(I wrote this a month or so ago, but never got around to posting it. However, today is an appropriate day - a day when I have one dog with the runs, another who is vomiting, one who won't stop scratching, and a fourth who won't stop barking. I should have stuck with teddy bears.)
When I was a child, my favourite companions were teddy bears. I collected them like most little girls of the early 1950s collected baby dolls and little boys Matchbox cars. In fact, throughout my childhood I had only one doll. I asked for her the year I was seven because – well, that was what girls my age were supposed to want. I pushed her around in a little toy pram for perhaps a month or two before she sat forgotten in the corner and I went back to playing with my bears.
The real love of my life, in my seven year old world, was Teddy. A straw-filled bear with arms and legs that moved and glass button eyes, Teddy has been in my life as long as I can remember. One of my favourite photos, taken when I was four or five and living in
England, is of Teddy and I.
|Me and my teddy bear, circa 1955|
Teddy was one of only two toys that came with me when we moved to
in the mid-fifties (the other being, ironically, a toy dog!). Around the time I
was six, I renamed him Smokey, after Smokey the Bear, a wee cub rescued from
a forest fire who later became the icon for a Forest Fire Prevention program,
and popularized in books and song. My
favourite book, my favourite song, my favourite bear – one and the same in
1956. And look! Here's the song on Youtube - the very same record by Peter Pan Records, that my daddy bought me - I recognize the cover! (And now I expect everyone of you to be humming "Smokey the Bear" for the rest of the day).
Two years later, Teddy (now Smokey) took back seat to another much larger, heavier, more modern bear who I creatively named Yogi. (I was obviously a child influenced by popular culture. My family didn’t have a TV, but I knew all about Yogi and his sidekick BooBoo.)
With my help, Yogi voiced opinions, created mischief, and took part in vacations and family celebrations. My family not only humoured my antics with Yogi, but actively encouraged them. My father and brother built a large cardboard and brown paper cave in the eaves of our old home, and stacked the shelf with jars painted white and labeled “HUNNY”. Many times my father would threaten to put Yogi into permanent hibernation in this cave.
One day when my father was signing cheques, Yogi wanted to have a look and received a sample of my father’s signature across his large vinyl nose. Unfortunately, the ink would not wash off, and for many years the bear carried this reminder of his ill-timed interruption. I still have the postcard my father sent to Yogi while away on business a few weeks later. On the face of the card is a picture of a bear behind bars at the zoo – and on the back, in my father’s neat script, is his message: “This is the end of all bears that cannot keep their nose out of what doesn’t concern them! Take warning!”
However, Yogi kept me out of trouble too. As a pre-teen, I dreamed of running away and building myself a treehouse in the woods to live in. I planned far in advance the exact date of my intended departure, and wrote a detailed list of all the items I would need to take. At the top of the list was my dearest possession – Yogi. So attached was I to the bear that I knew if I left him we would both be miserable, and yet if I took this very large, heavy bear I could surely go only as far as the empty lot across the street. Somehow the effort of all the planning seemed worthy of a longer journey, and since I could not keep my plans and take Yogi too, I remained safely at home.
|Yogi helps my daughter open gifts - or vice versa - circa 1977.|
I took good care of my bears, making sure they had comfortable seats and beds, dressing them in warm clothes in winter and cooler ones in summer, serving them tea and cookies, brushing their fur, and, on those occasions when they were just a little too well loved, darning their holes and sewing their seams.
Teddy bears continued to play a large role in my life even through much of my adulthood. A bear I purchased for a passing love, and left behind when that person moved out of my life, became part of my family. Slowly, O’Bear (Oh Postrophe Bear – I was more creative now) developed a huge personality. In a thrift store, he found his long-lost identical twin (Robear – adopted and then abandoned by a French Canadian, so family legend has it), and on visits to the Okanagan he formed a close friendship with my sister’s and sister-in-law’s bear Muffin. Together, the bears went on Alaska cruises, camping trips, rafting down canals, and had many, many adventures together.
|Muffin, Alfie the Elephant, Bandit the dog, Robear, and (hiding behind Muffin) the infamous|
O Postrophe Bear
at my sister's Celebration of Life, May 2012
As dogs and animal rescue became more and more a part of my life, the bears became less of it. O’Bear eventually went to live with Muffin, while Robear stayed here, up on a shelf with Yogi, Smokey, and a small cluster of other stuffies too precious to part with. Transporting dogs, doing homechecks, helping out at sanctuaries and fundraisers, and most of all fostering and/or adopting senior and special needs dogs shifted time and attention away from the bears.
This past week or two, as I clean up poop from a collie with the runs, and hold a needy, coughing deaf and blind poodle on my lap, and repeatedly shush a barking de-barked overly-excited sheltie, and trip over sheets and towels and little mats covering the floor, and drag myself out of bed at four in the morning to feed a dog whose blood sugar has plummeted, and worry about canine livers and cancerous tumors and medications and muddy paws, I find myself thinking: I should have stuck with teddy bears. They were never half this much trouble. Not even when their stuffing leaked out.