”Oh my god, Edna. You’ve got to see this! Now this dip stick is writing about… teddy bears!”
That’s right, Harry. Is this me running out of things to write about? Nope. Is this me slowly losing my shit and babbling on about anything and everything? Maybe. Might this possibly be me searching frantically for something that almost everyone can relate to in one way or another? No no no. What this is is me, going through old photos and connecting a few dots of my childhood, and my son Dillon’s childhood, and finding their similarities… similarities that kick up a few stories, stories that might be worth telling.
It would be easy to start by saying we all had teddy bears when we were little. But that’s not true. I’ve heard accounts by those who said they were so poor they had no toys, no bears, but had to play with their mother’s wooden kitchen spoon. Really? Yup. Really. I heard a lot of this in the South, but even in Montana there were mountain folk who barely had a pot to pee in, and usually it was outdoors. So instead let’s start by saying – those of us who were lucky enough to have teddy bears as small children will probably remember what kind of little bear it was, whether it had a name or not, and whether we chewed it to pieces or loved it to pieces. Not much difference there, really. Dogs chew on things they love all the time, and when we’re little, so do we.
I’m guessing that when we were little and going to bed, realizing it was just us in that bed, a little toy of any kind was a comforting pal to hold while we drifted off. A little bear, for instance, might quiet our rampant imaginations and reassure us that the world might be a safe place for us to go to sleep in, after all… as long as our little bear was right there, ready to love us and protect us.
That’s where Dillon’s and my teddy bear story begins. He had Honey Bear, at least two of them, as I recall. I think we had a third hidden away for emergencies. Dil loved his honey bear, but always bit his nose off. Perhaps he was simply sucking on them, and when his baby teeth came in, bye bye schnoz. It appears that I bit Teddy’s nose off as well. Not sure what this means, or if it means anything, but Dil’s honey bears all looked well-loved, while mine look, to this very day, brand new!
Actually, my first stuffed toy was a small dog. In the first picture above, I was probably six months old. As luck would have it, I have the then and now of this little dog. Irritating to me, as I look the way I look now and the damn dog looks exactly the same… brand new! Doesn’t seem fair…
Yes, my first little bear had a very creative name, I called him “Teddy.” He was a fancy little dude, all white with a bright red corduroy vest. His button eyes seemed bright and happy to me. He had a little black nose (for awhile) and no mouth, leaving it for me to decide whether he was happy or sad. I never saw him sad. I might have seen a look of concern on his little face on occasion, but nothing serious. He slept beside me every night, for years. Teddy’s and my bedtime was fairly unique… you see, we lived upstairs, over a bar. A sometimes noisy bar. Every night I pulled the rollaway bed out of the closet, unfolded it and pushed it against the wall next to the closet, then hopped in with Teddy. We could always hear the people downstairs, talking, laughing and drinking. The jukebox would be playing and occasionally someone would be playing the old piano. I would snuggle in and look up at the little sign my grandma had given me, that Mom had put up on the wall. It even lit up in the dark so I could read it, though I had memorized it long ago.
The little sign read,
“Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
I have no idea what ever happened to that little sign. It disappeared, probably into a box somewhere, to be lost in the shuffle of time and life. But not Teddy. He surfaced somehow shortly after Dillon was born, and was known to hang out with Honey Bear occasionally for a short time. And now, after over 25 years, who surfaces in a box that had been long stored away with no writing on it? Why, Teddy and Honey Bear, of course!
“If you go down in the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise
If you go down in the woods today, you’d better go in disguise
For every bear that ever there was
Will gather there for certain because
Today’s the day the teddy bears have their picnic
Every teddy bear who’s been good is sure of a treat today
There’s lots of marvelous things to eat and wonderful games to play
Beneath the trees where nobody sees
They’ll hide and seek as long as they please
That’s the way the teddy bears have their picnic
Picnic time for teddy bears
The little teddy bears are having a lovely time today
Watch them, catch them unawares
And see them picnic on their holiday
See them gaily gad about
They love to play and shout
They never have any cares
At six o’clock their mummies and daddies
Will take them back home to bed
‘Cause they’re tired little teddy bears
If you go down in the woods today, you’d better not go alone
It’s lovely down in the woods today, but safer to stay at home
For every bear that ever there was
Will gather there for certain because
Today’s the day the teddy bears have their picnic”
Songwriters: Jimmy Kennedy / John W. Bratton
These are some of the strange things and memories that happen when one decides to finally clear out storage spaces and strange boxes that have been gathering dust for years. Treasures and treasured memories jump out of some of those boxes. Pictures especially will sit a person down to smile and remember. And why not? They are tangible memories of who we were, what we did back then… they are a definite part of who we are today. Hard to let go…
I think I was 11 when I last slept with my Teddy Bear. Oh, I always put him on the pillow in the morning when I made my bed, but at night I began putting him in the chair beside the wood stove. We went to Peru when I was 14, and I didn’t see him again for 30 years, when Dillon was a year old. He occasionally slept with Dil and Honey Bear, but then disappeared into another box, to not surface again for another 30+ years, when I once again found him, along with other treasures, in a box in storage.
It’s fun to see him again. Strange? I suppose, yet he’s a strong memory of my early years, and those are sweet memories for sure. For many of us, our little bears helped us through the first stage of our lives, and were always there for us, there at our side, until we finally didn’t need them anymore.
One evening, when Dillon was six or seven, I sat down on the floor of his bedroom around his bedtime and decided to goof on him a little bit. I held Honey Bear in my lap and was whispering to him when Dil came into his bedroom. “Dad!” He questioned right away, “What are you doing with Honey Bear?”
I hugged Honey Bear and smiled. “I was trying to get Honey Bear to tell me some of your secrets.”
Dil stomped over and jerked the little bear out of my arms. “Leave Honey Bear alone, Dad. He would Never tell you my secrets!”
“So! You do have secrets! And you tell them to Honey Bear?!”
At first Dil looked surprised, obviously something that hadn’t occurred to him. Then he looked down at Honey Bear and smiled. “Maybe.” Then, “But he’ll never tell you, will you, Honey Bear?”
Honey Bear looked up at him with his little innocent black eyes, and I knew that was my cue.
“Yeah, you’re right. I couldn’t get him to tell me anything. I guess he’s a pretty good secret-keeper. Darn you, Honey Bear, Somehow, sometime, I’m going to get you to tell me some of Dil’s secrets!”
“Hey, Honey Bear will never tell you my secrets!” Dil growled, as I plopped them both up into bed. And he never did.