Friday, September 24, 2010

Writing Exercise: Mickey, A Teddy Bear With Soul

Mickey Bear

I called him Mickey: Mickey Bear; the corollary to Mickey Mouse, of course. My Dad's sister made him for me when I was a baby: a vaguely bear-shaped pillow made of two pieces of velvety beige fabric sewn together, and a face made out of bits and pieces of felt, and felt marking his paws and the inside of his ears. She did it all more or less freehand, which meant his proportions were distorted and uneven. He didn't match left to right, his ears were too long and his head too big, he had no neck to speak of, and his legs were tiny stubs almost smaller than his ears. I called him a bear, but he could just as easily have been claimed as a dog or a pig or rabbit. And he was at least as big as I was, so I couldn't carry him in front of me without tripping over him, instead often opting to drag him behind me by an ear.

I adored him. I had other toys, of course; prettier toys, more realistic, more polished. But Mickey Bear was special. I slept with him, dragged him around with me, wandered through the house calling his name if I misplaced him.

Years went by. The felt making up his face, never very sturdy, became pilled and worn. During the course of our move from Portland, OR to St. Johnsbury, VT when I was about four, my brother picked out the center of the black portion of his eyes, leaving just the thin black rim under the thread. It gave him a crazed look that frightened me until I got used to it. As more time passed, he began to wear through in places and split at seams. I would lie in bed at night, thoughtfully tugging out chunks of the chopped-up foam bits he was filled with, then stuffing them back in. Mom repaired him I don't know how many times, leaving him with puckered Frankenstein's monster scars. And eventually, he got to the point where the fabric was just about too deteriorated to keep repairing. Horrors!

Faced with this crisis, Mom decided to--more or less--reupholster the old guy. We picked out fabric more or less similar in texture and shade to his original stuff, and Mom traced all the way around him, cut out the fabric and made a new face, and then we dressed him, pretty much, in a new Mickey suit. He was by necessity a little bigger than the old Mickey, as if he had grown with me. Like the torn eyes, this new incarnation took some getting used to, but it helped to know that the old, true Mickey, my forever friend, still existed inside the new. As Mom put it, he was the only teddy bear with a soul.

And then, right after I left home, tragedy struck: someone (the suspect has never fully confessed) threw Mickey away!!

He was in my closet with some of my other things for safe-keeping, since I couldn't take much with me to boot camp, and when another sibling claimed the room and cleared out my things, he was apparently disposed of. I was furious and heartbroken. Still am, to an extent. It's a relatively small thing to forgive in the grand scheme of life, but...grrr. In any case, there was no going back.

Once I was over the initial shock, Mom proposed a partial solution: together we would build a new Mickey. One day when I was home on leave from Germany (and yes, an adult, who should have been well beyond all this...) we went to a fabric store and together, slowly and with great deliberation and much reminiscing, we picked out a micro-suede style upholstery fabric for his body, fake fur and felt for his face and paws, thread, needles, stuffing. Working from memory, I cut out the heavy fabric and painstakingly stitched it together. Mom--always far better at art than I--helped me with assembling his face. And in addition to the polyester stuffing, we filled him with an article of old baby clothing that I'd worn once upon a time and kept and used heavily for my dolls over the years; a slightly silly nod to the "soul" contained in the Mickey of old. It was the best we could do, and in the end, with the work we put into him together, he's just as special as his predecessor.

Mickey the second is even more exaggerated than the original. In addition, in attempting to recreate the bear I remembered, he ended up being made far larger this time around. He is awkward looking, ungainly, even grotesque. He certainly won't win any beauty contests. But he'll always have a place in my heart and home.

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