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Hugh | by frogmuseum2
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I was either 23 or 24 years old. More than half my life ago. I’d dropped out of college after 2 years, finding it inadequate. In reality, I was. It was a difficult notion to apprehend at that age, for me. So I returned to my hometown, found work with an optician, and settled back into a life of discomfort and failure, my dreams gone AWOL. Then, my older brother had a child. My parent’s first grandchild, my first nephew. Odd, being an Uncle. And a great responsibility, I thought, as I had two such creatures and was extremely fond of them both. I remember holding the baby at the window, watching birds, with which he was fascinated. They perched wildly back then and made every tree in the front yard look like Christmas. One of his first words, pointing toward the winged messengers, was... “bird.”


The boy had toys, including stuffed animals, but I thought he needed an exceptional teddy bear. I suppose this was because of my extraordinary love of the work of A. A. Milne. His books were always a philosophical comfort to me. Subconsciously, I expect I’ve always pursued an intimate simplicity in life. My father used to read to my nephew from “Now we are six,” (before the boy was that age) and I always loved the cadence and simple lilt of the lines flowing from Dad’s cigarette-darkened voice.


Finding such a bear proved to be no simple task. So I decided to make one for him. Now this was a curious notion, coming from a naive young man who knew nothing whatsoever about sewing or crafts. Though I believed my future was bleak, I also had, and still have, this particular belief: “There are no problems, only solutions waiting to be discovered.” So I read all I could on the subject. There was no Internet in that era. Google was the local library. Books. Books with pages of paper, not code, that smelled musty, used and loved. When you ran your fingers down the spine, there was a thrilling texture to the imprint or “boss.”


But making bears took more than books. It involved a lot of trial and error. It meant designing a pattern and then constructing an entire bear to see the results. Rather like editing. My revisions seemed endless. They were also costly, as the materials were expensive and had to be purchased in bulk from a wholesaler. Many months passed before I had a pattern I liked well enough to keep. Having studied the German methods for constructing a jointed bear -- with the arms legs and head able to move -- I now began the painstaking process of making (too long to go into any detail here) my first “real” bear. I presented it to my nephew and was surprised by the reaction. Now folks of all ages were asking me to make bears for them. I had some business cards made, emblazoned with the title “The Southern Goblin Co.” I had intended to eventually design other, stranger, animals.


I made about 30 bears and sold them all. They cost the customer either $35 or $45, depending upon the quality of material used. Alas, I was young and without guidance. Factoring in the value of the materials and my labor (and all was done by hand, as I thought of a sewing machine as somehow monstrously mass-producing and impersonal), I lost an enormous amount of money by selling them at that price. Had I known of the term “cottage industry” it is quite likely I would have prospered in time.

I have four bears left. I will post a photo soon of “the gang.” Hugh was for my own self, and he is worn from years of love. Still, after a quarter of a century, he is sturdy, hale & hearty. And he remains a special friend.


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Taken on July 17, 2006