I was given my first two teddy bears when I was an infant. I guess my mother named them Fred and Bill, or maybe I named them myself when I got older…I don’t remember. My sister Bertie also had two bears named Fred and Bill. Hers were bigger than mine, because she was the firstborn and nearly two years older. Both Freds were white and made of real sheepskin, and both Bills were furry brown cloth.
Bertie and I kept our bears throughout our lives—through all our moves, changes, traumas, victories, and disappointments. My Fred finally disintegrated in 2006, but Bertie’s remained intact. Her Bill fell apart a couple of years later.
Bertie became a bear collector. She must have had at least 100 bears in her home in Connecticut, along with another 100 other stuffed animals and dolls of all sizes and shapes. I wasn’t a collector—I made teddy bears instead. I had a little business, sewing the bears on my sturdy Viking sewing machine and selling them via mail order in shoe boxes.
About a decade ago, Bertie gave me a bear for Christmas. He was fair-furred, not too big, and could sit up by himself. He could even do a somersault (if you pushed him) and end up in a sitting position. I loved this bear from the start, more than any bear I’d ever had—even more than Fred and Bill. Bertie and I were very close, and I know she’d put a lot of love and thought into picking out this particular bear for me. I named him Joe.
I took Joe with me whenever I traveled. I was living in Brazil, and I went back to the states for a year in 2007. When I returned, I couldn’t seem to find a space in my jam-packed suitcase to squeeze Joe in. Bertie said not to worry, she’d mail him to me.
Well, I got back home to Rio and I waited. And waited. And waited, Months went by, and no sign of Joe. After still more time had gone by I started to think Joe was lost forever. Then one day I went down to the lobby to get my mail, and there it was…a badly crushed shoebox, with Joe inside! I checked all the postal labels on the box, and apparently he had spent several months in Peru, of all places! I was so happy to have him back. I wished he could talk so he could have told me about his adventures!
Time went by and I lost contact with most of my family, except for Bertie. Then she died. I was sorry I couldn’t be there with her at the end, but we spoke on the phone nearly every day. She told me she was convinced that life doesn’t end, and she said she wasn’t afraid. She had asked to be cremated, and she insisted on taking her bear Fred with her! I guess you’d have to be a teddy bear lover to understand, but I found that to be very touching.
So there I was, living by myself, except for Joe. Sometimes I swear, as crazy as it sounds, that he seemed almost alive to me. He’d sit there on his little folding stool all day, watching me. Once in a while I’d take him with me to sit on my bed or the couch, but as time went on I found that I was ignoring him more and more. Then one day I looked at him. He was just sitting there, looking rather forlorn—and very dirty. I suddenly felt guilty. I picked him up and said, “I’m sorry Joe, I’ve been thinking too much about myself and ignoring you.” I got a brush and brushed his fur. He looked a lot cleaner. Since then I keep him close to me when I can, and often talk to him. Such a good listener, my little buddy Joe! So non-judgmental! Really, it’s great to have real live friends, and I have some very, very close ones, but a teddy bear can be a great companion, too—never underestimate the power of bear-love!