Sunday, November 2, 2014

Clare Bear

When I was less than a year old, my father went on a tour of Asia as an aide to an admiral. The admiral’s wife, who also went, was a grandmotherly sort of woman, so she took Dad under her wing to help him buy presents for his children and wife. She was possessed of impeccable taste and good bargain sense, so she led him into the Asian bazaars and emerged hours later triumphant.

On one of these shopping expeditions, Dad bought me a gift for my first Christmas. It was an enormous stuffed Panda, found in Seoul. It was a good four feet long, very soft and fluffy, with a paw that squeaked when squeezed, and brown, kindly eyes. My family has pictures of me, looking like a small, grinning monkey at nine months old, completely enveloped in this huge stuffed animal. Once I grew old enough to start naming things, she received the rhyming name of Clare Bear (even at two years old the sound of words was apparently important to me).

I played with her, and napped on her, and jumped on her. It took a long time for me to be bigger than her, and during that time she became so well-loved that seams burst and my mother dutifully sewed them up with coarse thread so I could keep on playing with her.

I suppose around age thirteen, I put away the majority of my stuffed animals, and Clare Bear went into the storage room with the rest of them. Whenever I went in to add anything to my pile of memorabilia and toys from childhood and high school, I would see her, still with kind brown eyes, looking at me sideways from her place on a shelf.

As I’ve discussed in other posts, I have become rather adept at making stuffed animals myself. I’ve made four teddy bears for godchildren, nieces and now my first nephew who was born in July. I understand pretty well how it all works.

A thought occurred: hopefully I’ll have children one day. I’d like them to play with Clare Bear.

So I retrieved her from the storage room. Her fur was a shade of faint yellow. One ear was practically falling off. Several seams were opening all over her body. Her faux leather nose was cracked and peeling. She was in pretty sad shape, proof that she had been well-loved. She needed a good cleaning, a reinforcement of most of her seams, a refreshment of her stuffing, and a new nose.

Once I had bought more faux leather, then, I got to work. First all her stuffing came out, including the little plastic bladder that makes her paw squeak. Then I set up my sewing machine and got to work. She was at once harder and easier to sew than the small teddy bears, since all her material is thicker but she’s also far bigger, which makes the sewing areas less limited. The majority of her seams got reinforced and all the old hand-repaired rips were sewn up. She got a new, perfect nose.

Next came bath time. I took the magical stuff called Shout and rubbed down her entire pelt with it (she still smells like it – floral and clean), and then popped her in the washing machine for a gentle wash. She came out gleaming white – it had been so long since she was white that I was surprised to find she wasn’t naturally ivory! After a trip through the dryer, she practically shone.

Then I pushed all her old stuffing back inside, making sure to reposition her squeaky paw, and added to it with some doll stuffing of my own, just to make sure she was good and plump. She had become rather flattened over the years. Then I sewed up her back, patted her all over to make sure the stuffing was in place and voila: she was a vision – Clare Bear resurrected.

I’ve stored her in a new cotton pillow case with a zipper to make sure she stays white and clean, and returned her to storage to wait for new children who would like to play with her. I’ll probably even let them give her their own name, now that she’s good as new. Every child ought to have toys passed down to them from their parents, but also enjoy the right of claiming them for their own. I’ll be intrigued to learn what they want to name her, some day in the future…

It was just a small project to restore the stuffed animal, really, but it was deeply satisfying. Taking old things and making them new again somehow builds a bridge between the past and the future. In a culture where everything has become increasingly disposable, it’s a healthy act to put time into the preservation and restoration of beloved things.

I’m sure everyone has some story like this – something they’ve reclaimed or repurposed to give it a new life. I’d love to hear how you did it in the comments.