The Year Of The Bear


A ten-year-old, kicked up to seventh grade,
not for good marks but for disruptive conduct,
I was ill at ease among these harridans
with their rolled silk stockings, compacts, lipsticks,
conversations of boys and dangerous dates.
I wrestled and climbed trees with boys.
Just let one try to reach inside my dress
as Jane Foster boasted. She must be crazy!

After the day I challenged their fastest runner
and beat her in a long race the full length
of the hockey field, I was in. I learned
bridge and was asked to all the parties.
I went from sidewalk skates into a silk dress
for an afternoon of cards, candy, and prizes-
boudoir pillows, a Brownie camera, sweater cases,
a fountain pen and pencil. Nouveau riche!
said my mother, shocked at such costly loot
for twelve and thirteen-year-old girls. And I
bided my time, not yet ready to rock the boat,
since my next misdeed might trigger a transfer
to public school where learning was out of style.

How delicate my revenge on the stern powers
that had snatched me out of a child's world
into this elderly class of girls who were growing
bosoms and bleating of love for pimply boys!
My Christmas stocking held a tiny bear.
Even fourth graders couldn't bring dolls to school,
and I disdained dolls at any age.
But Bertie, the Christmas bear, needed my help,
so small he fitted into a closed hand.
After the holidays, Bertie enrolled at school.

Only a friend or two was at first allowed
to meet Bertie under the cover of my desk.
Commotion among the curious grew. Sit down!
the teacher cried; but she was getting married
in June, and her commands had lost their clout.
Bertie, my bear, soon had the classroom wild.
Everyone yearned to own a teddy bear
that could hide in a hand, a pencil box, or purse,
quietly disruptive, just like Mary's lamb.

The ursine population swelled. What girl
in seventh grade could rise above the fashion
to bring a bear to school? Clothing came next.
Grandmothers crocheted tams, and mothers, pleased at this going back to the age of innocence,
made suits with microscopic stitches, for--
come to think of it--all our bears were males.

Soon prideful bears, enthroned on every desk,
were banned. The seventh-graders mutinied,
protested, formed committees, "Save the bears!"
We pled the virtues of this gentle folly,
promised no bears on desktops during class;
for true, the bears had a tendency to caper,
gather in groups, and catapault across aisles
during a lesson.

On our solemn word
to keep our Berties, Archies, Wilburs, Teds
both out of sight and out of mind in classtime,
yes, we could keep our fuzzy fetishes.
But ah, when the bell rang, what a crash
of opening desks to retrieve the little captives;
what wild reunions, to assuage the hurt
of forty minutes apart; what startling "UFFS"
and barks as the lorn bears rejoined their keepers!

Mary Virginia smiled, well-gratified
With the chaos she seemed to cause away from home.
This time, since all had bears, she must be blameless.
Besides, who'd dare to skip her another grade
to eighth, still one month short of eleven years?
With new best friends, added to those in sixth,
still climbing trees (though smoking cigarettes
sometimes at bridge if the mother wasn't there),
still skating with younger kids, she now enjoyed
the big girls she had guided back to childhood.

The grim promotion made to chill her ego
in Siberia, where a sub-teen must be cowed
by harder lessons, supercilious peers,
was one more challenge for a restless child.
They hadn't yet perceived she saw so poorly
that only where she stood was the world clear;
she must control the action to exist.
Somewhat subdued by glasses, she could thank
the school that gambled on her better self.
She's kept her fierce devotion to that school
now for six decades. Kimberly forever!
And she still has Bertie, the little bear who helped.

10/88
Virginia Hamilton Adair - Ten years old,lying at the beach