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A Teddy Bear with No Name

February 23, 2011

“And it is that word ‘hummy,’ my darlings, that marks the first place in The House at Pooh Corner at which Tonstant Weader fwowed up.”
—Dorothy Parker

Bel air shop easy  from just you and me kid

The Bel Air Shop Easy in Just You And Me, Kid

When I was ten, we lived across the street from the now departed Bel Air Shop Easy. It was an independent supermarket, nothing special but close by and pleasantly quirky. I spent a lot of time there killing time and knew half the employees. It figured prominently in the comedy Just You And Me, Kid, starring Brooke Shields and George Burns. (Even aged fourteen and co-starring with an octogenarian, Ms. Shields still manages to lose her clothes briefly.) The movie is fairly saccharine, not quite poisonous, but the kind of thing I avoid. On the other hand I have to disagree with Ms. Parker regarding Winnie the Pooh & Co. Perhaps it’s just my warped sense of humor, but what a wonderful den of anthropomorphized animals just aching for therapy.

At some point during the year, a Shop Easy manager decided that some of the uppermost shelves, the all but unreachable ones (from a ten-year-old’s point of view), would be a good place to sell stuffed animals. I was there one day with my mom and lingered in the aisle admiring one bear in particular until she called me away. I was too old for stuffed animals, but was still mildly fascinated with them. (Actually, I still am. When my older son was born, I brought a gigantic panda named Hugo to the hospital, large enough that the baby looks wary of it in the pictures.)

Boys are expected to grow up quickly, rejecting comfort objects like stuffed bears, yet tend to mature more slowly than girls. My mom was more or less enlightened about sexual equality for the time—it was the 70’s, but she was a child of the 50’s—yet was clear she didn’t want a sissy for a boy, either. Similarly, she thought (stereotyped effeminate) gays were cool but didn’t want me to be one. I was conscious of these mixed messages, and of being the “man of the family,” and tried to put on a brave face. The disability of her epilepsy and bipolar disorder, which at that point receded briefly, brought even more pressure on me to seem in control. Yet I was still just ten and had plenty of fears.

My mother was very bright and quite witty, yet a bit of an ingénue. I could usually read her pretty easily. However, she fooled me that time entirely. That night she gave me the bear as a surprise, with that broad brilliant smile she displayed when she knew she had really gotten me. It had been happening less and less as she got sicker and our connection weakened. We didn’t acknowledge that I was “too old” for stuffed bears, and I don’t think I ever quite named the bear—it was the giving of it that was the thing. Looking back, it also symbolized the high water mark where the tide of our parent-child relationship peaked at her end and began to reverse. After that I was really forced to pretend to be something other than a child. The tide never came back.

Yes, I wish I still had the bear.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Jonathan permalink
    March 16, 2011 01:34

    This is an exceptionally touching post. I found this site by googling for the Shop Easy, which I used to shop at all the time with my own mom, back in the 1970s – I lived just down Church Lane. Was sad to see it go, and feeling a little nostalgic, and now here I am with tears in my eyes. Thanks for writing this.

  2. September 20, 2013 12:14

    Beautiful. Thanks for writing… I hope you continue!

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