Stanley M. Fried
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It was Christmas-time in Southern California. My Mother took my brother, Norman, and me shopping. We went to JC Penney's department store in downtown Burbank. I liked going there because of the metal pipes that threaded through the store. Sales clerks would open the end of a pipe and place a felt padded metal canister in it then close the opening. The canister would be sucked into the pipe and travel to some other place within the store only to return again to the clerk. I watched gleefully as another canister would be loaded to begin its travel and I would imagine myself riding inside that container through the piping that wove its way above the heads of the shoppers at Penney's. I delighted in the thought of waving at everyone and how all the people would look up and marvel that anyone could have such a good time. It did not matter that the tubing was brass and there was no way to see in or see out or that I was too large to fit into the canisters. When I rode those pipes, everything was different.

The windows of Penney's had Christmas displays of moving dolls in costumes and trains circling about on snowy landscapes. The basement of Penney's seemed filled with a large holiday train display but we would not have time to see it that day. We saw it earlier that week or the week before. Perhaps it was the year before. We had seen it before.

After the department store, my mother took us across the street to the Thriftimart supermarket that was also across the street from a Thrifty Drug Store. I knew the signs of these store even before I read. I knew it was at a Thrifty's where I got my good friend Brownie. Maybe it was a Rexall. But I remember it being a Thrifty's so that is what it will be for now. It must have been that year or the year before. It was at another Thrifty's. It was one in Studio City where we went to see Dr. Paul. After the doctor, we were in the drug store for something. I was in a stroller. I remember it was Christmas because in the parking lot outside the store was a pen with reindeer. My mother promised to take me to see Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer and I was as excited as any child to see in person the legend sung about on the radio. But Rudolf was a distant second to the friend I would make that day.

At the checkout counter of the drug store, there was a cellophane bag on a hook hanging just low enough for me to see and to reach. Inside the bag was a plush brown bear. Not a teddy bear but one with big floppy ears and who stood on all fours like a child's version of the bear on the California state flag. I told my mother I wanted it. I have no idea what I said or if I even used words. When I looked at that bear, I knew it had to be freed from the bag. Without dignity, the bear, bag and all, was taken from the hook and thrown to the counter then tossed into a brown paper bag to be hidden from the light of day. The tantrum that followed was caused by the lack of compassion displayed by everyone to the plight of this innocent bear cub who needed to be unloosed from his chamber to breathe the air and see the world around him. I saw him being thrown into a bag like a piece of trash and began to cry, "I want Brownie!" And, so he was: named, retrieved from the dark horrors of the bag, unceremoniously ripped from the cellophane and thrust into the waiting arms of a toddling Stanley who was stuck inside the confines of a stroller.

It was a pivotal moment. Brownie took on the life I gave him. We were inseparable throughout most of my early childhood.

In the Thriftimart supermarket, I was given over to Norman to be watched. I was bored and nothing my mother or brother could do would change my frame of mind. I looked in anticipation for the Green Giant cans so I could imagine what it was like to be so huge that I could only wear leaves. And I trod along beside my brother as he strolled through the freezer aisle. I jumped up to look for the Snow-Crop frozen orange juice cans because they had a cute polar bear on the label. I found them and showed them to Brownie. Then I grew bored. I left to go back to Penney's where I could watch the model trains downstairs.

I looked for my mother but could not see her. I told Norman I was going to see the trains then left the supermarket to find the sidewalk and the way to where it was I was going. People were walking in all directions. Penney's was in full view at a diagonal to the corner where the market was. I waited for people to start walking and followed them in one direction then another until I had crossed San Fernando Road to the west then south across Magnolia to the door of the store that held my imagination.

Once inside, it was easy to find my way through the mass of Christmas shoppers to the stairwell leading down to the basement where the model trains enticed all who stood watching. Someone boosted me onto a stand for children to have a better view. From there, I could clearly see the landscape of trains starting and stopping all moving to the direction of the man in an engineer's cap who guided it all from above. The people around the platform stared at the action moving along the tracks. A train would pull up to a station and stop. Cows would move along a chute to be loaded onto cattle cars. Another train would pass with smoke rising from its engine's stovepipe as it whistled in greeting and passing.

I held Brownie and directed him to see the action. I talked to Brownie about how wonderful it all was: the people, the noise, the trains. I set Brownie onto the railing to see it all on his own as I turned myself into a participant. I was a part of the action riding on the trains up one hill and down another across bridges and getting off and on at station stops. The trains moved and I moved in them to where they went and from where I was. These toy trains carried me away to travel to places new to me. For a time, I was in this world on my own. Not responsible to anyone for anything. I stood alone watching where I would be ... quiet and assured that Brownie, too, was as free as me.

In all of a moment, this was gone. My mother swept me up off the ledge as Norman watched me be taken from this world I entered. I was fine. Everything was fine. For a moment, I thought they came to join me on the trains. For a moment, the world was as it should be. But, they were leaving. I was being taken away. I did not understand why anyone would want to leave the delights of that place. Why would anyone not want to spend the rest of their life watching the trains move in circles at Penney's?

I began to cry. Was told I was all right. I continued to cry. Was told that I was safe. I would not stop crying. Not enough hugs or kisses could stop my crying. No one understood that in the rush of plucking me from my dreams to take me away, Brownie was left behind. Brownie's life now depended on me who knew that without me he was only a doll ... some piece of stuffed cloth that would starve for a soul. I cried in grief for my friend. I cried in mourning for his loss. I could not stop crying long enough to tell anyone.

At home, after tiring of the tears, my mother finally asked me what was wrong. When told that Brownie was gone, she checked the car, she checked the apartment. Brownie was gone. Norman said it was just a doll. I knew by then that this was true. Brownie's life ended when my own was not there.

My mother either understood the kinship that developed between her younger son and his toy or was too fatigued from the stress of mothering. She left us with a neighbor and drove off. After a while, she returned with my beloved bear. I checked him carefully to see that no one made a switch on me and returned with some other bear that did not contain the spirit or shared experiences Brownie possessed. In a moment, I knew he was home and for a while was secure again.


©1998 - Stanley M. Fried




Brownie has not been performed. It is intended as a visual read.

Brownie was with Stanley Fried for over 40 years until lost in a move. His plush fur was worn off from many years of holding him. There was hardly a photograph of Mr. Fried in his pre-school years that did not show him holding Brownie.

Bear doll similar to Brownie

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