There have been two Christmas presents in my life that have affected me in ways I could never have imagined. One was the birth of my youngest daughter on December 5, 1971 … yes, an early Christmas present but one that has defined the spirit of Christmas for me for the last 45 years. Even as a grown woman, her childlike joy and wonder at Christmas time keeps me going when the stress of the season starts to wear me down.
The other present, however, happened over 60 years ago, and it has defined who I am ever since. It was, quite simply, a teddy bear. Now, if any of you have followed my work over the last few years, you know that I am a huge lover of teddy bears in all shapes and sizes. My first writing pseudonym was “Flower Bear,” given to me by my first two online friends who told me I had to have a screen name and, since I loved gardening and flowers, Flower Bear it should be. I have been Flower Bear for almost 5 years now. I write a weekly blog called: Flower Bear’s Garden: Growing A Life dedicated to planting the seeds for a happy, productive life after 50. In any case, all of this started with a little brown bear named Peanut, and 6-year-old girl who just knew her life would be complete if he belonged to her.
I was raised in a strict but loving Italian Catholic home in New York City. My parents did not believe in babying their children. I grew up surrounded by cousins who were raised pretty much the same way. Back in the early 50’s, kindergarten was not mandatory and since my Mom had to walk my older sister back and forth to school every day, and kindergarten was only a half day, she decided it did not make sense to make 3 trips back and forth to the school every day. So, my education truly began in the first grade. Low and behold, what was the first topic of great importance that I learned? I learned that just about every kid in my class, and in the entire first grade, it seemed, had a teddy bear. Now you may think this is no big discovery but you didn’t know my mother. I had asked for a teddy bear for ages but my mother’s reply was always the same: “Teddy bears are for babies. You are a not a baby, you are a big girl.”
I just knew that I was missing out on something of monumental importance.
One day a few weeks before Christmas, we were walking home along Jamaica Avenue in Queens and passed the neighborhood hardware store which also housed a toy store as well. There in the middle of the window, decked out in a crème colored ribbon, was the most handsome bear I had ever seen. Notice I said “handsome” and not “beautiful,” because I knew the moment I saw it that he was a “he.” To this day I can take one look at a bear, with or without clothes, and feel if it’s a boy or girl. In any case, “He” became my obsession. I begged, I pleaded, I offered to give all of my other toys to charity. I promised to do all the chores, even my sister’s chores, and that I would never, ever, ask for anything again. Of course, as you might have guessed, dear Peanut was under the tree on Christmas morning and was my beloved friend and confidant until the day I got married. He even made it to the birth of my first child in 1970 but, alas, all the sewing and washing in the world could not save him forever and he made his way peacefully to that eternal toy store in heaven.
Why am I telling you this story on a blog about writing? Because sometimes it is a moment like this, a memory from years and years ago, that goes on to shape us as writers and as human beings whether we know it or not. Peanut represented all that was good and kind in the world to me. I learned about friendship, unconditional love, trust and even courage. When I would sit and write my childish stores, Peanut was my earliest critic and patient listener. He may have been my alter ego, but he was the best alter ego a girl could have had. I owe him a huge debt of gratitude that extends to this day. I have donated bears to hospitals and crisis centers for women and children who have been victims of abuse. I have passed on bears to children and grandchildren asking them to “adopt” one of mine and give it to their kids when they grow up. Along with the bears, I pass on the lessons they have taught me as well and hope that the ripple Peanut and I started 61 years ago keeps going.
Somewhere in your life there is a moment, a memory, that has shaped who you are and guided your life in ways you may not even be aware of. Find it. Write about it. See where it has taken you, and where it still can take you. Memories, and lives, are made of moments like this.
Peace and blessings.
As you can guess, you new writing assignment, on the home page, is going to take you on a trip down memory lane!