By George Stahl
In a world where very scary stuff is real, we are lucky enough to have a day when we can feel a little safer, and comforted knowing we have a friend who will not turn us away. We celebrate that special friend by honoring him or her today. Sept. 9 is and has always been “Teddy Bear Day.” Now, before you see this as a waste of your time, please, read on. I think you will find that nothing could be further from the truth.
It was in 1902 when then-President Theodore Roosevelt was hunting in a forest area of Mississippi. With him on that trip, as on most of his hunting expeditions, was a corps of the press. Also with him and witness to the event that was going to happen, were men from the Secret Service. No surprise, except that the Secret Service was established in 1865 by President Grant to suppress counterfeiting, but Roosevelt was the first president to use them as his guards after the assassination of his predecessor, William McKinley. They have never left the president’s side since.
Meanwhile, back on the hunt, the entourage is stealthily moving through the woods when suddenly, Roosevelt is face to face with a bear. A young one. Theodore refuses to shoot the bear, and the press pick up on that as merciful, and they see the bear as a celebrity. All celebrities have a name, and that bear, in the woods, that day, became known to the whole country as ‘Teddy Bear.’
Well, you can imagine, Teddy Bear was a national sensation. Every kid in America wanted one. Teddy had no competition. There is not another bear like him, nor are there any other toys that can claim a relationship with a President of the United States. For 42 years Teddy was King. Children who had a Teddy Bear were loyal to their bear. No other one could take its place, and no other one was as real to them as their own. He was truly their best friend.
Then, in 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was a distant cousin of Theodore, began a campaign to help the forest service with its fight against wild fires. Before his death in 1945, just before the end of WWII, at Franklin’s approval, a poster featuring a bear wearing Jeans and a Ranger’s hat named Smokey spread across the country. The Roosevelts seemed to have an affinity for bears. Unfortunately, Smokey would not have a persona until the mid-1950s, so Teddy was still the children’s choice.
As those children grew up and the world around them changed, Teddy, it seemed would have more time to himself. Just when it seemed that children outgrew the need for Teddy, something would happen in their lives that drew them back to him as their source of solace. This probably happened more for girls than it did for boys, but still, Teddy was not far from the ‘stronger more stoic sex.’ Hanging around somewhere in a closet or under a bed, just within reach if an emergency should happen.
Well, are we in one of those emergencies now! We have COVID-19. Unrest in the streets, uncertainty in our minds and doubt in our hearts. We have plenty of time nowadays to think about all of that stuff too.
It’s not like we have a lot to keep our minds off of it, and to occupy us with other things. Reaching for Teddy in the quiet darkness of our room might be just what the doctor ordered.
If that soft, cuddly little brown bear could quiet the air raid sirens and the blasts of the bombs as they hit London, or keep the thoughts of whether or not our fathers were safe in some Asian jungle, or if our dad’s or mom’s made it through their tour in an arid desert in the Middle East, or rocky mountain landscape halfway across the world from us, then maybe, holding Teddy now, or thinking of holding him back then, could ease our minds about the prospects of our future in these most uncertain times.
There is no more reliable, no more confidential companion than a Teddy Bear for a child. As a kid you could tell him all of your fears, all of your dreams and all of your hopes for the next day. He listened, not judging, not complaining, and not arguing.
He just sat there in your arms, and looked at you with his brown eyes and half smile, and all he ever said was, “It’ll be alright. You’ll see. Now, hold me and we’ll have a goodnight sleep.” Then as you laid down and held him tight to your chest, he whispered, “I promise.”