His name is blueteddy. All one word, lower case letters, like an email address. This has been his name always, well for 53 years, and the spelling is more to do with myself as a little girl learning to write, than anything clever. I feel it is somehow like a fairy story, that you need to know his right name to be loved by him. My little blue bear was a gift for me as a six month old baby girl, given to me by my parents on my first Christmas. He is a mail order bear, paid for by cheque and ordered from the David Jones Store in those days when you worked your way through a thick paper catalogue of glossy photographs and enticing descriptions. Now with a click on the World Wide Web we can bring up a different bear for sale, a ‘lilac-blue teddy with profits for charity’ (that lacks the personality of my own!) and paid for with another mouse click on PayPal.
Since 1890, orders from the catalogue of David Jones’ ‘finest quality merchandise’ have been delivered straight to your door. I enquired once to see if that great department store could give me details of blue teddy’s purchase, or perhaps had they retained a catalogue from 1958, but they answered no. I think that’s very sad, because those catalogues would make a fine historical representation of what it means to be Australian. This is the worlds’ oldest functioning department store still trading under the same name, and tells the story of a Welsh-born Immigrant who worked hard and did well. I wonder who bought the very first teddy bear ever sold from David Jones and if it still exists. I’d bet everything I have that mine is worth the most.
I guess my teddy came to the house in a carton filled with Christmas presents and new summer clothes, which must have been costly to pay for, and difficult to deliver to a little farm off the beaten track. I think this is true because I can remember similar mysterious boxes in later years. There are Christmas pictures of me and my siblings dressed in our best clothes, sitting on the lawn and showing off our Christmas haul. The fading ink on the disintegrating copy of my original Birth Certificate says we lived on a property called ‘Cannock’ at Tambar Springs, a tiny town a little west of Gunnedah, out towards Coonabarabran. My father worked as a station hand in the land of wheat and sheep. His wage would not have been much, so to pay for the Christmases we spent there, must have been a hardship for the family.
My older brother had a teddy bear, orangey and scruffy, with jointed limbs. He has misplaced him, sadly. Perhaps he was a David Jones bear as well. I have two little sisters but I don’t know much about their teddy bear stories from early childhood. My next sister down told me she had a small pink teddy, and with that came a mental picture of a dainty bear, light pink and soft, a little smaller than my own blueteddy. She reminded me that our youngest sister had an orange bear called Mandy. Both were given away for reasons not clear. As she became older, our mother would have her youngest daughter choose and purchase presents for the adult children and grand children. One year I was presented with a new stuffed toy, a baby-blue coloured teddy bear. It meant nothing to me. I already had a bear of my own to love and cherish, and I gave the new teddy to my grandchildren. However, I think that new toy must have meant something to the sister who selected it – maybe she had wanted our mother to buy her a new teddy of her very own, as our mother had for me. Both our parents are deceased now, so the intriguing questions of bear-hood will never be fully answered.
blueteddy has a little patch on his leg where the stitches show a label was removed. I can vaguely remember running my finger over a soft and shiny label, rectangular and only about an inch long, but I might just want that to be true. You can see from his photo that he’s been through the wars. He has a blur on his left eye, like a cataract, an aging bear’s legacy. Surely he has read every book I have read. His mouth and nose are squashed from childhood goodnight kisses. I used to sleep with him snuggled into my neck, a perfect fit.
He has a mighty scar down his chest. I used to unpick his midline stitches and hide little notes inside him, rolled up with an elastic band. Little wishes, dreams and loves. I would stitch them in and expect the magic to work, but it never did. He is stuffed with kapok, and over the years as his stuffing compressed I’ve topped it up with little pieces from my children’s cast offs, lace from a Christening gown, a teddy motif embroidered on to a tiny singlet, a little sock. I’ve packed blueteddy with memories, almost like a chronological history, as seen now in a Face Book time line, in three dimensions.
His soft blue fur is worn thin, and shows the canvas underneath. I wonder if the fur is wool because the texture is a little like a childhood hand me down, a woolly jumper that I hated wearing because it itched and sagged.
I lost him once, for three long years, and believing this loss was permanent I’d fill up with overwhelming grief every time he came to mind. I expect this is hard for most people to understand, that I ascribe that depth of feeling to an inanimate toy. He turned up in a cardboard box I had left unpacked in the back of a cupboard. I’m not ashamed to say I sat on the floor and held him tight and balled my eyes out. I realised for this last house move I’d packed him first, and unpacked him last.
blueteddy has been with me for over 50 years; he has travelled countless miles and lived under more than 25 roofs with me. My primary school education began in the mid sixties and was a mix of Home School via Correspondence and three different Catholic Schools. It concluded with a Public School for Year 6. I went on to attend three High Schools and didn’t complete Year 11. I left school believing I was failing in all subjects, and later found I had passed and done quite well. I wonder how differently my life would have turned out, if I had trusted myself to achieve my educational dreams. I wanted to be a journalist, to enquire into politics and wrong-doing, and make changes for good. Oh, I was so naive! How I managed to learn anything is amazing. So my experience of learning grammar, punctuation and syntax is a blurred recollection of strict nuns, squeaky blackboards and cheating with my brother on my home school worksheets. Any achievements of learning grammar and punctuation must have occurred through the miracle of osmosis by chalk dust, there is no other explanation.
From my parental home, placement with another family in my teens, share house, Nurse’s Home, to caravan park and to women’s refuge, to owned properties that I thought I’d live in forever and then to rented units with bloody awful neighbours this little blue teddy bear has been my companion. I remember my bear on my 21st birthday. I sat him with my daughter in her high chair, and she shared the cake with him. I don’t need a photograph to see them both with chocolate covered faces – it is among the many snippets of events in my life in which he was a major, yet silent player.
My bear wears a purple ribbon around his neck. It is my favourite colour. It reminds me of school yard girl friends who wore purple ribbons in the early 70’s, and especially one girlfriend still very close to my heart all these wrinkles and years and miles later. Purple is the colour worn by my first teenage crush. He and I both wore purple taffeta to a school disco, my dress I had painstakingly sewn on mum’s Singer treadle machine. His, a beautiful shirt his mother had made. In that small country town, the taffeta came from the same bolt of material from the general store. I remember the piercing humiliation and I stayed at the other end of the hall, embarrassed for no good reason and missing out on the opportunity to connect with my first true love of adolescence. Recently he has reached out to me, but I’m reluctant to change my rose-coloured glasses for the clear vision of middle age.
blueteddy knows my stories, my secrets and my ambitions. He has known me in all stages of my life, a baby, child, and awkward adolescent. He has seen me single, married, divorced and all stages in between. He has known the love of my life, and the lover who nearly took my life. He has seen me loved and on a pedestal, and he has seen me raped and degraded. He knows me as a daughter, sister and mother and grandmother. He followed my career, my exams and my promotions. He was there to come home to after a god-awful night shift when every other person was asleep in bed already. He saw me assaulted by mentally unwell patients. He was there for the long time it took my body to mend after car and motor bike accidents. He was there to share my love with my children, and the grandchildren. Now he lies on my pillow, wearing his purple ribbon like a medal of valour, which is what this ribbon means in bear terms. He sits looking up with his arms out – open and ready for the millionth hug.
Ahh, blueteddy! This story is about what he means to me – to be always loved first, and always loved last.
*Published in Hunter Professional Arts Magazine Issue 1 March –Early May 2013
*Highly Commended Certificate in Mudgee Valley Writers 13th Biennial Short story Competition.
*Published in the anthology of competition winners: “Write On!” November 2012