had to pay Coach Foster 20 extra pushups and 10 laps around the playing field each practice day until the above penalty was paid. He counted each and every one. He saw to it that all were done.

Many times, he would ask the four of us when were going to another bear-wrestling carnival. The answer was always “never, never, never; not as long as we live.”

 (Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from 1964 to 1987. He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)

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