The Russian Bear

Well, holiday season has begun and that leaves most of us thinking about presents. That’s an especially difficult situation if all  of your children happen to be adults. Well, for me, in at least one case I don’t have any trouble at all and never have.

My oldest son collects plushies… That’s right, Erik the Aweful… Master Sergeant. E. J. Choron of the United States Army… age 28… collects plushies and always has. He has over 300 now, and has been working on his litle “family” ever since, literally, the day he was born. Erik was born on Christmas morning, December 25th, 1981, I was there for the delivery, but I went home afteward and took a nap. When I went back to see him in the hospital a few hours later, that very first Christmas, I took him his first Christmas/Birthday present… a Care Bear… It began from there. That Care Bear, and a matching smaller one, are the prizes of his collection… almost… There’s one  more that’s just a little special.

You all know that I live in Russia, and that my kids were raised here. When Erik was about ten years old, the old man who lived in the flat underneath us came up to visit one day and saw all of Erik’s animals, all sitting neatly on his bed, even then, there were about sixty of them. In any case, it was Revolution Day weekend, and that’s what makes me think of this now.

The next day, the old man came back. When I opened the door, I saw that he had a shoe box under his arm. He asked to see Erik if he was there. Of course, he was, and Erik was sort of flattered to have a visitor. In any case, the old man leaned down and smiled at Erik and said “Grandson, I see that you have a lot of little friends…” He pointed to all of the animals on the bed. “I have something for you here, someone who has been with me for a long time. I can see that you will love him, and give him a good home, and it’s been a very long time since this…” He opened the box, and inside was a very old but very well cared for articulated, origina “Teddy”… “It’s been a long time since “Mishka” (Russian diminuative for a little bear) has had a little boy to love him… He once had one who loved him very much. He’s been lonely for a very long time. He was my son’s bear. My son… left me…  in the war… I want you to have his bear… Give him a good home and love him”.

When he lifted the little bear out and handed him, very gently, over to Erik, my son huged the bear, then hugged the old man and told him thank you… in very good Russian… Then…

The old gentleman turned to me, reached down into the bottom of the box and took out an old black and white photo… He looked at me and said, “one of these days, when the child is older and understands, show him this”. He handed me the photo. “Tell him that this little bear once met Lenin”…

The photo, which must have been taken in the early 1920s, showed a little boy, about ten years old, standing in line with what looked like his school class. He was holding the little bear up with his paw extended, and Lenin was shaking hands… with the bear…

The man’s son died in the Second World War.

There was very seldom a day, after that, that Erik would not stop and see the old gentleman on his way home from school, or wave to him, or sit and talk with him in the courtyard in front of our apartment building any time he saw him. He’s gone now, like so many I’ve known over the years. He passed away not too long after he gave Erik this very special gift. He had cancer. I think he knew that he was dying when he did it. Erik and I both cried when he left us.