I still have my first teddy bear. He is an auburn koala named Ozzy, and while his original ribbon is long-gone and his snow-white tummy has greyed over nearly four decades, he’s still in huggable shape. There’s a picture of him in his youth watching over me as I sleep in my crib, with the same peaceful expression stitched on his face. A few of his friends are still around too – a wobbly dark brown bear who used to play “Rock-A-Bye-Baby,” and a squeaky little critter who is best described as resembling an open-faced grilled cheese sandwich. Wherever I have gone, in the umpteen different places I have lived, these guys have tagged along, managing to escape the grisly landfill fate that is seemingly the destiny for many stuffed friends who have outlasted the childhood of their owners. To my better half’s occasional chagrin, I have always had a soft spot – pardon the excruciating pun – for stuffed animals. No matter how stressed one gets throughout the rigours of life, a glance from one of these inanimate, insufferably cute critters always seems to say “hey, it’s okay. You’ll be fine.”
One of our favourites is a duck named Quackers. He’s a beanie baby who came from my sister’s collection and somehow not only ended up with me, but survived a garage sale purge of dozens of his brethren along with his companion, a swan named Gracie. Normally they sit together in our closet, but on occasion, Quackers likes to go roaming. You’ll be selecting a shirt to iron for tomorrow when you’ll notice abruptly that Gracie is alone and bereft. Quackers can turn up anywhere – hiding under the bed covers, lurking on top of an open door, nestling among socks, shivering in the refrigerator, tumbling in the dryer, surfing the net or even, on holiday occasions, perched in the Christmas tree. The better half protests innocence in the matter of Quackers’ frequent sojourns – indeed it often seems that this yellow mallard has a mind of his own. Discovering his latest hiding place never fails to draw out a grin, regardless of the foulness (or is that fowl-ness?) of one’s mood. He is one sneaky little ducky, full of personality – though he never says a word, and the rational adult in me knows he was designed, stitched together and stuffed in an overseas factory along with thousands of identical cousins, and that he is nothing more than an amalgamation of cotton and polyester. We have a natural tendency to imbue animals, whether real, animated or stuffed, with human traits, and are inclined to respond protectively and with love to things that are innocent and helpless – the latter remains the highlight of our capacity for nobility as human beings.
Corinthians has a famous verse about growing older and putting away childish things. There is a difference though, in what is childish and what is childlike. It’s important to hold onto the best traits of youth throughout life – honesty, excitement, creativity, imagination and wonder at the miraculous. These are often best embodied by the toys we treasured in the days when we knew nothing of money, politics or the cruelty of history. They are forever unchanging, locked into that part of our lives we sometimes wish we could recapture but remains, like memory and time, slipping ever faster through our fingers. When I discover Quackers peering at me from behind my computer screen, I smile, and for a fleeting moment my soul is five years old on Christmas morning. Pretty amazing gift from a mere collection of thread and fluff. Thanks, little fella.