Monday, April 2, 2012

The Tale of Griswald

by Julia Buckley
Back when I posted my "Things I Love" list, you might remember that I mentioned an old Teddy Bear named Griswald, and suggested that his origins were very interesting.

They go back to about 1970, when I was six years old, and my mother, who was born in Paderborn, Germany, decided to go home to visit her family.  This was relatively traumatic for me, and I assume for my four other siblings, as well, because we had to make the one-hour drive to O'Hare Airport, watch our mother (who had been a permanent fixture for all of our lives) lift her suitcases and disappear through the boarding gate.  As I recall, you could accompany someone just about up to the doorway back then, and you could look at the plane as it taxied down the runway.  We watched my mother's Lufthansa ascend into the sky, and then we went home, feeling bereft.

My father kept our spirits up with his "fun" week plan, which included things like scrambled eggs for dinner (because all he could really make was scrambled eggs), and the help of a nice lady from our parish who made some meals and welcomed us when we arrived home from school.

But despite his efforts, I was thrilled when, a week later, all six of us piled back into the car and returned to O'Hare to pick up my mother.  We waited at the window and saw her plane land.  We watched expectantly as all the people made their way down the steps.  We wondered how my mother managed to not be among the first several to disembark.  Nor was she among the last who trailed slowly out.  She wasn't there at all.  When it finally dawned on me, I started to cry.  Then my sister started to cry.  And my poor father, who hadn't quite figured out why my mother wasn't on the plane, had to comfort five sad children who thought she was gone forever.

We went home again.  This was long before cell phones and easy communication between nations.  We had no idea where she was, and even my father looked worried.  The day turned to bitter night; I went to bed  without a tucking-in from my mother, and I cried myself to sleep.

In the meanwhile, my mother, whose flight had been diverted and who had been forced to board a different plane, ended up at O'Hare at midnight.  She called my father, who was frantic and wondering how he could claim her when he had a house full of sleeping children.  My mother told him that a kind janitor at O'Hare had volunteered to drive her home.  My dad didn't like the sound of this, either, but he grudgingly agreed and then waited at the window until a car pulled up (driven by a genuinely kindly janitor).  My weary mother arrived with her bags.  I suppose one of the first things my father told her was that her children's hearts had been broken when she didn't get off the plane; she was moved enough to come to my room at close to one in the morning and to wake me from a sound sleep.
"I'm home," she told me, and I smiled blearily at her.  And then she tucked Griswald into my arms.  That bear was the symbol of all good things--things found, and a mother's love, and toys from far away.  Later there would be Gummi Bears and marzipan and the traditional trinkets that we always got from Germany at birthdays and Christmas . . . but nothing could exceed the joy of Griswald, or of having my mother back at home.

Griswald wasn't just any bear.  He could talk.  If you leaned his fuzzy body backward and then straightened him again, he said "Baaa," which is the Teddy Bear version of growling, I guess.  He had a rich, beautiful voice, and I'm sure my family had to put up with endless bleatings as I tilted Griswald this way and that in the weeks that followed. I knew that this bear had traveled more than 4000 miles to be with me, and he and I have been dear friends ever since. I would never think of giving him away, and he did not become one of the multitude of toys with which my children played.  Griswald, I assured them, was too old and frail to be dragged about.

Poor Griswald is now mute with age, but he remains one of the primary symbols of love in my life, and he reigns in ancient splendor on the dresser in my bedroom.


Katreader said...

What a wonderful story, and what a wonderful bear. Give Griswald a hug from me!

Julia Buckley said...

I shall! Thanks, Katreader. :)

Sheila Connolly said...

How lovely. And it's nice to have huggable memories.

Julia Buckley said...

Great expression, Sheila. :)

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Moved me to tears, Julia. :)

Julia Buckley said...

Then I have done my job. No, but seriously--even in thinking back on this cobwebby memory, I was remembering things I hadn't thought of in a long, long time. And it is bittersweet.