Fourteen years ago today, I met a small teddy bear hanging by a hook in a vintage shop at the old Oxford market. My friends and I have just come from attending May Morning, a traditional event of song and dance to usher in spring at the university where we were journalism fellows.
We were a large diverse group: Japanese, Polish, Austrian, Estonian, Hong Kong-Chinese, Kiwis, South Koreans (the North Koreans slept through it) and then there was me and my college bff who was visiting from Belgium. We were walking through the market on our way to a cafe to join everyone else when I made an about-turn and headed for that vintage shop that I barely noticed before even if I always visit the market almost weekly for my caramel bars fix from one of the small booths beside a meat shop.
“Where are we going?” My friend asked confused as she followed me inside the shop.
I stopped in front of a hat rack where many stuff were hanging from and, as if in a trance, took the little brown toy with a small heart embroidered on its left chest.
“She will take good care of you,” the elderly woman manning the till said as she packed the bear in a bag.
I named her Yammybear. (And of course I assumed she was a girl.)
So every first of May, I commemorate the day Yammybear became my forever friend. My real, human friends often shake their heads when I whip out Yammybear during trips (she’s the first to mark her side of the bed for one) but they always end up indulging her, and well, me. They also look for her first whenever they visit my place; and while writing this, I went through the “Yammybear” album on my Facebook and noted to my amusement that many photos were those of her with my friends. Or my friends’ bears.
Yammybear shares many memories and has made friends with all my friends, including the North Koreans (how many people can claim this) who she watched World Cup on TV with that many years ago. At one point, she even went on “dates” in Bangkok, Singapore and Seoul with a male bear named “Shobear” owned by one of my friends.
I guess all of us have our own teddy bear stories. We may have had dolls, robots and cars to play with as kids, but the teddy was the one that shared our bed and maybe hugged us to sleep (as kids we always think they’re hugging us but as adults we know it’s the other way around). They provided us comfort during bad times and a sounding board most times. When my father died, I would cry myself to sleep hugging one of my teddy bears.
When I was five, my father gave me a blue teddy bear family. There was papa bear, mama bear and baby bear (what came to mind as I typed this line was So Jisub’s character in My Master’s Sun singing that song). They did not survive through adulthood but they’re in my memory. Perhaps that’s also the reason why over the years, and through many travels, I have collected teddy bears. Strangely, none of them was blue. Perhaps that’s symbolic of how nothing can ever replace the blue teddy bear family from my childhood.
I used to buy teddy bears whenever I traveled so much so that my collection reached 17. From Taiwan to Czech Republic, they lined my headboard. Now, they’re in one of my boxes in my mother’s house. Only Yammybear remains with me.
I was at a second-hand bookstore over the weekend and came across a book on teddy bears. One quote made me laugh: “A washed bear is not a happy bear.” – Pam Brown
I still remember how my mother gave Yammybear a “bath” one time I went home. She probably thought she was filthy so off the bear went to have a towel rub. At least she wasn’t put in the washing machine. But I almost cried.
Here’s another quote by Pam Brown: “Going on a journey with children means checking: Two bags, one umbrella, one pushchair, two children, two bears. Purse, ticket. Recheck bears.” I don’t have most of those stuff when I travel, but I have Yammybear and she has photos on planes, trains and cars. Sometimes I wonder how those inspection officers manning X-ray machines react when they see a bear in a grown woman’s carry-on. But then I discovered that it’s not only me who travels with a stuffed toy. A friend has a cat and another has a rabbit she has owned since childhood. (And Amelie travelled with a gnome.)
If Yammybear could talk, I would love to listen to her stories, seeing the world through her marble eyes, from the inside of a leather bag or from the window of a hotel. But I’m glad she can’t talk. Imagine what she’d say to me.
“The teddy bear is the last toy we part with. [He] is all that’s left of that lost world where solutions seemed possible and a friend who saw no fault and made no reproach, waited forever in the old armchair.” – Pam Brown
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