24. Big Teddy

24. Big Teddy

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Merry Christmas!

Big Teddy

Once a bear has been loved by a human being, its expression is forever marked.

~Jama Kim Rattigan

As a toddler, I was featured on the family Christmas card snug in my jammies and leaning on a huge stuffed puppy dog. A six-foot-long purple snake slept on my bed the majority of my preteen years. Glassy-eyed creatures sat on my bedroom shelves, propped in playroom corners, and served as confidants when needed. Bears, a lion, sheep, and even a turtle were stuffed animals that my mother could not resist. She loved a toy store and could not withstand the lure of plush gifts.

My father would roll his eyes, “Don’t the kids have enough animals?” and my mother would respond, “Oh, but this one is so cute.”

Hey, the stuffed animals didn’t make a mess; they were colorful: and they did bring joy, especially to Mom.

Years later, it was a month before Christmas and I was studying for my first semester exams, writing papers, and working my part-time jobs. I lived at home and commuted to Temple University, so I could still enjoy Mom’s cooking and spend time with my eight-year old sister, Lori. Lori was my own live action doll — she walked, talked, and yes, adored me.

One chilly Tuesday afternoon, I decided to stop home for a late lunch. Mom flung open the front door and said, “Hurry! I need your help before Lori gets home.”

I ducked inside, dumped my load on the kitchen table, and watched my mom scurry to get the car keys. She was tiny but quick. She was out the garage door in a flash and hollered back, “Follow me. It’s in the trunk.”

She popped the trunk and revealed a humongous stuffed brown bear wedged inside. His arm, now unhindered by the trunk, stuck up in a friendly wave. An unblinking charcoal eye stared at me and it had a twinkly glow. A cheery grin on his face and a jaunty blue and red striped cap clinched the deal. Big Teddy would be a hit under the Christmas tree.

My mother shuffled from foot to foot as she looked over her shoulder for the school bus. I glanced at my watch; we had a minimum of fifteen minutes to get the job done.

“This was on sale at the grocery store, believe it or not, and I just couldn’t resist. One of the bagboys helped stuff him into the trunk. I forgot about food shopping in favor of bringing Big Teddy home. He’s too big for me to carry upstairs by myself. I’m so glad you came home between classes.” She gave me a hug. “What do you think?”

We stood there and stared into the trunk. Scenes from various mob movies flashed before my eyes.

I deliberated. “We need something to cover him.”

“You’re right,” she said and dashed into the house. I barely had time to pull Teddy from the trunk when she returned with a garish flowered sheet. We proceeded to wrap him tight like a mummy

“Where do want to hide him?” I asked.

“Your closet, the one with summer clothes. I moved a few things around. I knew you wouldn’t mind. We can set him on the upper shelf.” I shrugged, picked up my unwieldy bundle, and proceeded to waddle into the house. The bear wasn’t heavy, but he was bulky and the sheet was unraveling already. I struggled up our narrow stairs and into my room. Mom opened the closet door and I could see she’d moved some luggage and other non-essential items to make room.

“I think I hear the bus. Darn. It’s early. Can you get the bear up on the shelf yourself? I’ll go distract Lori.” With that, my mother zoomed out of my room and closed the door behind her. Man, she was wired. She loved Christmas and worked hard to surprise us all with the perfect gift.

I tucked pieces of the sheet back into the mummy wrap and proceeded to heave Teddy into the closet. He kept wanting to tumble off the shelf and I had to give him an extra shove to ensure he stayed up there.

I could hear Mom ask Lori questions about her day, and the fridge door open and close. With a final reassuring pat to Teddy, I shut the closet and then rearranged my face to not reflect the last half hour of excitement. As I rounded the kitchen doorway, my mother caught my eye and I gave a slight nod. She smiled and turned back to Lori’s spelling test, while I fixed a sandwich before leaving to go to my night class.

At any other time of the year, Lori wouldn’t be around when I opened closet doors. The countdown to Christmas proved tricky, however. She lingered. She hovered. I think she sensed a magical being encased in a cloth garden, a magnetic pull from Teddy’s chocolate brown eyes.

The buildup was excruciating. By Christmas Eve, my mother could barely contain her glee, and even my father was ready for Christmas Day. He was happy he didn’t have to assemble anything. Finally, Lori was tucked into bed and Mom and I tiptoed to my room. I pulled on the sheet and dislodged Teddy from his winter’s nap. And down he came. His ear was slightly scrunched, but other than that his eyes sparkled and his open arms beckoned for a hug.

Mom inspected him for matted fur or any other imperfections. Teddy had to be perfect. With muffled whispers and a slight stumble on my part, I hauled Teddy downstairs. Mom placed him in the corner. “Do you think that’s the right spot, George?” she asked my father. Dad stood munching on a Christmas cookie and watched her walk back and forth. Mom tilted her head, scrunched down to see Lori’s sightline, and angled Big Teddy one last time. When she was satisfied, she straightened his big red bow and patted him on the head. It was bedtime.

I slept longer than expected and was surprised that the house was so quiet on Christmas morning. I stretched, slid out of bed, donned my robe, and peered out my window. I padded down the steps and joined my mother on the landing. “Ssh! Take a look.” Nestled in Teddy’s arms, Lori was asleep. She had celebrated Christmas morning early.

~Joanne Faries

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