I think I would’ve been okay if I hadn’t seen the trash truck.
I’ve been clearing out a lot and one thing I finally decided to let go was Samuel Pierre Bear who has lived with me for nearly 60 years. Samuel Pierre is a large — very large — stuffed Panda bear that a young man named Samuel won for me at the Pomona Fair when we were teenagers. Samuel Pierre Bear has lived with me in Houston and South Africa and London and now Las Vegas. He is a very sturdy fellow standing about 3 feet high and weighing 35 pounds. Wherever I went, he went.
When I left home at the age of 22, SPB accompanied me on my drive to Houston. When I joined the Foreign Service and was assigned to the American Embassy in South Africa, SPB went along. He was packed up with all my other (meager) belongings and shipped, courtesy of the Department of State. On the manifest, the box simply read “bear.” When I arrived in Pretoria, everyone at the Embassy was eager to know what was in the large box marked “Bear.” As soon as I got a flat, I had a “meet the bear” party to which most of the Embassy personnel came. I took a picture of one of the young wives striking a pose while she was sitting on SPB’s lap, a martini in one hand and her arm wrapped around his neck.
When I was transferred to London, he claimed his own chair in the living room where he stayed the entire two years. My English friends marveled at (1) the size of my flat and (2) that the government paid to ship a large stuffed animal several thousands of miles.
After I returned home to North Hollywood, he stayed in my old bedroom and when I went back to Houston, he was with me. In 1980 I flew to Las Vegas to marry Bob Smith, the stage manager at the Riviera Hotel, both now gone. My brother moved into my condo and I planned to go back for my car and other stuff at some point. One day my brother called and said he was getting ready to haul “that bear” out to the Dumpster. Yikes! I flew back and once again Samuel Pierre rode shotgun as I returned to my new home in Las Vegas. He was no good at conversation, but he was one heck of a listener. And he helped me feel not so alone on those long stretches of highway between Houston and Las Vegas.
Bob adopted him and one summer day when we’d been sitting by the pool Bob decided to give him a bath. Of course getting him totally wet would’ve been a bad idea, so we laid him out on a couple of big towels in the sun and gently brushed him with soap suds. Removing 20 years of dust brightened him up a lot. We also managed to remove part of his nose (sorry, big guy, but I’m not entirely sure we were both stone cold sober at the time).
When I moved into this house, SPB claimed my grandmother’s tapestry chair in the bedroom, where he’s been ever since. Every morning when I woke up, I saw him, unless there was a cat sitting on me which happened from time-to-time. I had been thinking of things that really needed to go. I had hardened my heart, tossing old letters and photos, even favorite books into trash bags. And now I realized it was time for Samuel Pierre to make his final journey.
It took two large black bags — one for his head and arms, one for his torso and legs. A workman at my house saw me struggling and helped me carry the bundle to the curb. “Wow, this is heavy. You got a body in here?” he asked. “Sort of,” I told him and he didn’t say anything more, perhaps thinking it might be true. We set the bundle down alongside the other trash bags and I walked away.
As I said, I would’ve been fine if I hadn’t happened to walk by the window when the trash truck came and started loading the bags into the back. At that moment my eyes welled up and I got a huge lump in my throat. My instinct was to run out and say, “Wait!…” But no. It was time. It was time. I swallowed hard and went back to my housecleaning tasks. The next time I looked out, the curb was clear — everything gone.
It was just a stuffed bear. It wasn’t alive, except in my imagination. It was time to let it go. Nothing stays the same forever. In a few days it will seem normal to not see him there. But for now, it’s a little raw. What can I say? It’s been a great life and we had some good times. But now it’s time to say it … Goodbye, Samuel Pierre. And thanks for the memories.