The Throaty Growl and the Trace of Yearning: On Glamor, Responsibility, and Teddy Bears

My grandfather and his bear: a parable of friendship and temptation, in his own words.

Early one evening shortly before Christmas Day [1925] Helen took him to a toy store in the area of shops up the street from the hospital. It was dark night in the street, but the shop was brilliantly lighted by many exposed filament light bulbs.  There was a low counter and shelves above it displaying dolls, Teddy bears, felt monkeys, and other toys.  Helen must have made a previous survey and wanted Grant to have a chance to approve his main gift.  Grant sensed that she was pushing him tactfully to select a particular Teddy bear, but at least initially his eye was taken by a felt monkey in a red jacket with bright brass buttons and a "bell-boy" cap.  Helen clearly didn't like the monkey, the bear did have a quiet, kindly charm, and the bear gave a throaty growl when you tipped him forward.  Grant saw he ought to vote for the bear, and so he did. Perhaps Helen believed it was a choice between a solid friend and a flashy acquaintance.  Probably she was right, but more than 50 years later Grant still had a trace of yearning for that red-jacketed monkey.  The toy is a symbol to him of all those touches of glamor which you give up a when you set your course for a steady, responsible life, as McC-----s in his time generally did.
More than fifty years later...
(More than eighty years, in fact,
when this picture was taken.)
The Teddy bear was a faithful companion of Grant's Assiut years.  His growl mechanism failed after a few years so that he only rattled inside when moved.  His feet and paws had to be patched with light khaki when the original cloth covering wore out.  Helen made him a suit of blue-gray material with a pocket in front and several red buttons below the neck.  After a year or two Grant once tried to shave Teddy with his father's straight-edge razor.  The cut was stitched together by Helen, and Grant was made to repent for his thoughtlessness by having Teddy put away in a drawer for many days.

So many things.  First, note that Grant wasn't reprimanded for playing with a straight razor at the age of five, but rather for thoughtlessness to Teddy, whose integrity as a faithful friend he had failed to honor. Secondly, and on a related note, I want to declare here and now that I am vindicated of personal responsibility for the oddity of my adult belief that stuffed animals have feelings, a belief that has, on occasion, led me to try to enlist D in massive stuffed-animal-liberation maneuvers in the gulags of FAO Schwartz.  Clearly, both the excess of anthropomorphizing empathy and the tendency towards allegorical melodrama are delightfully but inalterably genetic.

Thursday, 19 April 2012
Washington, DC

Leave a Reply