Cambrian: Opinion

How a long lost friend became a bear named Mouse

Aâquilted bear reminds the columnist of her best friend from childhood, who died of cancer.
Aâquilted bear reminds the columnist of her best friend from childhood, who died of cancer. Special to The Cambrian

Upon reading a thread of emails memorializing yet another dear presence among us who has gone on to light the way ahead of us, words and phrases filled the pages such as “fearless,”  “great spirit,” “infectious laugh,” “made everything seem slightly and deliciously scandalous,” “bright star” and “a dear sister.” This is how I want to live, to line this path through the universe with worthy and positive images and emotions.

We have cemeteries, shrines, photo albums — tactile items that strive to take the place of a hand on your shoulder or brushing away an errant curl of hair. When we attach emotions to our grandmother’s cake plate or dad’s old fishing boots, it may seem silly, but it’s a natural act of emotional self-preservation. I have done it too.

When my mom died 18 years ago, I went through her favorite cotton shifts that were pretty much her uniform, and cut them up. Some became squares in a quilt for both my boys; others I shaped into specific pieces and made for each of us siblings, a framed, collaged shape of my mother wearing one of the shifts and a purse. I think of her. 

Another friend is likewise making quilts for family members from a loved one’s old shirts. They are something that has that person’s good juju on it, something to have and to hold and maybe even wrap up in … pretty special. I learned of another sewing venture in Colorado that a particular cancer center does for friends and family. I, in fact, received one. 

Five years ago, I had the opportunity to attend a reunion of my graduating class from St. Dominic’s Elementary School. Most of those people I’d not seen since eighth grade. Among them was my best friend from fifth through eighth grade, Michele Hoelzel; I’d kept in contact with her through about 11th grade, and then she disappeared. Or, we just got busy in life. 

In our days together, we were inseparable. She and I could belt out popular songs of the day on the playground and get everybody joining in. She taught me how to play the guitar; we shared dreams and secrets and all those other deep and meaningful things that 10- and 14-year-olds engage in. 

Somewhere along the way, we picked up nicknames. We were both diminutive, she with a particularly pointy little nose and so became “Mouse.” I honestly can’t quite recall how I got mine but, ahem, I was forever “Fuzzy” in my classmates’ eyes. I never enjoyed the moniker so much as I did a year after that reunion (mind you, everyone called me that on that day!). 

The year was fast and furious with phone calls and emails, catching up on our lives — a lot of ground to cover! Finally, her dream came true and she got to move to Montrose, Colo. Life was grand. Until she was diagnosed months later with terminal cancer. I went to spend time with her. Every friend, nurse, doctor and orderly knew me only as “Fuzzy,” as that’s how she and her family referred to me. She had with her a teddy bear made from the shirts of a recent close friend that the local cancer center made. It brought her great comfort. 

Mouse’s husband told me at her funeral as he delivered my own special bear to me, that she didn’t want to wait until she was gone to have someone else determine what shirts would go where. My bear is made from the colorful, bedazzled blouse she was wearing the day we restarted our warm friendship, the day of the reunion. Of course the bear’s name is “Mouse,” stealthy and resourceful like a mouse, strong like a bear, comforting as a Teddy Bear. She has ridden in my car with me ever since. 

Bears, stories, blankets. … Simple but sweet legacies. 

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