It started when I was a little girl. Rather than buying me a toy teddy bear, in a country where no bears roam, my parents thought I should have an Australian animal. They gave me a green felt kangaroo. I loved Kangy, but he wasn’t very soft and cuddly. When my Mum was visiting her neighbour Mrs Parkin, I was sometimes allowed to look at a row of wonderful soft toys sitting on a shelf in a downstairs bedroom. There were great, floppy monkeys that had zips up the back. Not only could you play with them, you could store your pyjamas in them as well. And there were a number of big, friendly-looking teddies. But in fact I couldn’t play with them; it wasn’t allowed. They belonged to Lois and Mardie, Mrs. Parkin’s daughters. Lois and Mardie were big girls, really old. They were away at college most of the time, but their room had to be kept perfect for them. It was a great treat to be allowed to look at the toys sometimes, but I was never allowed to touch them. You can imagine how I hungered.
When I had kids, I made sure they had teddy bears to cuddle! Their father, Bill, knowing I’d always wanted one of my own, came home one day with something even better: a much-larger-than-life pink panther just like the one in the Pink Panther movies. A service station was selling them as some kind of promotion. He said he strapped it in the front passenger seat beside him, which startled a number of other motorists on the way home. Well, that pink panther was balm to my soul! Bill was an abalone diver, so he was sometimes away for a few nights, depending where he was diving. The pink panther made a great substitute to snuggle up to. If friends came to stay without their partners, we’d lend them the pink panther so they wouldn’t be too lonely. It was years later that a friend’s little girl fell so much in love with my pink panther that Bill persuaded me I should give it to her. Selfish of me, I know, but he had to do a lot of persuading and I grudged it for a long time.
I made up for it, though, after I married Andrew. One year I saw lots of nice, big teddy bears in Coles for Christmas shopping. With Andrew’s connivance I bought myself the teddiest teddy I could find, warm golden brown with a red tartan ribbon round his neck. I called him, of course, Teddy. I don’t remember where I came across Jemima, maybe at a Sunday market. Jemima’s not a bear, she’s a big, soft rag doll. There’s a lovely tiger that Scorpio God-daughter discarded when her family moved away; I rescued him and he graces our bed when we’re not in it. I also acquired lots of very small soft toys – bears, rabbits, even a gorilla. I got a big gorilla too, with squinty eyes; I decided she was female and called her Lucy.
The biggest bear, Boris, is white. We were visiting friends, and he was out on their nature strip face down, with the hard rubbish collection. The boy of the house, who had owned him, was now 14. Boris had been in the shed for a few years and was very dirty. I begged for him, took him home, washed him in the bath-tub and rinsed him off in the shower. (I did mention he’s big?) I draped him over a plastic chair to dry; it took days.
Next came Buster, a very shaggy brown bear with a wounded expression. He sat opposite our market stall one Sunday and stared at me fixedly. In the end I couldn’t resist any longer; I had to buy him. Snowy is another white bear, fairly small, whom I noticed through the window of the Op Shop one Friday while I was conducting the WordsFlow Writers’ Group at the Neighbourhood Centre. The Op Shop’s just next to our meeting room. I could hardly wait to rush round there and get him as soon as our session finished.
Then we moved, unexpectedly, to a rather smaller abode. We had to become ruthless in “downsizing” and chucked out heaps of stuff. Frequent readers will recall that, encouraged by Andrew, I decided to be sensible and give most of the toys away. Teddy went to Newest God-daughter, who will need to get a bit bigger before she can enjoy him. She was only five weeks old at the time. I’m very happy that he’s with her; he’s a cheerful, kindly fellow with a reassuring presence. Lucy had been given away previously, to one of the grandchildren. The others all went to the Op Shop. I kept Jemima, whom I sometimes use as a demonstration “body” when training Reiki students, and I kept Snowy as he was the smallest of the bigger toys. Oh, and I kept the tiger, because … well, because he’s special.
I expect the little toys have been snapped up long ago, but I was shocked one day, weeks later, to see Boris face down and looking neglected amongst the second-hand furniture in the shed under the Op Shop. “I think I’ll buy him back,” I said. The person I said it to happened to be the Treasurer of the Neighbourhood Centre, who said, “Oh, just take him back.” So I did, strapping him into the passenger seat of my car. (Shades of the pink panther all those years ago. Boris isn’t quite that big, but he’s big enough.) “Boris has come home,” I announced to Andrew. “I couldn’t leave him there like that.” He took one look at my face and didn’t argue.
How could I resist a nice grey koala I saw at the market one day? I didn’t. He’s smaller than Snowy, after all. Then I found the cutest little leopard cub, who now keeps the tiger company. Some time later I saw this lovely bear that someone in our street was chucking out, who looked like a big brother of Snowy except he had soft golden fur. Honey joined the family. He needed some stitching up and some of his filling replaced, but now he’s good as new.
I thought Buster must have gone to a good home. Imagine my horror when I saw him on the Op Shop shelf a couple of weeks ago, looking at me reproachfully with those distressed eyes. I patted his leg surreptitiously and tried to go on looking for whatever it was I’d come to buy, but of course I couldn’t leave him there where obviously no-one had appreciated his special qualities. I tucked him under my arm and bought him. He hadn’t been well looked after. I had to get some sticky gunk out of his fur and re-sew the line of his mouth which was coming adrift. I gave him a big cuddle and told him I’ll never ever do it again.