SHERRY KUGHN: Teddy bears have special memories

Carol Newborn shows off some of the teddy bears she made from her mother’s ‘house shirts.’

Sherry Kughn

I have a sister, Carol Newborn, who often “does crafts.” She draws, paints, sews, cuts, and drills as she creates things she usually gives away as gifts. Her basement is a warehouse of supplies, and her job at Walmart — where she has worked for 35 years — gives her easy access and a 10 percent discount to almost everything she needs.

I admire my sister’s dedication to creativity. In her past, she has made some amazing costumes on special days at Walmart, such as Wonder Woman and Elf at Christmas. Also she has made curtains, quilts, pillows and paintings for her house. For family members, she has made polar fleece neck warmers, painted rocks with family pets on them and embroidered throws. One of her two daughters, Doni, enjoys craft projects on the same level her mother does. Both of these women are talented, and recently Carol outdid herself.

Last March, during an estate sale for my mother’s household goods, Carol gathered about 22 of mother’s “house shirts” for a craft project.

What are house shirts? Mother had a fondness for shirts made of denim or chambray. She bought them, usually at one of the many thrift stores she frequented. She chose shirts with plaids, paisleys, stripes, florals, and solid colors and especially liked red, white, and blue ones. Mother’s habit was to wear her good Alfred Dunner blouses to the senior citizens’ center each morning in downtown Oxford. When she returned home, she put on one of her house shirts.

Mother also wore one whenever she was chilly, and she kept at least one in her car. All four of us daughters were mildly amused at her dedication to this habit, one that we had never known anyone else to embrace.

“Here, put this on,” she often told us as she donned a shirt and rolled up the sleeves.

I forgot about Carol’s gathering of the shirts until a couple of weeks ago. She had driven from Georgia to where the rest of us had gathered to help another sister, Cindy, who was moving from one end of Calhoun County to another. As Carol entered my house, she carried three white garbage bags filled with stuffed bears. She set the bags down and opened them.

“These are teddy bears I made from Mother’s shirts,” she said. “I made one for each of our family members.”\

My jaw dropped as I watched her pull out more than two dozen, adorable bears made from the shirts that I recognized. As I hugged a couple of bears, I felt warm inside, just as if I had hugged Mother.

“Some of them from her closet still had the sleeves rolled up,” she said.

My sister, who works not only full time but also overtime if her boss asks, had spent countless hours on these gifts. She explained how she had searched for and found a pattern. She spent hours each evening cutting out the bears before sewing, filling, and stitching the final steps by hand.

“Each one takes about four hours,” she said.

My sister, Brenda, also from Georgia, and I were amazed. We photographed Carol and ourselves with her bears. We drove to Cindy’s old house and presented her with bears for her and her children. In spite of moving about among cardboard boxes, she also paused and thanked Carol. This time all four of us sat on her couch and took photos.

Afterward, we packed the bears and did what we always have done, help a sister overcome an obstacle.

We loaded the bags of bears and dozens of moving boxes into three vehicles and drove to the new house.

We worked with a lighter step, thanks to the gift of the bears. It happened to be Cindy’s birthday, so we paused at the new house long enough to light a candle that Carol placed on a donut as we sang “Happy Birthday.”

All three of my sisters have always been dedicated to family. This time, however, Carol outdid herself. She admitted to me later that day that she had persevered through the project even though, halfway through, she realized the project was bigger than she thought. She explained her motivation to finish: “Mother teaching me to sew is one of the best things she ever taught me.”

The fabric of each of our lives is filled with love, friendships, and plenty of laughter. Life gets hard sometimes, such as during a move. I know Cindy appreciated the help we gave her, and all of us appreciated the time we spent with each other and our little bears.

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