Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Mr. Teddy

One person's junk is another person's treasure. Didn't someone famous say that? Well somebody said something like that. And it was probably "One man's junk"....but this is me, and I'm not a man. And the oldest thing I have that has always been mine is a teddy bear.

No! No!! Wait! Come back!! This won't be maudlin, I promise.

Mr. Teddy (Yes, Mr. Teddy... shut up!) is my oldest possession. And he's pretty junked-up, I must say. And before I go on, let me make it clear that he does not live on my bed, nor on a shelf overlooking my bed, nor on the living room sofa. That would be silly. He actually lives most of the time in a box under my bed, with other odds and ends.

I don't remember getting Mr. Teddy, though I can't remember not having him. And though I have no proof, I believe he is a Steiff bear. I'm not a teddy bear collector, nor even an aficionado, but I do know that Steiff bears are very good bears--'chi-chi' bears, if you will. Caroline and John-John probably had Steiff bears. Vintage ones are very valuable. I'm not sure what lil ol' me was doing with one. Probably my father, in a fit of excitement and feeling more flush than he was, splurged on the best bear he could find for his beautiful new little baby girl.

Or at least that's how I like to imagine it.

My sister's bear, Pinky Bear, was nice, but he didn't have the "stature" of Mr. Teddy, and was nowhere near as fancy. Though one of his paws squeaked when you squeezed it.....

But where's Pinky Bear now? Who knows? I know where Mr. Teddy is.

Which doesn't matter, because I would never sell him. "A," I just never would. Just don't even ask me, nerdy bear collectors...get away from me! "B," He's in no condition to sell, anyway.

He's knocked around a bit, Mr. Teddy. Seen some hard times. His fur has rubbed off in many places. The bottom of one foot tore off almost completely. My mom's friend Gert fixed the little pads of all four feet with matching felt. A repair which satisfied me, but would probably drive a mercenary bear collector to distraction. In any event, the one foot tore through again years later, and without Gert to help me through, I outfitted Mr. T with a pair of pink baby socks. He's macho enough to pull it off.

I don't think I can tell you where one other doll of my childhood is. I had a Snoopy. I had a talking Bozo the Clown that said "Wow-wee Ka-zowee!" when you pulled the string. They got lost along the way, and while I remember them, I don't mourn them the way I would mourn Mr. T if he got lost along life's way.

It's important you know that Mr. Teddy is not a cuddly bear, either. He's very scratchy, not the soft, plush, squishy type of bear you would think to put in the crib of a little baby girl. He's got glass eyes, which I'm probably lucky I didn't swallow. He was in all likelihood meant to be on display, rather than actively loved.

But Mr. Teddy got lucky, and was actively loved by me.

Life's Little Roads

Zack and I drove up Reader's Digest Road yesterday. I've passed Reader's Digest Road on the Saw Mill Parkway hundreds of times; it marks the exact half way point between my "city life" and my "country life." Once I pass it, I'm "over-the-hump" and on the way to being "almost there" in whichever direction I happen to be going.

There's a traffic light at the junction, and it's always red when you come to it. I used to idly wonder as I waited out the light if there were more to Reader's Digest Road than the giant, forbidding-looking red brick company structure you could see on the hill from the parkway. It never seriously crossed my mind to drive up there and take a peek. Never, in all the years that I passed it with regularity, did I make the right turn while heading north or the left turn while heading south to drive up and have a look.

At some point, probably about the same time that I realized I wasn't going to live forever, I began to think that I should take a turn up there, if I wasn't in too much of a hurry. But from the vantage point of the parkway it really seemed more like a massive driveway than a public road--you had to drive over the Metro-North train tracks, and maybe I would end up at a security checkpoint leading into the Reader's Digest grounds. Since of course I didn't work for Reader's Digest (I don't even read it) or have any business being there (unless "curiosity" can be considered "official business") they'd tell me to "go away." And I'd have to make some awkward and embarassing broken u-turn to get out of there, holding up traffic and annoying people.

Being awkward in public is a phobia of mine.

I did take a turn up Roaring Brook Road once. Roaring Brook Road is more or less the same road as Reader's Digest Road, it just goes off the other side of the parkway directly opposite. A couple of years ago, heading south, I came to a stop on the parkway at the light, and impulsively turned right, up Roaring Brook. Why I didn't impulsively head up Reader's Digest, when that was really the one I wanted, I don't know. Kind of like going for a member of the homecoming court instead of the queen, because you know you'd never pull it off...? But up I went, up Roaring Brook.

And...there's not much to tell. It was a pleasant winding road with lots of big old trees and lots of big old upper-middle-class northern Westchester homes. I wound around the road for a few minutes before it conveniently deposited me back onto the parkway, still heading south. Yawn.

OK, so, I'd crossed that off my 'things to do' list.

I crossed another couple of roads off my 'to-do' list over the ensuing months. Not as part of any big plan. Just once in a while when I'd pass one of those roads up in the country that I'd never been on but had passed hundreds, if not thousands, of times in thirty some-odd years....instead of plowing by, if I had the time, I'd turn and drive up.

Big Bear Road, another big hill, intersected Route 311, where snotty little Wally used to get picked up and dropped off by the same the yellow school bus I rode. Wally was not a likable kid. He used to throw rocks at dogs, which I think tells you enough about him. But the name, "Big Bear," was evocative, and why, especially when I had to slow down anyway as I passed the turn on 311, had I never detoured and had a look up there? So one day, I slowed down and turned up Big Bear.

And again, it was lovely...but nothing special. Big grand old trees. It was a longer road that I had imagined, and a steep hill all the way up. Was it a dead-end? I don't remember, though I did come back down the way I went up, so it probably was. If it had ended up on another road, I would have taken that road and continued on in the same vein until I ended up somewhere I recognized.

Mountain View Road (or "Mt. View," as it's abbreviated on the signpost) is another road on another hill I had never traveled. Mountain View Road wends its way off the county highway 164 a mile or so down from the horse farm ("The Fields") where I used to work as a teenager. My dad always referred to it as "The Pasture," since "pasture" more than "fields," accurately described the expanse of land where horses grazed and lived, and my father was nothing if not accurate in his descriptions. I remember back in those horsey days, a man came out to The Fields with his elderly mother. True to the name of Mountain View Road, his mom had fallen into the habit, from her big living room window in her house up there, of watching us...kids, teenagers....all of us of all ages, working with the horses, riding around...doing what we did. It captured her imagination, and her grown son was nice enough to figure out our exact location from that mountain top distance, put his mother in the car and drive her on out to meet us. They were periodic visitors from then on out. Mom and son would come, were always warmly welcomed, and would sit around for a couple of hours and watch the goings-on.

I thought of them, God, thirty years later, as I took a drive up that road.

I took those little side trips, those little exploratory jaunts, by myself. When I'm with someone, that generally means we're headed somewhere, with no time to satisfy a little bit of ages-old curiosity.

But yesterday, I was with Zack. Just Zack. Who has patience for his mom and her nonsense. Heading back down from "country life" to "city life" on a slow Sunday afternoon.

"Zack," I said, as we approached the red light heading south on the parkway, "I'm going to take a left turn here and drive up Reader's Digest Road. I've always wanted to have a look up here, ok?"

"OK" he automatically responded.

Followed two seconds later, as I knew it would be by, "Wait, what? Where are we going? Why??"

Zack loves to clarify. No, strike that, Zack needs clarification. It's one of his 'things.' Zack doesn't like the unknown. It makes him nervous, even the "surely to prove mundane" unknown.

"Just up here to see what's what," I said. "I've never gone up this road before in all my life, and I think it's about time we had a look."

"Well, what's up here?" Zack asked. My sweet, predicatable baby.

"I don't really know, Zack, that's why I've finally decided to have a look, don't you think it will be interesting? You know, this big red building up here, that's the headquarters for Reader's Digest, that's a very famous magazine."

"I know," Zack replied. "How do you know that?" I asked. Zack's leisure reading doesn't extend far beyond World Wrestling Monthly. "I know things!" he said.

Fair enough.We waited for the green turn arrow and made the left turn onto Reader's Digest Road. After we drove a few yards and over the railroad tracks, the true path to the big red company building became clear. It was on the left, a turn off the road, and the main road itself continued on in an arc to the right. No unavoidable security checkpoint. No embarassing u-turns. Just a big swoop to the right, a road with more big old trees, and more big old upper-middle-class northern Westchester homes, which wound around for a few minutes before it conveniently deposited us back onto the parkway, still heading south.

An old question, as old, if not as pressing, as any question I've ever had, answered as easily as that.

This ages-old little question, answered, in most anticlimactic fashion, in a turn up a hill. Why did I wait so long to do this ridiculously simple thing?

Of the hundreds of times I passed Reader's Digest Road, I wasn't in too much of a hurry every single one of those times.

Did I just know it would be a bit of a letdown once I did it? It's not as if I thought there were great questions to be answered by driving up there. It's not as if I imagined I'd stumble upon the Holy Grail, or Oz, or something, up there. It was idle curiosity, really.

Maybe idle curiosity times ten.

I'm glad I did it with Zack. He's got to learn to explore life's paths, big and little, meaningful and insignificant, with others and by himself. I hope I can help him feel more comfortable doing that.

But...I'm just going to miss wondering about it now, stupid Reader's Digest Road, dumb magazine anyway...as I continue to drive by in years to come. Just imagining what it looked like up there. It was just a little unanswered question I enjoyed chewing upon everytime I passed. And now I don't have that anymore. Should we drive up every single road, or are some roads better left to the imagination? Does every question need answering?

Then what?

Find more questions, I guess.