Fond Memories Of a `Silly Old Bear'

By

Most of us hold somewhere in our memories all the warmth and affection that first came into our lives in the form of a teddy bear. My continuing love for children is often characterized by the delight I find in witnessing what happens when a teddy bear is placed into tiny hands.

The other day, I came across my boyhood copy of ``Winnie-the-Pooh,'' by A. A. Milne. I don't think anything can quite compare with that inimitable teddy bear. Then, (while my thought was still caught up with the Pooh mystique) by a strange coincidence, Robert MacNeil's book, ``Wordstruck,'' came into my hands and the following paragraph caught my eye:

``...Two of the first non-baby words I uttered were gin fizz, mysteriously the name of a large blue teddy bear... Gin Fizz was my companion for years, my Winnie-the-Pooh... I did not know it was a drink for years, and by the time I found out, no one drank it any more... For me the words never connoted anything but teddy bear.''

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This innocuous disclosure of Canadian-born MacNeil (coanchor and executive editor of the MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour) is one of a number of boyhood reminiscences found early in his book.

On first reading about toddler MacNeil's precious Gin Fizz, I was reminded right away of the link between the tender and the bizarre or, again, between the lovely and the comical.

It's all the stuff of poetry. By that I mean finding what coincides unexpectedly in our human experience that leaves us halfway between a chuckle and a tear. There are situations concerning teddy bears that can have just that effect.

And what adult is without such memories? MacNeil's reminiscence takes me back to my second teddy bear. I was about five years old when my first teddy got lost somehow during a move.

My family was still in the process of settling in at the new home when I overheard my mother say to my dad, ``My hair is wretched, David. I'm going into town to get the usual bob.''

Of course, I had no idea what Mummy was referring to. I simply didn't know that a ``bob'' was a popular short haircut for women in those days. The two words, ``usual bob,'' kept echoing strangely in my ears. Later that morning my mother was off to town.

Well, you can imagine my utter amazement when at the end of the afternoon my mother returned - her hair all clustered into tight little curls. But, no, that wasn't what caught my attention.

What took my breath away was seeing her holding closely a large teddy bear. So that was it! ``Usual Bob!'' I shrieked as this unusually huggable teddy was put in my hands. And Usual Bob he remained for ever after. There's poetry as much as biography in all this.

If teddy bears were articulate, I'm quite sure that both Usual Bob and Gin Fizz would have much to say about little boys. And I'm sure that their insights would not be unlike those of the definitive teddy, Winnie-the-Pooh!

But do teddys always have to be bears?

My daughter once made a toy for her kitten out of an old sock. The little cat loved running through the room, holding one end in her mouth with the sock trailing behind her. Kristen instantly named her pet's toy ``Teddy Snake.'' Well, for my daughter, that term amply described the affection - the attachment - the kitten held for the sock. And, of course, there are toy animals such as bunnies and puppies that are acceptably huggable.

Nevertheless, ``teddy rabbit,'' ``teddy dog,'' or ``teddy snake,'' for that matter - somehow doesn't ring quite true.

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