Our 27th year of publishing
Published January 5, 2021
It traveled with me thoughout my life’s adventures
By John Toth / The Bulletin
I was going through some photos I scanned a long time ago and came upon a picture of a teddy bear, a diaper girl and a little boy.
The toddler sat next to the bear. They were about the same height like that. The boy was behind both of them. They are my children, although now fully grown with careers and lives of their own.
The bear is also mine. I still have it. I got it when I was 10 years old.
We were in Vienna, Austria, starting our new lives in 1966. My mother met an immigrant couple in the apartment complex where we subleased a room. A room was all we needed. That’s all we had back in the old country, Hungary, from where we escaped.
The couple mentioned to her that they were planning to make a day trip to Czechoslovakia, the country adjacent to Austria, to do some shopping. Prices there were better there than in Vienna, which was, even back then, a very expensive city in which to live.
Czechoslovakia at the time was behind the Iron Curtain, but relatively unbothered by Russia, which invaded Hungary in 1955 and then occupied it. The Czechs were allowed to conduct private enterprise to a certain extent. A lot of Austrians traveled there to bargain-shop.
The Russians invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, which changed all that.
We were not about to step a foot outside of Austria, where we were given temporary asylum. But others were braver and went shopping in the Czech border towns.
My mother asked the couple to bring back a stuffed bear for me, and she would reimburse them for the cost.
We actually had some spare cash to spend on things like that, which was something new for my mother, who had struggled all her life trying to make ends meet, as well as surviving WWII and a revolution.
At 10, I was more interested in race car playing cards and our new AM transistor radio. But the gift was meant to be symbolic. It was something my mother always wanted to do when I was younger, but couldn’t afford it.
One day I came back to our room after playing in the yard with other kids in the complex, and mother was grinning from ear to ear.
On my bed sat the teddy bear. I flipped out and hugged it. It made a soft growling sound when it was moved. I was on the verge of crying, but big boys don’t do that, so I held it in.
I loved that bear, even more than the transistor radio, which is a lot to say because I really was drawn to the little radio we bought in the first supermarket I had ever seen. It was tuned to a station in Vienna that played mostly classical music, although at night it also reached Budapest.
The bear made it to the United States. When we landed at JFK Airport in New York City in 1967, we went to get our baggage - two suitcases and the bear. That’s how we started our new lives in the U.S.
When I noticed that it was losing its youthful exterior and that its joints were becoming problematic, I put it in a plastic bag and placed it on a closet shelf, where it stays until I show it to whoever is interested in hearing the story about my bear.
It still makes a noise, but you can tell that it’s no spring chicken.
After I saw that photo of the kids and the bear, I had to remove it from the closet and show it off, this time to my younger son, who did not remember the bear or that I took that picture.
And, of course, he was subjected to the full story of the 54-year-old stuffed bear, not the abbreviated version you read here.
(John looks forward to hearing from you on this subject. Send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can even send an old-fashioned letter to: The Bulletin, P.O. Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516.)