Saturday, October 15, 2011

How a Toy Changed My Life

My bear is a Horcrux.

Let me explain.

When I was 12, my family went on a vacation to Sequoia National Park. Stopping at a gift shop, our parents bought my brother and I these little stuffed toy black bears with tan muzzles called "Sierra Bears" on the label. I don't know if they only existed in that gift shop or not, but I've never seen their like since. I named mine B.J. McBear and he named his Rex. For the rest of the trip they were our main form of entertainment as we created little squeaky voices for them, gave them personalities, and generally drove our parents crazy.

When we got home, the fun didn't stop. I believe it started when my brother made a little Dukes of Hazard car out of a Kleenex box for Rex. I made one too and soon we were racing them along the linoleum floor and leaping them over the steps. One thing led to another and soon they had a small fleet of cardboard cars and a small selection of clothing. Then things got really cool.

I went through mom's bag of fabric and made costumes. Batbear and Robin were born and needed a Batmobile, so more cardboard was consumed. Superbear needed no car, nor did Spiderbear, but they did need enemies. We only had the two stuffed animals so we recruited from my sister's large selection to round out the cast.

Rex had a Lamborghini, so B.J. had to have one too. Tron came out so I built them light cycles, costumes and even a tank. Then came the helicopters. I made a gunship out of cardboard with a yard stick for the propeller. When that one crashed and broke, I made another. I made two versions of Airwolf from the TV series of the same name. Did the bears have flight suits and helmets? Oh, yes they did.

The stuffed animals and their friends appeared in the first comic book I ever did; an animal version of Disney's Condorman. Just like the hero of the movie, I built all the stuff depicted in the comic book. Then there was the Return of the Jedi animal comic that I started on, but it was far more fun to play light saber duels with B.J. as Luke and my sister's polar bear as Darth Vader. He was dressed all in black, complete with the mask and helmet, but he was pasty-white when you removed it, just like in the movie.

My bear was, among other things Indiana Jones, James Bond, Dracula, Rambo, the Mighty Thor, a ninja, Zorro, Doctor Who (#4 with scarf), Perseus from Clash of the Titans (and a Pegasus stuffed animal was added to the family), an astronaut, and of course, James T. Kirk. Every costume came with little props and whatever vehicles I needed for his adventures. The Star Trek crew had uniforms and an Enterprise bridge playset made of cardboard, complete with a revolving captain's chair and interchangeable view screen. I even made Rex little pin-on felt pointed ears.

One of the last big projects I worked on was for Ghostbusters. B.J., Rex, and Pegasus (Peg) were the three main characters and they had costumes, proton packs and gadgets for catching ghosts. I sewed a stuffed "Slimer" ghost to chase around and made an Ecto-mobile with a sliding rack in the rear for the backpacks.

B.J. modeling one of the last costumes.

Only a few costumes remain, and none of the vehicles or playsets. The bear has traveled with me everywhere, sharing many adventures. I lived my life vicariously through him, even becoming good at animating him through puppetry. I can make almost any stuffed animal seem alive now. I instilled in B.J. McBear a little piece of my soul and childhood, and it remains there to this day. He and his friends sit on a shelf gathering dust, overlooking my bedroom, but every once in a while I will take them down, dust them off, and remember all the fun times we had. As long as B.J. is around, a part of me won't die.

Just like Voldemort.

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