I got my first teddy bear when I was 16. A guy friend – platonic – from school gave him to me. For some reason, I just never had a teddy bear. I owned other kinds of stuffed animals, though. I know I had two small stuffed rabbits. And a misshapen cat my older sister sewed – its head always flopped to the side like someone had wrung its neck. (While the floppy head bothered me, fortunately I never thought about any neck-wringing business at the time.)
The closest thing to a teddy bear was a pink stuffed fox who had the basic shape of a bear. It was definitely a fox though. I don’t want to turn this into a crappy story from childhood – because that’s not the point (not today, kids!) – but the back story of the fox should be told.
It was my seventh birthday. Tradition was that my mother bought the gift, although my father got involved sometimes, especially for my brothers’ gifts (definitely my younger brother’s). Anyway, nobody had got me a birthday present. At seven I was old enough to notice but naive enough to not think too badly of it. At the 11th hour, my mother sent one of my older sisters out to the store to get me something and she came back with a pink stuffed fox. I was perfectly pleased; what the hell did I know? It was cute and I did like it.
I have to say, while my mother had a reputation for not giving the best gifts, and sometimes giving them late on top of that, in all fairness, the missed-entirely event stood out because it was rare. And, if she could chime into this post, or somebody wanted to chime in on her behalf, it would probably be to point out that she had a lot of kids to buy for, so what can you expect. Okay, I’ve been fair and said it, yay fair me!
Moving along. So, I’m 16 and my friend gives me this beautiful, soft, cute as can be, teddy bear. What a great gift! He didn’t know I’d never had one so it was all the better.
I had a mess of older siblings, and in a big raucous family like ours, it was par for the course to have a lot of in-jokes, usually at someone’s expense, although not always. We kids were quick on our feet, tossing out one-liners and punch lines, the more so as we aged as a group and the years between us became less pronounced. Certain lines became part of family lore, to be repeated for years to come. This was one such time.
We’d gathered at the house as we often did, both the kids who still lived at home, and those who’d moved out, but stayed in the area (tellingly – one way or another – none of us ever went far). Hanging out in the living room with my siblings, I had my new teddy bear, dubbed Taddy, with me. I was holding on tight, as this wasn’t a crew to be trusted, especially one of my older brothers, whose comedic exploits – when he wasn’t in a foul mood – were legend.
My brother spied the teddy bear.
“Let me see that bear.”
“No,” I said, “You’ll hurt him!”
“I won’t hurt him,” my brother said in conciliatory tones.
I handed my bear over. My brother, standing, immediately took the bear in one hand and pretended to smack him about the head with the other, complete with added vocal sound effects: “Smackety, smackety, smackety.”
“Taddy!” I cried, jumping up from my seat on the couch to rescue my bear.
Never was I to be so tricked again. For years to come, any time somebody seemed to be up to no good, someone else might slyly insert these code words into the conversation, “Let me see that bear.”