The house was cold, for its owners were not home, and a wintry sunrise just barely poked its way through the bedroom curtains. The Bears poked their heads out from under the covers. They might have fooled you into thinking these were just plain old small stuffed bears, if you had been watching, but these were special bears.
The smallest, “A. Bear”, has a little red T-shirt which reads, “Atlanta”. A. Bear usually has the least to say of the three of them, but always has a pleasantly unquestioning expression which suggests no particular need to amplify on things. A. Bear was recently adopted after having been acquired on a business trip, so we have much to learn about his ways.
“T. Bear” is the happiest bear of all time, with a uniquely tranquil smile which seems to bestow his blessings on all. “T” probably stands for “Teddy”, but he is the first of the bears to become “special”, so never really needed a full name. He sports not a T-shirt at all, but just a single lavender ribbon, for T. Bear is our hospital bear, and nurses you back to health when you are not feeling good. He will always squeal with delight when he sees you, and make you laugh, but he watches over you always, for bears never really sleep at all, you know.
“C. Bear” is the largest and oldest bear, and our only “problem bear”. He wears a yellowed old rag of a T-shirt which reads “Living Sober”. We rescued him from the pile of unwanted animals, in the corner, and washed his T-shirt. He promptly complained, so we named him “Complainer Bear”. C. Bear is a dour old thing showing the ravages of time. His fur condition, origin and T-shirt all suggest he may be considerably older than the highest number of years to which bears can count, which is, “two!”.
So it was, on Christmas morn, that the bears found themselves “home alone“.
“Where did they GO?”, complained C. Bear. “I TOLD you that’s what they would do! They ran off and left us behind again, THAT’s what they did!”
Not one bear said a word. If you’re a bear, there isn’t very much you can say about it. To pass the time, they counted spots on the textured ceiling for a while, but that wasn’t any good, because bears have to start over when they get to “two”. They tried taking a nap, but that wasn’t any good either, for bears never really sleep at all, you’ll recall.
After a while, T. Bear said, “I bet they left us some presents, though.”
“Ooh!” squealed A. Bear, “Let’s go look!”
“Even if they did,” objected C. Bear, “we couldn’t get them. They probably left our presents in the stupid old stockings. THAT’s what they probably did!”
Nevertheless, the three bears scampered into the living room to take a look. Sure enough, way high up on the chimney hung three stockings. And on each stocking, little felt letters that said, “A” and “T” and “C”.
“Told you so!”, exclaimed C. Bear. “Now we can NEVER reach them!”
Not one bear had anything to say about this, because it takes bears a long time to think of anything to say. But bears are always thinking of something, so, after a while, T. Bear said,
“We could climb up and get them”.
Before this really had time to sink in, C. bear was objecting again:
“No, silly! Stuffed .. stuffed bears don’t have claws! Only real bears can climb!”
And it took C. Bear a long time to get out the “stuffed” part, too, because, well, C. Bear was a stuffed bear!
So, after a while, A. Bear piped, “I know! I know how!”
And A. Bear whispered something in T. Bear’s ear: “Bzzp bzz buzz bz bzz!”
And then, T. Bear whispered something in C. Bear’s ear: “Bzzp bzz buzz bz bzz!”
And here’s what they did: A. Bear scampered up on top of C. Bear’s shoulders. But that wasn’t any good, because they were still many bear heights short of the highest bear’s reach.
So T. bear scampered up on top of A. Bear’s shoulders. But that wasn’t any good either, they found, because the stockings were still higher than the highest bear could reach.
After a while, when they had this figured out, A. Bear said, “OK. Now.”
So C. Bear scampered up on top of T. Bear’s shoulders, and A. Bear quickly scampered up on top of C. Bear’s shoulders.
This only works when you’re a stuffed bear and can’t count higher than “two”, by the way.
A. Bear quickly grabbed the stockings, and, before anybody could see how it all happened, they were all sitting on the living room rug again, looking for their presents.
In A. Bear’s stocking they found a key. Not any old key, mind you, but a bright and shiny new key. All the bears could see it was a storybook key, not the kind of key people use nowadays, so they put it aside until they could figure out what it was good for.
In T. Bear’s stocking they found an old black-and-white photograph. It was of people, people they had never seen before, with not so much as one bear among the lot of them. They put it aside until they could figure out what it was good for.
In C. Bear’s stocking they found nothing at all. That’s right, nothing!
“Maybe they meant to put something in and forgot, I mean, maybe they ran out of time!”, offered T. Bear.
You can always tell when C. Bear’s in a bad mood when he won’t even say anything to complain. In fact, not only wasn’t he saying anything, he even turned back into a just-plain stuffed bear and just sat there. The other two couldn’t shake him out of it, so they just sat there for a while.
About mid-afternoon, the sun had gone around to the other side of the house. Three bears were just sitting there on the living room rug. It would have been hard to tell them from ordinary stuffed bears.
By and by, A. bear got up. “Where are you going!”, asked T. Bear.
“I’m going to sit in the sun. Want to come?”
“Sure!”, said T. Bear. And they started to totter off into the sunny room, but C. Bear didn’t follow. He was still being a stuffed bear. Between them, A. Bear and T. Bear barely managed to drag C. Bear into the sunny room, and they pushed him up onto the windowsill.
Then they scrambled up too, and propped C. Bear up between the two of them so he could see too. And they watched the rest of the afternoon go by, and a lovely Christmas afternoon it turned out to be, too.
They watched children play in the street with their new toys. And they saw a bird, a robin, perhaps, singing in the pine tree. The sun glistened in a thousand rainbows through the rain droplets clinging to the pine needles, so maybe they at least had a Christmas tree, after all.
But it was hard to dispel the disappointment of C. Bear’s empty stocking. They tried hard to let the sun and the Christmas pine tree cheer them up. But that wasn’t any good, because C. Bear was still being a just-plain stuffed bear. After a while, T. Bear said,
“You know, I wonder what the presents were supposed to be for. Didn’t they have to be there for some reason?”
There was no immediate answer for that, but by-and-bye, A. Bear said, “I think I know.” And then he told them, and he talked for a long time, too, particularly for a bear of few words.
In Bear language, A. Bear said that he thought the key was the gift to unlock the future, because it certainly wouldn’t unlock any lock he’s ever seen.
A. Bear said that he thought that the photograph meant that it was OK to cherish the past, but that the black-and-whiteness of it was to remind us that it’s never the same.
And the empty stocking? A. Bear allowed that this was really the greatest gift of all.
“What do you MEAN!”, exclaimed C. Bear, his old complaining self once more.
“I think … I think you got the future itself, and we’re all in it!” piped A. Bear. He explained that he thought that even when we have the key to the future, and a past to come from, we can’t really see the future at all, so that must be what C. Bear had really received in his stocking.
All the bears could see the sense in that, so they sat silently in the sun for a while and marveled about the future, and about how much A. Bear has finally had to say in one sitting. They asked him about that, too, and A. Bear allowed that he’d really had a long time, in bear years, to think about it.
The sun itself smiled on them, and they sat there in the sun for a while longer enjoying their Christmas afternoon together. Finally, A. Bear said that he had one more thing to say.
C. Bear asked what THAT could possibly be, after having gone to such lengths to explain the Christmas stocking gifts. So A. Bear smiled, and he put his little bear arms around both his bear friends, and said,
“I love you!”
All the little bears exploded in laughter and giggles and jumped up and down together on the windowsill (except when anybody was looking, of course!). And, you know, it would really have been hard to say at that point which was the greatest gift of all, but the bears, being the way bears are, just sat down arm-in-arm and watched the sunset. It had turned out to be a wonderful Christmas day after all.
© Alex Forbes, La Parola December 1993
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