It was Christmas morning and JC* was 10-years old. Back then, it wasn’t unusual for children to expect only one gift awaiting them under the tree (how that exploded into the shopping and gift giving frenzy of today is a topic for another post). The fact that she was living with her grandmother since her parent’s divorce did not seem to impact her celebration. She was an independent, resilient child and Nana was always fun to be with.
Nana finally awoke and the celebration began. The fast process of unwrapping only meant that JC had more time to play with her gift: a beautiful, white teddy bear. It was love at first sight and for the next couple of days she spent day and night with her new friend. JC thought she was the luckiest little girl in the world to have the only white teddy bear in the world. In part, she was correct; teddy bears, which were first produced in the early 1900s, were named in honor of Theodore Roosevelt and were usually brown.
It was a day later that Nana mentioned that JC’s aunt and cousin were unexpectedly coming to visit for the day. …’’I don’t have a gift for your cousin, Ruthie. She’s about your age, so let’s just give her your teddy bear and I promise we’ll get another one for you tomorrow…”
Before she could react, the doorbell rang and a few minutes later, her teddy bear was in the arms of Ruthie, a bratty little girl that she remembered not liking the last time she had met her. Prompted by her mom, Ruthie mumbled a quick thank you, threw teddy on the couch and ran outside to play. JC’s lips quivered as teddy left the house that day, being dragged on the ground and then thrown into the trunk of the car.
Nana kept her word and the next day they were up and dressed early to go teddy bear shopping, downtown. She always made outings special and this time announced they would first stop at the bakery for a sweet bun. Fortified, they traveled from store to store, only to find no white teddy bears in stock. Finally, Nana decided they needed to settle on a brown teddy bear and made the purchase. JC tried, but could never play with that brown teddy. The crushing feeling of disappointment left her with a lump in her throat and a pain in the pit of her stomach that never really went away.
All these years later, these memories would come to the surface and take hold of her. She found herself sharing this story with family and friends, as if retelling it over and over would somehow free her. Why was there a white and a brown teddy bear all of a sudden sitting on JC’s bed? They looked out of place against the sleek sophistication of the modern décor. It happened they were recent gifts, lovely gestures; the white one from her daughter-in-law and the brown one from a male friend, who like Nana settled for a brown teddy when no white ones were available.
A couple of weeks later, after enjoying dinner together, JC all of a sudden, teared up and confided in me that the adorable duo were wreaking havoc on her emotions. Each time she entered her bedroom, she would go back in time and relive her parent’s divorce, bouncing back and forth from her grandmother to her aunt’s homes, the quiet strength that she wore like armor. She couldn’t just give them away, but realized they had to go…, but where?
The answer came to me immediately. When I dropped her off that night, I brought the teddy bears home with me. Now named Blanca and Castaña (the words white and brown in Spanish), they are delicately wrapped up and awaiting their introduction to JC’s great- grandchildren, along with the story about their spunky, resilient great-grandmother who was tough enough to endure all of life’s heartbreaks and smart enough to know when it was time to bear her soul and let go of the past.
*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.