catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 7 :: 2008.04.04 — 2008.04.18


The velveteen bear

He's been with me from the beginning. Actually before. Prior to my birth, my grandfather, Alex Batchelor, gave my mother two stuffed bears for her first child. A few months later, we left for the mission field. I was six weeks old. My grandfather was dying of lung cancer. My mother would never see him again.

The two bears became affectionately known as Pooh and Pooh, Jr. They were identical, except that Pooh, Jr. was smaller. I was also a junior, so I identified with the smaller bear.

Years later we were living in New York City where my father was doing his surgical residency at Memorial Sloan-Kettering. This is how Pooh and Pooh, Jr. became only Pooh: It was a beautiful spring day and a rare one with my father. We went to the Central Park Zoo and there rowed in little boats in a pond covered with lily pads and their fragrant blossoms. Pooh, Jr. was in my arms. And then he wasn't. Under the lily pads he slipped as the five-year-old boy cried hysterically. I remember the frantic searching and the long bus ride home. Another bear was quickly purchased as a replacement, but it was a void not to be filled.

There was only Pooh now.

In desperation, my mother did what mothers do: she took out the Singer and sewed a little corduroy shirt with a cowboy print for Pooh and me. It was the highlight of Christmas.

Over the years, Pooh has never left me. He sat on my desk in boarding school (the subject of much abuse from insensitive roommates); he sat on a bookshelf watching me cry through a divorce; he joined "Rabbit" when I was remarried, and now watches over me as I type these words…as he has done for more than a half a century. Yes, he's become "real" in the Velveteen Rabbit-sense. But he still proudly wears his cowboy shirt.

It's a wonder how a stuffed bear from one's past can come to mean so much: the losses of childhood, the sorrows of manhood. This much is certain. I'd go into a burning house to rescue Pooh…for there is a lifetime to be seen in his eyes.

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