It was a cardboard box in my garage. It was marked, “Sean’s Stuff.” That was it. Two words. It’s been sitting in my garage since the construction of the pyramids.

My garage looks like the aftermath of an atomic explosion. There are boxes everywhere, along with wounded furniture, elderly lawn mowers, arthritic hand tools, dead tennis rackets, and an asthmatic GE refrigerator.

I don’t even remember what I was looking for when I found this box. There were spiders inside. I am a well-noted spider hater. I released the spiders outdoors instead of killing them because it just didn’t seem sportsmanlike.

Also inside the box was an old deck of cards, comic books, a baseball cap, and an empty Schweppes ginger ale bottle. Then I found it. My old teddy bear.

He was a good bear. Actually, he was my best friend once. It is a natural thing for boys to call stuffed animals close friends. I have even met grown men who admitted to almost making a teddy bear the best man at their wedding. Don’t force me to start naming names.

My bear was named Teddy just like every kid’s bear probably was. I should have named him something original like “Herman,” but there was a factory tag on his butt that read “Teddy.” So who was I to change it? A man is entitled to keep his name.

When I was a child, I remember one time I was sick with the flu, and I held onto this bear for dear life.

Late that night my father told me the story of how the American teddy bear got its name. At the time, I was borderline delirious. Hot. Sweaty. Out of it.

My father suggested that I drink ginger ale to calm my stomach. This was his answer for any ailment. To my father, if it couldn’t be fixed with castor oil, Mentholatum, or ginger ale, you were a goner.

Well, I hate ginger ale. I am a Coca-Cola man myself. I would rather drink used motor oil than Schweppes ginger ale. But he was insistent. So I choked it down.

And while I clutched Teddy, he told the tale:

Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt went bear hunting in Onward, Mississippi, in 1902. He was in the woods trying to find a bear, but found nothing. So his assistants took matters into their own hands.

They trapped a bear, tied it to a tree, beat it half to death, then presented it to Roosevelt who was supposed to shoot it.

Old Theodore was furious. He wouldn’t shoot the bear like this. He said it wasn’t sportsmanlike. So he ordered his assistants to shoot it and put it out of its misery.

As you can imagine, this was a hot story in the newspapers back East. It wasn’t long before a shopkeeper in Brooklyn started selling plush stuffed bears that he called “Teddy bears.”

They sold like hotcakes. Even Roosevelt loved the stuffed animals. He eventually used the teddy bear as his mascot when running for reelection. Which is just the sort of sportsmanlike PR move you’d expect from a politician.

By the time my father finished the story I was crying. Not because I was particularly fond of the 26th president, but because I had this lurching feeling in my gut. That’s when I puked all over my teddy bear.

My father rushed me to the bathroom. I bounced in his arms, still carrying Teddy down the hall. I hugged the toilet and all that ginger ale went right back to where it belonged.

My father sat beside me stroking my hair. Parents do this when a child has an upset stomach. I don’t know why. It’s in the paternal DNA.

When I finally finished retching, my mother carried me to my bed and my father stayed up half the night cleaning Teddy.

I know it’s not exactly a golden memory, but after your father dies you have to hold on to whatever memories you’ve got.

Last year I was coming home from a speaking gig in Arkansas. I was riding Route 61 through the vacant, flat Mississippi landscape. When I reached Sharkey County, I was low on gas. There were no filling stations around for miles.

I was starting to get pretty nervous that I was going to be stranded in the middle of nowhere. Then I saw something in the distance. A gas station.

I hollered for joy and slapped my hands on the steering wheel. I pulled over at a faded pinewood building with two old-style gas pumps out front. A hand painted sign read: “Onward Store.”

“Onward,” I thought. “That sounds oddly familiar.”

A woman behind the counter told me this little community was famous. Somehow, I half remembered hearing about this town, but I couldn’t quite place it. Then she showed me a framed picture on the wall. It was a photograph of Roosevelt and a bear.

She said, “You ever hear the story of how the teddy bear got its name?”

And it all came back to me.

“Wait a second,” I said. “I have actually heard this story once.”

“You have?”

“Yeah, someone told it to me a long time ago.”

“Oh, wanna hear it again?”

“I’d love to, but first, do you have any ginger ale?”

“Nope. Sorry, sweetie, I don’t think we have any. We got Coke though.”

Oh well, I guess you can’t have everything.

Teddy, it’s good to have you back in the family.

20 comments

  1. Meredith Smith - January 10, 2020 11:00 am

    I still sleep with my teddy. In fact he’s sitting right here beside me as I write my comment. Supervising. I believe one can (and should) employ the use of a teddy at any age. They soothe the rough edges of life. ❤️

    Reply
  2. GaryD - January 10, 2020 12:12 pm

    Heard that story before but I didn’t know it happened in Mississippi. I learn something new every day.

    Reply
  3. Anne Arthur - January 10, 2020 12:15 pm

    Same here. My Teddy is 69, has an eye missing, a hole in his foot, and is a little thin in his coat. I love him all the same. He remembers more stories than I do.

    Reply
  4. Keloth Anne - January 10, 2020 12:56 pm

    Precious precious memories ❤️❤️

    Reply
  5. Cheryl - January 10, 2020 1:34 pm

    I, also, was of the era when ginger ale (Vernors) and that awful pink liquid chalky stuff was supposed to cure anything. To this day I almost gag at the site of either one.
    “after your father dies, you have to hold on to whatever memories you’ve got.” Beautiful. Amen.

    Reply
  6. Shelton A. - January 10, 2020 2:07 pm

    Don’t let Thelma Lou and Otis anywhere near Teddy. You’ll have a torn to pieces bear if you do.

    Reply
  7. Scott McCown - January 10, 2020 2:32 pm

    I thought about a family of “teddy” bears. My brothers and I had ours – my favorite was Pooh, my younger brother’s was very special to him. My mother had hers from her childhood. It is still in her bedroom (she is over 80). My paternal grandfather was born in 1903 and my parents have his “Teddy” bears from his youth. Not sure any of us could have survived without our “silly ol’ bears”.

    Reply
  8. Ray Wallace - January 10, 2020 2:34 pm

    Just went thru Onward on Wednesday ! Store still there and doing well !

    Reply
  9. Chasity Davis Ritter - January 10, 2020 3:30 pm

    Another good one, Sean. Another bout of allergies for my eyes. I had A few special teddy bears throughout my almost 49 years all with very special memories attached to them. The past several it’s actually been a stuffed beagle though that I’ve slept with. It wears the collar of my beloved Coco who passed away. Originally it was my daughters but she said mommy needed it more. It’s wonderful how they can bring you comfort when you’re sad or feel sick or just help keep the bad dreams away sometime. I’m glad you have this memory with your dad. I’m thankful for each one you share because it gives me pause to think of my own Dad and memories I have and cherish. Actually I’m thankful for your stories everyday weather they make me cry or not because it always lets me know we are never alone in this world. There are good people and good things to remember. Thanks Sean!

    Reply
  10. Lori - January 10, 2020 3:52 pm

    You are in time out youngin…you weren’t far from us in Greenville. You could have come to the house and had supper with us. The Onward Store is for sale now – bit of a controversy with the owners last year with flooding in the area. Long story but short story is you can stop by for supper next time.
    Long time reader..carry on doing your thang youngin.

    p.s. I’ll have a Coke for ya

    Reply
  11. Ala Red Clay Girl - January 10, 2020 4:30 pm

    I still have my stuffed panda bear in a box somewhere. Now I want to find him and put him in a prominent spot. But to do that I might have to encounter a spider. However, you are much kinder than I am; nothing is more satisfying than to kill a spider.

    Reply
  12. Edna Barron - January 10, 2020 4:41 pm

    Teddy bears are so comforting. It’s so sad to hear what was done to that innocent bear. I hope those men were punished. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  13. Linda Moon - January 10, 2020 4:46 pm

    I once had a big yellow teddy bear named Sloop. He became my best friend. My mother washed him in the washing machine after he’d become dirty from yard dirt, cuddling with a kid with dirty hands, and travelling on many road trips, too. He spun and then re-spun a long time in the washer, but he still dripped with water. So we lugged him to the clothesline where he hung for days. Sloop never got completely dry. We said some words over him as we buried him in the back yard. Like your father, that’s the kind of mother my Mama was. Daddies and Mamas seem to come back to their families in the most unexpected ways. Thanks to you, Writer, I will enjoy my day back with my family today! And I know you’re enjoying yours, too, with that memory of your brilliant Daddy…. and the Bear, too!

    Reply
  14. Steve Winfield - January 10, 2020 5:01 pm

    I had one of those baby chimps, the kind with a rubber face & holding a rubber banana. I don’t remember doing it buy at some point I bit the tip off the banana. I still carried him around for a few years with the damage. Guess he didn’t have a name. We just called it “Monkey”.

    Reply
  15. Steve Winfield - January 10, 2020 5:03 pm

    I wish there was an edit feature for those of us that never proofread.

    Reply
  16. Sandra - January 10, 2020 6:59 pm

    I had a bear I named Franklin, after the other Roosevelt!😉

    Reply
  17. Eddy - January 10, 2020 7:42 pm

    We drove passed the Onward Store for many years on trips to and from Greenville, MS.via Hwy 61. There used to be a a mural that covered the southside of the building. Also a historical marker explaining the Teddy Bear origins on the side of Hwy 61 close to the store.

    Reply
  18. Sheila - January 11, 2020 12:37 pm

    Good one Sean. I too was given ginger ale when I was a sick child. Still keep some in hand in case of a stomach bug.

    Reply
  19. Tommy - January 11, 2020 3:53 pm

    The famous bear hunter who trapped the bear was Holt Collier. He was born a slave. Joined the Confederate army. There’s a poem about a guy seeing the ghost of old Colt, his dog & his 🐎

    Reply
  20. John Allen Berry - January 13, 2020 9:07 pm

    You hit right close to home once again, my friend. I too grew up with a Teddybear. His name was, well, Teddybear. And one night, I threw up in my sleep all over Teddybear and the bed. Mom ran him through the washing machine, and he came out clean as a whistle. He resides in a cardboard box in my childhood bedroom along with a sock monkey my Granny made (Monkey Baby), at least… he does for the moment. This has given me an urge to go and bringh ‘im home.

    Thanks,

    Allen (PhDude)

    Reply

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