By the time I was born, there were fewer wolves in Wales than in Dylan Thomas' day. But even so, you had to be careful with the bears.
In November, my parents had moved into the ramshackle farmhouse that was to be their home for the next fifteen years. Cold and draughty, they struggled to make it a cosy home for their first Christmas in their own home with their baby. My mother battled to keep it and me clean with little hot water heated in the copper. A neat and proper woman, she liked everything to be "tidy" as we say. She ironed everything with the flat iron, warmed on the top of the range. It was a cold and icy December and every day my father worked long hours, outdoors. His gloves and socks hung over the warming oven of the rayburn to dry off. By December 24th, they were tired to the bone. She dressed the tree and hung up some paper chains but was was exhausted and went to bed before he came home that night. He had been working until nearly midnight to have Christmas Day off.
She was disappointed that he hadn't been there to lay the baby's stocking in the inglenook and put the cheerful presents under the tree. But at least they would be together on Christmas morning and he wouldn't have to get up at five o'clock.
Waking early, she tiptoed downstairs to make him a cup of tea. The doorway at the bottom of the stone staircase opened into the sitting room and the latch was noisy so she left the door open to make her way back upstairs quietly. Boiling the kettle in the kitchen, she heard the baby stir. A snuffly cry that turned into a good morning moan. By the time she'd got back to the latch door, he'd wrapped the baby up and come downstairs. A warm lie-in was not on the small tyrant's agenda.
Anyway, he seemed happy to stay in the sitting room. Strangely happy. Enthusiastic, you might say.
He edged her towards the tree and, amongst the jolly, colourful presents, she saw two parcels wrapped in brown paper. When she asked what they were, he simply shrugged and gave a little sly smile. Opening the first parcel she found an electric iron. Bliss. This wonder of technology lasted over twenty years, flattening all our clothes into obedience.
And in the other parcel was The Bear.
His paws went thin about thirty-five years ago and so I gave him velvet re-treads. His eyes have lost a little of their sparkle but they are original. One ear was chewed by a dog and needed to be stitched back. His fur isn't what it was and so I knitted him this sweater in the sixties. When I was about five, I gave him a bit of a haircut. His nose has worn away to a little snub. In the late fifties, he stopped growling and only said "clunk". Revising for finals in the summer of 1974, I leaned against him as I yawned my way through Lipsey's "Positive Economics". Suddenly, he found his voice. "Clunk ... errrrr", he said. A Keynesian comment, I think.
He celebrated his fifty-seventh birthday on Christmas Day. He's led a great life.
"Clunk ... errrrr"
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