Long, long ago, in a deep pine forest in southern Georgia, three black bears lived in a hollow tree. One day Papa Bear was out wandering and came upon a crevice in the rocks. He peered inside and saw a cave so spacious and comfortable, he moved his wife and son in, and there they set up house.
This was much nicer for Papa Bear, who was more than 6 feet tall and weighed more than 500 pounds. Mama Bear was smaller — just a little more than 300 pounds, but she loved having a home of her own with room to dance. Baby Bear was 1 year old and had weighed just 8 ounces when he was born. But he was growing fast. During his first year he had stayed by Mama’s side, but when spring came and he went out hunting for the first time, he immediately began to grow. He, too, loved the new home.
Most of the time, bears eat only berries, fruits, acorns, grass and insects, but whenever Papa Bear came upon campers, he was attracted by the smell of their wonderful food. So when they were gone, he tore into their garbage. He and Baby Bear loved to raid gardens, cornfields, dog bowls, beehives and big garbage cans, but the bears did not much like people.
Most of all, the Bear family wanted to be left alone and to live in peace. Everything might have gone on just fine if it hadn’t been for the day a little girl who lived nearby stopped by their cave.
The little girl’s name was Goldilocks because her hair was golden — like the stalks of corn that Papa Bear loved, and her curiosity was as big as the state of Georgia. Goldilocks dreamed of traveling the world. She was forever asking her mother and father, “What’s over there, beyond that hill?” “Where is the nearest big city?” “When can I go see other towns and cities?”
“When you’re grown up,” her parents always answered.
But one wintry day, Goldilocks woke up tired of asking questions. This was the day, she decided. She was ready to explore. She dressed in her warm woolen coat and her long, pretty scarf, and she walked into the woods behind her house. The forest was thick with different trees: oak, cedar, walnut, cypress and pine, and that day the branches were dusted with snow. The woods were so quiet that Goldilocks could hear only her footsteps and her breath.
She couldn’t have been happier, walking as free as she had ever been. But as the day grew late, Goldilocks began to shiver with cold, and when she came upon a crevice, she thought she might like to find shelter.
She knocked on the door — Papa Bear had placed a doorknocker outside their house. But when no one answered, she pushed open the door — it had no lock — and inside she discovered the most amazing house she had ever seen. It was decorated beautifully, with everything nature had to offer.
“Hello!” she called. “Anyone home? I’m terribly cold!”
But nobody answered. The bears, you see, had gone out for a picnic.
“Oh, it’s so nice and warm,” Goldilocks sighed, and then she sniffed the air.
“Something smells so delicious,” she said, and she looked at the big breakfast table hewn of an oak tree trunk. There sat three bowls.
She sat down at the table and looked into the biggest bowl.
“It’s grits!” she cried, delighted. Goldilocks loved grits. And these were the best grits she had ever tasted, but they were a wee bit too cheesy.
“I’ll try this bowl,” she said aloud, and she moved to the medium-sized bowl. “Yum, but a little bit too buttery.”
So she moved to the littlest bowl, and when she took one bite, she smiled.
“Just right!” she said, and she finished off Baby Bear’s grits.
But when she was finished, she yawned. She was feeling kind of tired, so she walked upstairs, and there she found three beds that looked so inviting with their beautiful comforters and fluffy pillows.
She climbed into the first bed — Papa Bear’s bed. “This is too soft,” she said.
So she slipped into Mama Bear’s bed. “This is too hard!” she complained.
And so she lay down in Baby Bear’s bed. “Ahh, just right,” she said, and a moment later she was fast asleep.
That’s when the Bear family returned home. “That picnic was good,” Papa Bear said to Mama Bear. He trundled over to the kitchen table. “But I sure want to finish my grits. You know how much I love my …”
But when he looked down, he saw that his bowl was half-empty. “Someone’s been eating my grits!” he roared.
Alarmed, Mama Bear ran to the table, and then she saw a spoon in her bowl. “Someone’s been eating my grits, too,” she said.
Baby Bear joined them and looked into his bowl. “Someone’s been eating my grits and they’re gone!” he cried. Tears fell from his eyes. He loved his Mama’s grits more than anything in the whole world.
“Who would steal my grits?” Baby Bear asked, but Papa Bear was already looking around — pulling back curtains, searching under chairs. He smelled something that caught his attention.
“Upstairs,” he said, and all three ran upstairs. Papa Bear looked at his bed. “My comforter’s been moved!” he cried. “Someone’s been sleeping in my bed!”
Mama Bear looked over at her bed. “Mine, too!” she said.
Baby Bear walked to his bed and saw a little girl with golden curls sleeping on his favorite pillow. “Someone’s been sleeping in my bed, too!” he cried. “And there she is!”
His voice woke Goldilocks. She looked up and saw those big brown bear eyes staring at her, and she screamed and leaped out of bed.
She raced down the stairs and out the door and back into the forest before Papa Bear or Mama Bear or Baby Bear could move.
“At least she’s gone,” Papa Bear sighed. “Let’s make some more grits!” And Mama Bear smiled and moved to the stove.
And, meanwhile, Goldilocks ran on and on …
(In 1831, Eleanor Mure wrote “The Three Bears” in a private publication for her nephew; it was a story she knew well from oral tradition. Robert Southey published the earliest version, “The Story of the Three Bears,” in 1837 in a collection of essays called “The Doctor.” Another version by Joseph Jacobs (“Scrapefoot”) features a fox as intruder.
In 1849, Joseph Cundall published a version of the story in “A Treasury of Pleasure Books for Young Children” — the first instance of the young girl, Silver Hair, as an intruder. Silver Hair later became known as Silver Locks. In 1868, she became Golden Hair. All adaptations ever since have featured a little girl with golden locks as intruder.)