By RICH FOLEY
Long time readers of this column will remember the story of Teddy, my childhood bear, who was beheaded by my brother. Luckily for him (and me), my mother was able to re-attach his head, a feat still not duplicated by trained surgeons to this day. Another local man was not so lucky.
After reading Teddy’s story, he shared an experience from eighth grade and his first “kind of” girlfriend. He had won a teddy bear at a school fund raiser and promptly gave it to the girl. The next day, he and a pal walked out to North Morenci to see her.
She decided that she preferred his friend and was finished with him. “To express her feelings,” he wrote, “she ran over the bear with a riding lawn-mower. It was a long walk back to Morenci.”
What a sad story. Even my mother couldn’t have saved that poor, defenseless bear. I hope he bought another bear (and found another girlfriend). Sometimes that’s harder than it sounds.
I have been looking for more information about Teddy for years without success, even though there are countless articles and books about collectable bears out there. I’ve even had searches registered on eBay for several years under every possible item title I could think of for a similar bear. Last month, I finally hit the jackpot.
Someone listed an item titled “Vintage Rubber Gerber Bear Baby Toy Advertising Doll,” a broad enough description that I received three emails from eBay informing me of its listing. The item matched my searches for vintage rubber bear, vintage Gerber bear and Gerber rubber bear. Better yet was the picture with the item listing.
Looking back at me was a cheerful, smiling face just like Teddy’s, except it belonged to another bear. He wasn’t white like Teddy, but more of a yellow/orange. The seller said he got him at an estate sale in an old plastic bag, and that the bear was VERY sticky and oily feeling.
I wondered if someone decided to coat him in STP to preserve him, thus explaining the yellow color. Teddy himself occasionally gets a bit sticky, but a gentle dish washing liquid usually takes care of it. I figured that I could probably clean the bear up with no problem, and hopefully, the description would cut down on the number of bidders.
I made a copy of the auction listing at the library, giving the librarians on duty a laugh when they saw what I wanted to buy. The story got even stranger after I did a little more research.
The seller of the bear lives in Stella, Missouri, which boasts a population of 178, according to the state map. The big shock was when I looked up the location of the town. Stella is only about 20 miles from where my mother and the aunts who gave me Teddy grew up. Even though Aunts Sue and Liz later moved to St. Louis, they often traveled back to southwest Missouri where many relatives remained. Did my aunts buy Teddy for me during a trip back home? Both bears were from Missouri, could they have come from the same small area?
Even weirder than that, Stella is less than five miles from the former Army base where my parents met during World War II. More than 40 years after my mother came to Teddy’s rescue, it seemed odd that the only similar bear I’ve ever found came from the same small area that she not only grew up in, but met her husband in. That settled it, I had to unite those two bears.
I made a somewhat insane bid on the bear to ensure I won it, but in the end, it wasn’t needed. Every time I visited the library, Sally Canfield asked if I was winning the auction. Each time I checked, there were no other bidders as the sticky, oily description seemed to stop other bids. I won the bear for the minimum bid of $9.99.
When the bear arrived, I discovered evidence that he had never been played with. It turned out he was naturally yellow with orange ears. That means there may be other colors to search for. He wasn’t as sticky as I expected, but I wonder if people throw them out when the rubber starts to “sweat.” That could explain why they’re almost impossible to find. But that won’t stop me from searching for more.
Teddy and his new companion, named “Miracle Teddy,” have already visited the library. Now, I want to find a Radio Flyer wagon like I gave Teddy rides in as a child. I’m sure Miracle would enjoy a ride, too. Aren’t second childhoods fun?