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“Hemlock Stories” by Ira Briggs

Holiday Memory

By Ira Briggs

1 January 2012

When I was five or six years old, my mother and I were walking down a busy street in Rochester during the Christmas Holidays. My eye caught sight of a blonde, curly haired teddy bear in a thrift shop window.

I pointed it out to my mother and expressed an interest in it. She replied that we were a little bit tight for money because of our Christmas shopping and that I had more than enough stuffed animals as it was. We continued down the street until we reached our car. I mentioned again how much I liked that teddy bear; I had this overpowering attraction to it.

When we got in the car and she started the engine, I couldn’t hold back my feelings any longer. I started crying uncontrollably. I’m not a spoiled child, but I just felt that I would never see that teddy bear again and my heart was breaking.

By now my mother realized how much it meant to me and that I would give anything to have it. She was somewhat on the spot. She couldn’t suggest that Santa might get it for me for Christmas if I was good, because it was a one-of-a-kind item and it might very well be gone if she returned to the city to buy it. She couldn’t secretly buy it at this time because I was with her, therefore, she would have to purchase it right now with me knowing I received a gift before Christmas. This was generally unheard of when rearing a child in those days. Mother finally came to the conclusion that we would go back and take a look at it, but if it cost more than a dollar, then we couldn’t afford it.

Earlier, when we were on our way to the car, I held my mother back because I didn’t want to leave that teddy bear behind. But now we were returning to the thrift shop and I was practically dragging her down the sidewalk. “Hurry! Hurry! It might be gone!”

But there it was, still in the window with all the other used items: radios, small TVs, clocks, figurines and lots of pots and pans. It was very cold outside, but once we were inside the store it felt like ninety degrees. There were so many items crammed into the small space that it seemed like there was just enough room for us to come inside the door.

Standing before us was a very high glass display case with a big crack in it. Inside were the more valuable items like used watches, rings, cigarette lighters and so forth. I remember tilting my head way back to look over the top of the glass display case.

There stood this tall skinny grubby old man with more hair coming out of his ears than on the top of his head. The muscles of his arms were flabby and the kind of jiggled around when he moved. You could have recovered a large suitcase with all the excess wrinkly skin on his face. He wore a yellowed T-shirt, the kind with no sleeves and with drool stains on the front of it that resembled a map of all the countries in the world.

He was holding a short cigarette with a long ash barely hanging on it and there were more of the same lying all over the glass counter top and spilled around the full ash tray. I couldn’t tell if he was wearing any pants because the display case was just a little bit higher than his waist.

My mother asked him how much he wanted for the teddy bear in the front window and he said, “Oh, I don’t know.” Then he looked down at me and must have known I’d been crying.

Waiting for his response was unbearable.

Then he said, “Fifty cents.”

I didn’t think a hideous creature like him could bring me such joy. I still have my teddy bear; he’s one ear less and has two iron-on patches on his nose to keep his stuffing from spilling out.

Editor’s Note: Ira Briggs is a well digger, writer and Arc Living Skills Assistant and a University of Rochester employee who hails from Hemlock. He writes short stories from his memories of the people and events of Hemlock NY.