Susan here, with tales of bears and bunnies, lambs and kitties—soft, plushy friends who have been with us for a long time, or have left memories and tracks in our hearts. Recently the Wenches were chatting about the “teddy bear hunts” that neighborhoods around the world have been creating for children walking around with their families. Setting a teddy bear or stuffed friend in the window to greet a child walking past is a gesture that’s one of the bright and wonderful lights emerging from the gloom of these challenging weeks. We began sharing stories about our own favorite teddy bears and bunnies and other cuddly toys, and the comforting joy of those friends when we were kids. And since it’s just past Easter, it seemed like the perfect time to share our stories with you . . .
I was never much of a doll person as a child. I grew up with animals — real ones. Until I was four, we had dogs, cats, a pair of goats, two cows (one of which always had a calf) a sheep (a lamb we raised each year until it got too big) and poultry of various kinds. So it's not surprising that I wasn't interested in dolls. But then there was Teddy, and he was my best friend. I don't remember not having Teddy. There is a photo of me when I was two or three, and they had to stand me on a cake tin to keep me still, and there I am — holding Teddy.
My Teddy is balding and his feet and hands are patched, and he only has one eye – I took him to kindergarten once, and some rotten kid pulled out one of his eyes. My godmother, who came to us every Easter, was a toymaker (among other things) in her spare time, and I remember her replacing Teddy's very worn and possibly holey hand and foot pads, and she did offer to replace the missing eye, but I wouldn't let her. I was worried it would hurt him, having a big needle stuck into his head — and he'd been brave enough about the new paws. Besides, I didn't mind his missing eye – I loved him all the more for it.
I still have Teddy. Almost all my childhood belongings were passed on or tossed out, but Teddy survived — I think because, being deeply suspicious of my mother's habits, I took him with me when I left home. The only other toy that survived is Snoodle, a lambswool rabbit made by one of my father's friends who was recuperating from something in hospital and given "occupational therapy" — so he made me Snoodle. And of course, you can't give away such a personal gift, so Snoodle survived and came to live with Teddy and me again after my parents died.
This Wenchly conversation started when we were talking about people putting teddies in the window to add a little interest to cooped-up kids, and to make the neighborhood a friendlier place and so, here are Teddy and Snoodle in my front window.
I am Leo, hear me roar! And apparently I knew it at a very early age. When I was six, my baby brother got a beautiful stuffed lion for Christmas. I coveted that lion more than any of the gifts I received, none of which I can remember as well as that lion. I even had pictures of me and the lion on Christmas Day, although in dividing up old photos, my brother apparently got that one. The details are muddy, but eventually that lion ended up mine. It slept with me well into my teen years. By that time, I’d had to sew on new button eyes and patch his mane with gingham and calico patches left over from sewing projects, and he was about as dirty and scruffy as a lion can be, because he wasn’t washable. He quietly disappeared sometime between my getting married and my mother throwing out everything in the house when she moved. I hope he received a decent burial. He was a good protector for years.
I didn’t have stuffed animals much as a kid. At least, I don’t remember any. My cat Napoleon slept with me and was ragdoll soft in the face of any amount of elbow dodging and getting accidentally shoved off the bunk. Fortunately I had the lower bunk. I remember him as having a very patient expression.
Napoleon nobly acted as my soft toy substitute.
I should mention that Napoleon was a big, mean (except to me,) striped tomcat with scars across his face and notches in his ears. The terror of the neighborhood. Father of every kitten for blocks around. A cat with a purr that filled the room.
I did acquire a stuffed bear a couple decades ago, a present from my first editor upon the publication of my first book. He sits on my desk, being amiable and interested and nonjudgemental.
We all need a support bear.
My obsession with soft toys started at a very young age when I formed a relationship with a blue teddy, which I called “boo Teddy” as I couldn’t pronounce my letter L. Unfortunately blue teddy didn’t last very long as I dropped him out of my pram one day and no one noticed. My mother said they walked up and down the road so many times looking for him but he was gone without trace. I was inconsolable – until my grandmother made me a toy panda which I rather unimaginatively named Panda. (I was obviously a very literal child.) Panda went everywhere with me and was mended, darned and re-darned whenever his eyes fell out or his seams split. Eventually there was less of Panda than there was darning, his fur had worn away and he sort of disintegrated. I was in my thirties by now but still very attached to him and saying goodbye was a wrench.
However as it turned out it was the start of a new adventure. In place of Panda my husband gave me Maud. Maud is a sloth. She travels with me everywhere. Maud has been up the mountains of the Scottish Highlands, to the Texas Alamo, to see the Northern Lights and watch whales off California. She has been to Hollywood, checked out the Grand Canyon and visited the sands of the Namibian Desert, and she has the photos to prove it. Last year I accidentally left Maud in Scotland so whilst she kept another member of the family company, my husband got me Aude. Aude is also a sloth and is Maud’s cousin and able to deputise for her as required. It was Aude who came with me to Alaska and Canada last summer and had a great trip. Aude and Maud are now reunited and looking forward to resuming their travels when they are able but for now are quite happy to enjoy and English garden.
I remember exactly when I got my Teddy bear—it was my sixth birthday and my Swiss grandmother sent it to me, along with her special mandeltorte cake, which was the traditional birthday cake in my family. I adored him at first sight, and as my mother told me that one always wrote a thank you letter for a gift (thank you, Mom for teaching me that little things like that matter) I promptly sat down and expressed my appreciation. (Clearly my interest in art was already coming to the fore . . . and BTW, Cam is my little brother. I no longer steal his clothes.) My grandmother must at some point have given the letter back to my mother, who saved a lot of my childhood art, and it’s fun to have it along with the real bear. Teddy has been with me through thick and thin. He no longer has his voice—he’s a Steiff bear and had a wonderful music box inside him that growled when you tilted him up and down. I got just such a kick out of the sound that I wore out after a couple of years—but he’s in pretty good shape aside from that.
Stuffed animals were favorite gifts for me and my brothers, and over the years we collected a fun menagerie. The puppets were especially popular with us, and my mother built a cardboard theater for us to play with. Bear and Fox were my favorites, and we put on a number puppet shows for my parents and our friends. I’ve ended with most of the ones that survived, and along with Teddy, they are still beloved companions who bring back fond memories of childhood and family.
I have loved soft toys (or plushies as my kids call them) all my life and have loads, but my first teddy bear is of course the most precious. He is called Tinni and for some reason he was named after my aunt whose name was also Christina, which I couldn't pronounce. Perhaps she gave him to me? No one seems to remember. I think he must have been a polar bear when I got him. He's still vaguely white but fairly bald from too much cuddling – not surprising as I've had him since I was one year old! There's not much stuffing left either but he's still beautiful and precious to me. His trusted companion Thea arrived some years later. My mom made her for me one Christmas, complete with lots of outfits, and they were always together from that moment on. I remember packing a suitcase for going on holiday and these two were the most important things to bring. Clothes? Who needed them!
These days I still can't resist buying plushies and my latest obsession is ravens. The hero of my next book is called Hrafn (which means Raven in Old Norse) and we also have ravens in our garden, which I find fascinating. Here's my collection so far but there may be more added to it soon :-) I found the first one at the Tower of London, where they have the most famous ones of course, but if you see any others, please do send me the buy links!
Bears & Bunnies & Lambs, Oh, my!
I was never a child for dolls–I was all about books and real cats, and while I had stuffed animals, I didn't have any that were The One!
I've made up for that since. <G> One Christmas a lot of years ago, a local department store back when department stores were cool had a huge pyramid of potbelly bears right by the entrance from the mall. They were delightful. I bought one for the Mayhem Consultant.
And the Mayhem Consultant bought one for me. Paired bears! It was the beginning of an invasion. In a portent of my future career as a romance writer, all the stuffedware that entered the house found mates. For my Potbelly, it was Snow Bear. She's a lot flashier than he is, but they are devoted to each other.
Then the sheep and lambs began to sneak in. <G> And other soft creatures as well. Just for fun, here is a picture of one of our oddest couples: the Owl and the Pussycat. Both are sizable puppets and both were given to me by my sister. The Pussycat is named Rainbow because of her eyes, but when I asked the Owl his name, he just said, "Whooo?"
Someday I'll tell you about the bobcat….
I have always loved teddy bears and soft, plushy stuffed toys. As a child, I had several stuffed toys and dolls that I loved, and I had a soft heart for each one—I would set them along the side of the bed at night, bears and lambs, Raggedy Anne and Andy, baby dolls, all leaned against the wall and tucked in. Every night I would change the lineup, making sure over time that each one got a chance to be the one sharing the pillow with me. Growing up, I let go of most of my toys and dolls, having two younger sisters who played with them too. Somewhere in a box in a closet, I still have part of my once-extensive Barbie collection and a couple of well-loved baby dolls. But the stuffed toys didn’t remain with me for one reason or another. As an adult, though, I’ve probably collected more stuffed toys for myself than even my three boys had (except for the one who adored Care Bears—we have several still here, loved and played with regularly by our granddaughter when she visits).
But a special bear? There was one, a beautiful, soft darling of a bear. I carried him with me everywhere. When I was five, I was riding in the backseat of the family car with my sisters while my dad drove us up a mountain road in the Adirondacks of Upstate New York where we lived. It was a glorious day, all sunshine and clear pine-scented air, and my bear and I were enjoying the ride and the breeze through the slightly open window. Bear wanted to look outside, so I held him up—and the wind snatched him out of my hands. I cried, and I remember being very frightened for my bear. My father, bless him (though he grumbled about it), stopped the car and walked back to look for my teddy. But the bear was nowhere to be seen, no doubt tumbled down the rocky mountainside and into the unknown.
Ever since, I’ve been looking for my teddy bear. That’s why I've collected so many over the years. Each one is special and sweet in its way, but part of me still searches for that little bear who went over the mountain . . . One of the Wenches suggested that maybe my teddy was discovered by a little girl needing a much-loved stuffed friend, and that he still lives happily with her.
I love that idea.
Do you remember having a special teddy bear or some soft, well-loved toy that brought you much comfort and joy as a kid? We want to hear your story!