Not one of the toys on my shelf impressed me as a kid. Sure, I asked for them, I had lots of fun playing with them, but I always wondered – how would my toys hold up over time? Would I rediscover Strawberry Shortcake at 30 years of age? Would I press her moldy red hair against my face, reminiscing about my childhood? “Mmmm, smells like….strawberries?” If Strawberry wasn’t destined to be my my favorite toy, then who?
My siblings knew how to pick a childhood best friend. My littlest sister vowed that one day her child would also cuddle the horsey pillow that our Grandma gave her. My brother’s favorite stuffed kitty Benji is a household favorite. My family requests that I perform her famous “Meow – ow-ow” at least once a Christmas. It gets a huge laugh every time.
The greatest toy of all belonged to my oldest sister, Juliann. Meet Diaper Bear – named for no good reason, born in the 70’s and working at a local honey mill. He once had to be replaced when 6 month year old Juliann threw up all over him, ruining his overalls. Dad bought her the new and improved version with stylish Americana patches.
Diaper Bear didn’t make many appearances, even then. He sat silent on my sister’s dresser next to the jewelry box and cassette tapes for years. I’d stare up at him, secretly wishing he were mine. I’d imagine myself years down the road, displaying him proudly on my desk in college. Friends would comment on his tattered suspenders and loose stuffing, praising me for my perfect childhood toy. During final exams I’d stuff him into my backpack, catching his ear in the zipper, and take him to class for good luck. After the test, the teacher would shake Diaper Bear’s hand, congratulating him for the A+.
If only Diaper Bear were my bear.
Eventually, my love for Diaper Bear grew into a real obsession. My sister constantly yelled at me me to get out of her room and stop staring at the bear. But one day I got my chance while everybody was at the mall. Carefully, I took Diaper Bear down from his perch. “What should we do first, Diaper Bear?” I grabbed a Little Debbie snack and we got acquainted as we swung on the back porch swing.
“Now if you’re going to be my bear, we’ll have to exchange secrets. Mine first. Last year I found Christmas presents hidden and I knew that Santa Claus wasn’t real. Mom still doesn’t know.”
Diaper Bear seemed amused. I looked up at the kitchen clock and knew it was time for Diaper Bear to be put away since they would be home soon.
“But I don’t want to put you back.” And then I got a great idea.
Quickly! I descended the basement stairs, catching five of the twelve steps as Diaper Bear was flung into the air. He reached towards the railing, trying to break my pace, but I didn’t let him escape. I tossed him onto my shoulders as his little brown paws pounded away at my head, begging me to let him go.
I couldn’t believe my genius as I neared the tower of green storage bins that my mom hid in a back room near the dripping pipes. I placed Diaper Bear in the top bin and slammed the lid shut. I sat down on the yellow stool that read, “Stand to be tall; Sit to be small.” My excited heart slowed to its normal beat as I came to terms with my new reality. “I’m a bear-napper!” I started to feel smaller and smaller as as I sat there with my face in my hands.
My guilt quickly disappeared when I realized that Diaper Bear could be easily found in the top bin. He had to be hidden deeper in the storage cave! Maybe the bin on the bottom would be more discrete.
Standing on my tippy-toes, I tried to tug my way through the plastic heap, but the bins were stacked too tall. The sound of gravel kicking broke my concentration. I ran to the window just in time to see my family’s car pull into the driveway. My hands gripped my chest as my heart dropped to my heels. I quickly grabbed the stool to give me better leverage.
Car doors slam.
My sweaty hands reached to pull down the bin.
Door key turning.
I slowly lifted the heavy bin above my head.
Feet and chatter nearing.
My left foot slipped and the entire storage bin tower toppled over on me. The last thing I remember is the cat sniffing my hand as mom lifted a heavy bin from my chest.
Later that evening my mom and I sat on the couch. Diaper Bear was lounging on a nearby chair, silently judging me.
“Why were you trying to hide Juliann’s bear?”
“I don’t know. I really like him.”
She didn’t respond with the lecture that I deserved; instead she gave me that stare that every kid hates. The look of disappointment that causes you to squirm in your seat until you finally break the silence with an apology.
“I’m sorry Mom.”
And it was left at that – nothing else was ever said. I carried on wondering if I would ever find the favorite stuffed animal that would embody all of my childhood memories and keep my secrets safe. A friend that could be called on during the roughest patches and loved for no other reason than being the one I called my favorite.
To be continued…