A Bath For Big Bear

May - July 09 Norman 127For years, Norman the gorilla sat in front of the toy store. He posed with customers, listened to children tell stories, and he even let crying babies sit in his lap. 

But  then Norman began to wonder. Was there more to the world besides sitting on a bench, day after day after day?

So he asked to visit my house, where  he sat in our swing, climbed the Japanese maple tree, and then announced, “I’m going to publish a book. If you need me, I’ll be in your writing room.”

“You have to go back to work tomorrow,” I said.


DSC08344“I don’t think so,” said Norman. “I’ve decided to write my autobiography. It could take me years to find an agent.”

“Years? Agent? Then who will sit on the bench?” 

“Ask the giraffe,” said Norman, who when asked to reconsider, said, “My swinging days have only just begun.”

Norman, it seemed, had a new life.

DSC05038The bench empty, Gerdie the loves-to-gossip chicken spread rumors around the store. Soon, all the animals wanted to audition for the job. The giraffe was too tall; his head bumped the porch ceiling. The rhinoceros was too long; his bum exceeded the width of the wooden bench, three times over. The monkey was too unpredictable; he swung from the rafters and surprised customers by jumping on their heads.

Something had to be done.

We tried dogs. Big stuffed dogs. Small stuffed dogs. Even real dogs. They barked too much. And then there was the goat, but that story is for another day.

In utter desperation, we called a meeting of the village ducks. Might they take turns sitting on the bench? Even with the incentive of extra duck food, the ducks declined the offer. 

What was the toy store to do?

046_46Then one day a large box arrived. It had to be opened outside; it did not fit through the door. What was in the box? A parade of waddling ducks  stopped to see what was happening. “Quack,” said one. 

Finally, the sides of the box split open, and out fell Big Bear. 

Big Bear smiled at us. We smiled back, until . . . 

“Was Norman this big?” someone asked.

None of us could remember, so Norman agreed to set his writing aside for the afternoon, and drove to the store so we could compare the two.

Norman sat on the bench.

Bear tried to sit on the bench, but his Big Bear bum tipped him over.

After Norman offered sitting-on-a-bench tips, Big Bear accepted the job.

norman and big bearMonths went by. Years, even. Bear greeted people. He posed for pictures. And then he began to get dirty from being loved so much. Children shared their ice cream, cotton candy, and fried dough coated with powdered sugar. “A bear that big needs a lot of food,” said a kid with his plate at Big Bear’s mouth. 

After a DO NOT FEED BIG BEAR sign was put outside, kids jumped on him instead.

“I didn’t sign up for jumping,” said Big Bear after he asked for an early-retirement package and announced he planned to move in with with Norman.

“There’s no room for you at my house,” I said, helping Big Bear back onto his bench. “I’ll ask people to be more gentle.”  

And it worked for a while, until a child insisted that Big Bear had asked to finish his chocolate ice cream with sprinkles. 

It was time for Bear to have a  much-needed bath.

The next day it rained and rained. I came ready with a bucket, a scrub brush, and a hair dryer. 

I looked at bear. He looked at me. “Oh, dear, Big Bear, you are very, very large. This may take all day,” I said.

First, I showed Bear a yoga pose. (His feet were the dirtiest, and this was the only way for me to clean them.) Bear rolled over on his head. “Good Bear,” I told him. “Now stay like that while I fill your bucket.”

At the sink, I mixed soap with hot water. I carried the bucket back to Bear.

Bear was no longer alone. Bossy Frog’s babies, who are very, very curious about all that goes on in the store, had wandered over (or rather leaped) to see what I was doing. They stared at Bear. Why was he not on his bench? Why was he upside down? Did he want to join them in a game?

Bear stared back. Why were Bossy Baby Frogs sitting on his head?

After promising the frogs they could help, I began to scrub and scrub and scrub. Bear was patient as could be. Baby Bossy Frogs were not as patient. Besides being very, very curious about all activities in the store, they are also very, very chatty. “When was I going to be done?” asked one. “What do we get to do?” asked another.  “I want to be in charge,” said the most bossy in the bunch of bossy baby frogs.

“Try standing on your head, like Bear,” I told them. So they did. For a long, long time. As long as bossy baby frogs can stand on their heads.

“Am I done?” asked Bear.

“Are we done?” asked a frog. “Yes, my head hurts,” said another. “When can I be in charge?” asked the baby frog much bossier than the rest.

“Yes, Bear, you are almost done. And now, Bossy Frogs, it is time for you to help.”

“Hooray!” said one. “Me first!” said another. “I’m in charge!” said the bossiest of the bunch.

Big Bear waited patiently while the bossy baby frogs argued over who would do what. Finally, they came to an agreement.

And by the end of a very long day, Big Bear was finally clean and dry, ready to return to work in the morning. 

If you are in the Mystic area, stop by and say hello. Big Bear loves to give hugs, as long as you don’t offer him any food, or run into him at high speeds, thinking he’s a trampoline. 




Ducks, Dragons, and a Super Hero or Two

This month, the ducks of Olde Mistick Village have come out in full force. Unannounced as usual, the annual visitors have returned to the large pond with the intention of staying until Labor Day. Our permanent resident ducks now count for one-fifth of the current duck population. The mating has begun.

Ducks waddle up and down the sidewalk, usually in pairs, or groups of three.  They chase one another–in the large pond, through the grass, and anywhere else their webbed feet will take them. The fences that line the storefronts are no challenge; they dart under or fly over. In a sense, the ducks rule the road. But like children, they can get out of hand, and this is where I come in.

Now is the time of year when my job at The Toy Soldier takes on another responsibility. Aggressive ducks, especially male ducks being overtly ruthless with females, require duck interventions. With the aid of a rolled-up newspaper, I create loud noises to disrupt their behavior. Most times, it works.

There are those moments during mating season when visiting children witness the male ducks biting the necks of the females. It disturbs the majority because they think the ducks are hurting each other. Unfortunately, sometimes this does happen. Last year, we lost two females to over-aggressive visiting males.

This is a part of nature, as I’ve tried to explain to my five-year-old granddaughter. She is now well aware of why the seagulls hover near the ponds. They watch for unattended baby ducklings, yet to be born this year at the village. Soon, this year’s babies will begin to make their appearances. That is, if the neighboring skunks and raccoons don’t disrupt the eggs. I try not to think about this too much.

With the odds against the babies growing full-term, only time will tell if we will be graced with families of ducks entertaining and delighting visitors of all ages. I can only hope so, but until then, the adult mallards and other ducks, including one lone goose, put on their own performances. Especially when it rains.






Last Tuesday, it rained and rained and rained. I dusted, checked in new merchandise, redid a few displays, and lined up the stuffed animals. Every now and then, I glanced out the window to check for any brave shoppers who had come prepared with large umbrellas. And reliable rain boots.

No umbrellas. No children wearing colorful boots resembling ladybugs or frogs or puppy dogs or ducks. Only real ducks. More specifically, the gang of three who rule our end of the village.

As first, I didn’t see them, but once I followed the direction of the quack, quack, quack, I spotted the threesome on  their afternoon waddle around the neighborhood. They were marching away from the toy store in the direction of Mystical Elements. I wondered if they planned to get psychic readings, and what their webbed feet might reveal about their futures.  Just as they passed the store, they turned around and headed in my direction. Was I possibly going to make an afternoon sale?

No. The ducks were not interested in our newest arrivals: puppets, books, science kits, and habitats for bugs. When their leader, the darker duck, headed up our walkway and quacked at me for food, I apologized for being out of duck nuggets. I assured him that I did not eat the leftover nuggets for lunch, even though I was starving and had forgotten to pack food for the day. (The last of our duck food had been given to a child who wanted to feed the ducks, and didn’t have a dollar.)

With no free food available at The Toy Soldier, the ducks waddled across our sidewalk to Garden Specialties. Duck in Charge turned right towards the parking lot to head home, while one of the white ducks seemed to be interested in a stone garden pedestal. Ignoring the others, Duck in Charge continued on his way, while Rogue Duck checked out the price tag. Perhaps he envisioned his duckiness perched on top of the pedestal, ruling the duck community. Whatever caught his eye in the first place, he quickly decided that the pedestal was either too expensive for his taste or wouldn’t fit in the ducks’ living space. The item was left behind for another shopper to buy.







Not long after the duck parade passed through town, a family with a young boy came into the store, umbrellas and all. Temporarily mesmerized, the boy stood in the entrance to The Toy Soldier until he could find his words. “Wow, oh, wow! I love this place. This is the best place in the whole wide world, maybe even the planet. Maybe even all the planets. Do you see this place, do you, Mom? Do you, Dad?”

“It’s pretty special,” said Mom.

“Awesome,” said Dad, heading for the collectible cars.

“This is my kind of store, people. I could live here forever!”

When I asked him his age, he said, proudly. “Five years and four months and twenty days old. Guess when my birthday is.”

“. . . okay.” The pressure was on. He smirked at me. Like I wouldn’t get the correct answer. I thought, thought, thought.

“Times up,” he said, leaning on the counter with a wider grin, if that were even possible.

“But . . .” I reached for the calculator, added, then subtracted, and surprised him (and myself) by guessing the right date. Phew!

 “You’re smart,” he said. “But can you fight dragons?”

“Dragons? What kind of dragons?”

“Like that one!” He pointed at the two-headed dragon figurine breathing fire. “That is a huge, HUGE dragon. And it breathes very hot fire.”

“Yes, it does. Pretty cool, huh?”

“His breath is so hot, it’s like volcano breath, and I need to fight him. I have to fight all the dragons with fire breath before they destroy the planet. I need a sword. We have to hurry. They’re coming to get us.”

“I can help you,” I told him, and then whispered, “Follow me and I will show you where the magic swords are. Maybe you could protect me too.”

“Okay, let’s go!”

Up the  ramp, we started for the Magic Sword Department, until something grabbed his attention: the rack of pop-guns.

“Wait, this might be more magic than a sword.” Pop.Pop. Pop. Pop.

“Carlton! No guns,” said his mother.

“Where’s Dad?” asked Carlton. “Dad? DAD!”

Carlton’s dad slipped away from the room of collectible soldiers. “Carlton, no guns. You heard what your mother said.”

“This stinks like one of your fart’s, Dad.”

“Come on, Carlton, the swords are much better than pop-guns,” I said.

“They are?” Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. “Are you sure? Are you really, really sure?” he asked me.

“I am really, really sure.”

His mother winked at me. His father mouthed  “Thank you.”

We continued to the back of the store. To access our upper level, you must first pass the Pink Room, which is where Carlton’s feet stopped moving.  “This is girl stuff. I’m not going through here. I don’t like pink.”

“Are you a true knight, Carlton?”


“A true knight is brave enough to travel  through the Kingdom of  All Things Pink. They have to, if they want to reach the Land of The Magic Swords.”

“They do?”

“Yes. You’re a brave knight, aren’t you?”

“No, I’m just a kid, but you can call me  Super Dragon Destroyer.”

“Wow, can I get your autograph?”

“I can’t spell Super Dragon Destroyer, how about a  high-five?”

We high-five, after which I reached into a wooden barrel to grab a sword. I handed him the black and silver toy weapon. “I only show these to the ones who can truly fight the dragons,” I whispered.

“That’s me!” Carlton said and swiped the air with the sword. Swish. Swish. Swish. “Wait, you need one too, so we can battle the dragons together.”

I took a sword for myself, and then together, we headed back down the wooden ramp, swords drawn. “Charge!” we said and pointed our rubber weapons at the display of dragons.

“I got him. I got the fire one!” Carlton ran to his parents. “The planet is safe.”

“What would we do without you, Carlton,” his father said.

“Can you buy me the sword now?”

Sale completed, I watched Carlton run down our walkway. With his magic sword held in front of his body, he swiveled in all directions, ready for any dragons that might appear from behind the bushes.

The dragons defeated, I prepared for my next battle; the ducks were at it again. A group ran past me, flapping their wings. Three males chased a lone female. Still holding a sword, I waited for the cue, and when the female appeared to be struggling with the two more powerful males, each biting her neck, I slipped into my role of Super Duck Controller, and heeded the call for help.

Despite the rain, it was another successful day for the Super Heroes of Olde Mistick Village.

Next Friday’s post: Bear Gets a Bath. (another adventure at the toy store.)

This week’s Free Fall Friday link is http://kathytemean.wordpress.com/2011/04/15/free-fall-friday-contest-6/