The Greatest Gift by
Stephanie Hansen

I thought I had a story to tell about a teddy bear. But the minute I picked up the pen, I realized the real story was about anything but the bear. Long before I had a most beloved bear, I had an idolized grandmother. Angela Oakes. She was small, like me, and very quiet. A saint in a sea of…not so much sinners, I suppose, as angry, fearful, misguided family. And, Lord, but she was my savior. She did not show much interest in the things I did, but she was ever vigilant of the things I didn't get. Like forgiveness. And praise. And most of all, touch.

I was in the habit of being shoved aside. I say it was "my" habit because I believed then that I was always doing something to inspire that form of ignorant rejection. Gramma would witness the rough dismissal and remind 'whoever', "Children need to be touched. Nicely." She said it just like that: a pause, and then a gentle yet emphatic "nicely". She said children were meant to be held and to hold things themselves. That's how she came to be in charge of the things I held.

I never had to reach back in my memory to recollect who gave me which bear; they were all gifts from Gramma for birthdays and Christmases. However, the year I turned nine there wasn't going to be any bear from Gramma. She died in November. Of course, I was utterly devastated. I lost my true love, my ally. Nevertheless, the closer it came to Christmas, the more I fixated on the fact that I wouldn't get a gift from her. Confused and filled with shame, I struggled to understand the selfishness that belied the reality that she had been everything to me.

On December 25, my Aunt Lois, with whom Gramma had been living, arrived at our front door carrying a cumbersomely large maple-brown teddy bear that outsized me by a good few inches. She presented it to me and waited, obviously expecting to see wide-eyed jubilation. The only feeling that gift inspired was what I've come to know since as despair. I thought the offering was proof no one understood the profundity of the loss of my best friend. I thought they were trying to buy away my grief.

Eventually, sensing the general source of my upset, Aunt Lois read me the card attached. "To my Stephie, from Gramma." Several months earlier, knowing she was dying, Gramma bought the beautiful bear and ordered it hidden away until Christmas. Knowing, as deeply as she had known me, how desperately I would need something to hold onto then. In her wisdom and her kindness, she provided me with a lot to hold onto ever since. Most of which I can't even touch.

Every birthday, every holiday, I wrack my brains trying to think of something special to give my youngest stepdaughter. I am never able to think of anything more special, more useful than a teddy bear to hold…a teddy bear to remind her of who loved her and how she was loved.

Stephanie K. Hansen Copyright 2002