The first time I met Paul Bunyan I wet my pants.
In my defense, I was only four years old — a skinny, sickly kid who was scared of most everything. That summer our family had traveled to Brainerd, Minnesota to spend the day at Paul Bunyan Land, a small amusement park that had recently opened.
Unbeknown to my older sisters and me, my dad told the person at the ticket window the name of his three young daughters.
As we walked through the park’s entrance we caught a first glimpse of the gigantic Paul perched in a sort of rustic log cabin setting high above the tourists. Mesmerized by the enormous figure in the plaid shirt, I followed my sisters to stand at Paul’s huge feet where we gazed up in awe. Babe, Paul’s trusty blue ox stood off to the side.
I remember thinking Paul’s face had a cartoonish look, but overall he appeared kind and impassive.
Suddenly Paul came alive, swiveling his huge head and raising an arm in a jerky salute. His booming voice addressed my sisters and me: “Welcome to Susan, Barbara and Nancy from Sauk Centre!”
Paul Bunyan knew my name! He knew where I lived! I felt dizzy and I’m sure my heart missed a beat. It was all too much for a little girl who rarely left her small hometown.
Wet pants ensued.
Since that sunny, summer day, I’ve seen many giant statues of Paul Bunyan (along with his trusty blue ox, Babe) and I am proud to say have never wet my pants again.
However, I’ll never forget our first meeting. That’s why when I read this Saturday, June 28th is National Paul Bunyan Day, I knew I had to write a blog post about the big guy. Why does the legend of Paul Bunyan resonate today?
For the uninitiated, here’s a little history.
The tall tale of Paul Bunyan was probably the creation of lumberjacks telling stories around the campfire. They wove tales of a giant logger with superior strengths. Over many years, Paul Bunyan stories spread steadily by word-of-mouth. Paul first appeared in print around 1916 in an advertisement for the Minnesota-based Red River Logging Co.
Suddenly, Paul and Babe were part of Americana. Paul even got his own postage stamp along the way.
Enormous statues of Paul and Babe continue today to thrill (and scare) kids all across the country from Maine to Michigan and Minnesota to California. A Google search indicates the most visited Paul statue is located in Portland. Who knew?
At least half a dozen communities — several in Minnesota — celebrate “Paul Bunyan Days” during the summer months.
Although I now recall it as an fun family outing, the grainy, black and white pictures of our long-ago trip to Paul Bunyan Land tell a different story. I’m crying in all of the snapshots and no one in my family looks as though they are having a good time.
Yet, I choose to look back with fondness and weave my own Paul Bunyan story. Don’t we all make our own family folklore and remember what we want rather than what was?
This Saturday, remember Paul and Babe, and take a minute to recall a good childhood memory — even if you have to make one up.