Abueli duties

It was nearing 8pm at night when my daughter rang me, ‘Where is MamaBear? We can’t find it anywhere.’

 ‘Oh, I think I put her on the couch when we got home.’

‘No,’ my daughter said. ‘We’ve looked downstairs and upstairs.’

My heart stopped. We had MamaBear when we left day care. I also remembered grabbing MamaBear before our bus stop, as I wanted my granddaughter to have both hands free in case we were swayed from side to side whilst we got off.

MamaBear is caramel brown with a dark brown nose and black eyes that look tenderly at you. She is not soft at the touch as her fur is slightly upturned due to age. None of us can quite remember how we acquired her, yet she firmly belongs in the teddy bear family which my granddaughter treasures. There’s Andy, the old giant one-eyed turquoise bear that once belonged to Dadda, there’s Grandpa and GrandmaBear, BabyBear, DaddaBear and, of course, there’s MamaBear.

When my granddaughter started day care she was a model child but, by the end of the second week, she wanted me, her Abueli, to stay with her. She couldn’t understand why family couldn’t stay at day care so MamaBear became a comforting link to her family. Shala, the day care teacher, smiled knowingly when she saw MamaBear. With her Farsi accent she said, ‘I have one just like this one. What’s its name?’

My granddaughter looked at Shala and loudly said, ‘MamaBear.’

‘She is beautiful. My bear is a different colour but it’s just like this one.’

My granddaughter nodded like only three year olds do. Shala suggested to keep MamaBear in the cubby box where my granddaughter’s backpack and other belongings were kept. She could get MamaBear for nap time. My granddaughter pondered over this. ‘Otherwise MamaBear might get left behind in the play area and another child may pick her up,’ I gently said.

My granddaughter quietly put MamaBear away.

Yet, during her first month at childcare, we nearly lost MamaBear. Once, after nap time, my granddaughter forgot to put her back in her cubby box and when I went to pick her up, there was no MamaBear. We looked everywhere and then it occurred to me to search the laundry, and there she was, wrapped in all the sheets from the makeshift beds used for sleep time. My granddaughter was relieved and learned a valuable lesson: put MamaBear back in the cubby box.

But back to that fateful day when we did lose MamaBear, I thought I recalled my granddaughter with MamaBear, clutching her as we walked home from the bus-stop. Not far from home she suddenly stopped and turned to me and said, ‘Abueli, can I try the nuts?’

‘Of course, chiquita.’

My granddaughter is not a great eater. I had brought nuts hoping she would eat them on the way home from day care. At the bus stop I had shown the snack to her but she barely glanced at it. Instead, she chatted about anything and everything, from day care to the traffic in front of her. Every once in a while, she would see a bus far off and ask, ‘Is that our bus?’

So, on the pavement not far from home, I put everything down to show her the nuts. Imitating me, she popped one in her mouth and crunched. I held my breath.

‘I want more Abueli!’

We spent some minutes munching and then off she raced to get home. I quickly put away the snacks, started picking up her daypack and my bag and I looked up. As she neared a driveway, I shouted, ‘Wait!’ She came to a stop and solemnly turned to me. I caught up, we passed the driveway and then we ran home laughing.

Later that evening when my daughter said with concern, ‘No Ma, we’ve looked everywhere’, I flashed back from day care to the race home.

‘Maybe when we stopped to eat the nuts; maybe MamaBear was left behind then.’

‘Okay’ my daughter said quietly.

Later, after her sobbing daughter had finally fallen asleep, my daughter rang again to say that my son-in-law had gone and looked with a torch but there was no MamaBear. Had we left MamaBear on the bus after all? Now I couldn’t be sure. My daughter repeated what my granddaughter tearfully had said about MamaBear, ‘I held her tight.’ I was distraught and I told my daughter, ‘I’ll try to get through to the bus depot’ and we hung up.

The depot only had a recorded message with an email address. I emailed straight away and then I had a thought. Could I possibly purchase a similar looking MamaBear? I naively started with Kmart and Target stores online and then as I clicked onto site after site, I was overcome by the myriad of stuffed teddy bears in this world. There are black, brown, cream, white, rainbow teddy bears. There are plush Jellycat bears, Russ vintage antiques, collector item teddy bears, but not one resembled MamaBear.

Around midnight, reeling from teddy bear overload, I turned to Facebook and got instant replies. People suggested Lostbox Australia and other community Facebook pages. Someone wanted a photo. I did it all. A person then posted that they had seen a similar teddy bear hanging in a tree, but in another suburb. Could MamaBear be the victim of some teenage prank?

As I despaired at never finding MamaBear or an exact copy of her, I began to think about how to help my granddaughter deal with this loss. Someone on Facebook suggested to tell my granddaughter that MamaBear had gone away on a trip and that she was enjoying herself. No, not that, instead I thought to tell her that MamaBear was playing hide and seek. She had hidden very well and now didn’t know how to get back home.

I imagined the two of us searching all the hidey-holes in the tree laden streets of Newtown. I saw us searching in St Vinnie’s, the Red Cross and other op shops in case she had been handed in by some kind soul. I imagined that over the years, it’d become an annual ritual going from shop to shop in search of MamaBear. I could see my granddaughter at 20 years of age, ringing me on the anniversary of her loss, ‘Shall we meet at nine for breakfast and then do the rounds?’

‘Of course, chiquita, but remember your Abueli can’t walk as fast anymore.’

I even imagined my granddaughter on my deathbed holding my hand and me whispering to her, ‘Don’t be sad chiquita, I’ll always be with you. You will see a sign. I will give you a sign.’ She’d smile because she knew I’d steer her to where she would finally find MamaBear. She’d go to my daughter excitedly with the precious bear in her hands and they’d laugh and cry.

It was near 2am and I kept searching Gumtree, online stores or reading the various empathetic responses in the different places where I had posted a photo of MamaBear. It was a restless night.

Next day, my daughter rang to say that she saw my post on Facebook and that they decided to put up laminated posters around their streets. My granddaughter wanted to speak to me and dramatically announced that MamaBear was lost and reported about the postering. I expressed my sympathy but she moved on chattering about something else. I told my daughter about the sighting of a bear in a tree in Camperdown. It was a long shot but I had to check it out.

I made my way to the wide Mallet Street lined up with trees. I was told that a bear had been seen near the park. I nearly gave up when something caught my eye. Yes, there it was, an abandoned bear hanging upside down tied to a tree branch. This bear definitely was the closest looking one to MamaBear, but it was light brown and much smaller. I didn’t know what to do. The clouds above were getting dark grey and I just couldn’t leave it hanging like that.

Next, I went to Waverley Bus Depot and put my case to the depot worker who tried to assure me that no teddy bear had been found on any bus. He explained that all bus drivers check every seat but as I left and walked past the lines and lines of parked buses, I had to resist the grandmother urge to enter every single bus and look for myself.

Then I went to day care, not so much to see whether MamaBear was there, but to talk to Shala, and find out from where she had gotten her bear. But alas, I didn’t get a chance as she was in a reading circle with the children, so I went to my daughter’s place. They were out doing errands and I spied a leftover laminated poster on the table. After a quick late lunch, I set off to half a dozen op shops in the south side of the main street of Newtown.  It was Friday afternoon and people traffic was low so I was an interesting passer-by armed with a poster and a tale. All happily took my details in case MamaBear was handed in.

It was nearing the time of the day when I had walked with my granddaughter from the bus stop to her home. I figured that locals who went on about their daily business may have spotted the teddy bear somewhere, so I retraced my steps with the poster in hand. I again saw the smiling young man who had been gardening while we had strolled past. ‘Do you remember me and my granddaughter walking here yesterday?’ Yes, he remembered but he couldn’t remember whether we had MamaBear. He wished me luck.

For the next hour, near the spot where we had stopped to eat the nuts, I asked about MamaBear to all passers-by. Some had already seen the poster but no one had seen MamaBear. Then a red car came and parked near me. The driver got out. He was a businessman in his mid-sixties. I nearly didn’t ask him because I felt silly asking about a teddy bear to a very conservative looking man but he looked straight at me so, pointing to the poster, I blurted, ‘I’m wondering whether you saw this bear yesterday?’.

He paused, ‘Yes I did, it was lying on the pavement right about here.’

I couldn’t believe it. He was sure. I thanked him profusely and two minutes later, a man and his teenage son walking their dog, also remembered seeing a teddy bear on the concrete by itself. I excitedly texted my daughter to say MamaBear had definitely been sighted near the spot where we had eaten the nuts. At that point, I turned to my muertos, my deceased loved ones, especially my great-grandmother. I beseeched her, ‘por favor abuelita, tengo que encontrarla.’ I implored her, ‘please bring this bear to me somehow.’ I was prepared to door knock every single house on that long back street of Newtown. Then I saw my daughter’s text message. Nearly out of battery. Someone rang about MamaBear. Please contact. I called and held my breath.

The man on the other line said, ‘Yes, I think I have what you’re looking for.’

‘Really, where did you find it?’

‘I’m not sure but I saw the posters and I’m pretty sure it’s the same one.’

I was slightly irritated because he wasn’t telling me about seeing a teddy bear on the pavement. Yet I held out hope. He lived only a few blocks away and we agreed to meet half way.

From far off I saw a very elderly athletic man, and as I waved, he held out MamaBear. I was nonplussed. It turned out that he had been walking a friend’s dog, pushing his bike with a big carry bag. Harry is the sort of recycler who likes to pick up useful things from the street. He had been intrigued by the street library opposite to the spot where MamaBear had been forlornly left behind. He had taken a long time choosing a book or two and it wasn’t until he got home later in the evening that he noticed the teddy bear in the big bag; put there by the dog.

To say we were elated is an understatement. My granddaughter took the news as any three-year-old would: Of course Abueli found MamaBear! I looked at my daughter and we smiled. Her shiny eyes were my prize.

I had taken a photo of Harry to show my granddaughter. My friends laughed, ‘You took a photo of him?’  Shala’s eyes twinkled and expressed amusement at the clever saviour dog. The Facebook community chortled with delight. While my nephew, on hearing how I had been asking complete strangers on the street about the bear, exclaimed, ‘What persistence!’

It had to be done. MamaBear had been lost on my watch. Grandmother duties. I nodded in gratitude upwards to the skies.

A year on, my granddaughter sometimes takes MamaBear to day care, sometimes she takes Bandon, from the word ‘abandoned’, the upside down teddy from Camperdown, and they are never ever left behind.

For De Las Rosas from Peru, the learning of English triggered an interest in words and in how one can play with them and create different meanings. Her first writings were in English yet her very first poem was in Spanish. In the 1990s some of her poems were published in community publications. In 2008 a poem was featured in the anthology Auburn Letters whose launch was part of the 2008 Sydney Writers’ Festival. De Las Rosas completed a Masters in Creative Writing at UTS in 2009. In 2016, her poem ‘Elsa’ was third prize of the Trilce Literary Competition.


By De Las Rosas

Issue 1 | Autumn 2022

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