The day I left for college, I had a hard decision to make. As my parents made for the minivan, I took a hard look back into my room. I changed my mind for the 150th time. And then I changed it back again. There might be a fire. Your roommate could steal him. Your roommate could let OTHER people in the room who may steal him. You might be THAT girl. He could get lost in the move. IT JUST ISN’T SAFE. And so, for the first time EVER since I’d acquired him, I turned around and left Flower the WatchBear. Left him facing the doorway of my room, guarding it, keeping watch for my return.
When I was but a tyke, my Dad traveled a lot for work. He flew places on “business” and carried a briefcase full of “paperwork”, making sure that “plants” had “quality assurance”. We’d talk to him on the phone to say goodnight and goodmorning, and to bargain for new King Farglebargle stories upon his return. Sometimes we’d pick him up from the airport, and others, we’d lay still in bed, determined to be awake in order to run down the stairs for hugs and presents the second that his key hit the lock. Because that was the best part: The presents!
Before he’d even taken off his coat, we’d prise the briefcase from his hands, fighting over which of us got to spin the dials of the number lock to reveal what surprises were inside. Sometimes, he’d make it to the kitchen and we’d clamber around his knees in Pee-Your-Pants excitement. Oh-So-Slowly he would raise the lid, keeping a straight face, chatting with my mother, as if he didn’t notice how impatient we were to collect our treasures. Most of the time, it was airline peanuts. He’ sweet talk the stewardess into giving him some extra packets. Sometimes, when the trip was longer or particularly unique, the spoils would be larger…one of them, I still have.
The WatchBear was imported to me from Flynt, Michigan. About the size of a large, two-slice toaster, he had coarse black fur, stood on all fours and pointed his nose stalwartly forward. Dad unveiled him one evening when I was small (and I swear the gifting immediately preceded an excursion to the IceCapades, though this has never been confirmed or denied). We sat on the narrow stairway and I was formally introduced to him. He’s a WatchBear. An antidote to that thing BREATHING in my closet. A guard against the grasping hand under my bed. Protection from everything I couldn’t see in the night and insurance for a night without nightmares. I immediately named him Flower***.
I slept back to back with that bear until the day I left for college. He watched so I could sleep, kept an eye out for shadowy menaces and ill-meaning spirits. He was a soothing presence and kept the anxiety at bay. He had traveled with me for nearly my entire life.
That morning, he gazed back at me from his perch at the foot of the bed. His plastic nose was gone, and there was evidence on the bottom of his feet of the day I decided his fur needed a trim. Around his neck, there were patches of multi-colored thread, minor surgery performed over the years by my mother and her sewing needles. Leaving him was no small decision, but the risk of something harming HIM was too great for me to chance. I stalked down the stairs and took my place in the Voyager, arms empty. “He’ll be guarding that door until you get home Rosebud” my Dad said as he backed out of our driveway.
My Dad has given me no shortage of gifts over the years. His early travels inspired an impressive postcard collection as well as a thoughtful array of little treasures, tiny and medium-sized trinkets picked up simply because he thought I’d enjoy them. McDonald’s breakfasts before school when we were older, after he’d already worked a 12-hour night shift and looked tired, but still glad to do it. Two hour drives to my college because I’d forgotten a basket of laundry. A graceful and quiet sympathy extended after my first heartbreak. A punishment pass after I nearly put the car in the living room. A stupid joke to keep me from passing out before walking me down the aisle on my wedding day. From my earliest memories, my Dad has been around in any and every capacity I’ve ever needed.
This post is for my Dad. Because I can’t be home in person to take him out for lunch and a scotch or two. And because he is (sorry everyone else) The World’s Best Dad. Even though he still sneaks M & Ms with diabetes. And collects old vacuums out of dumpsters. XOXO
***When it comes to WatchBears, gender rarely has as much to do with naming as sheer childlike spontanaeity.