Stitching Up Childhood Friends
Sue Spears of Windsor started making herself available in May to repair stuffed animals at the Windsor Public Library on Wednesday evenings. Spears was fixing her grandchildren's stuffed animals and thought the service might be useful to others. Wednesday, July 23, 2014.
(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
Sue Spears of Windsor watches a thunderstorm from the safety of the Windsor Public Library where she repairs stuffed animals for children and adults on Wednesday evenings, July 23, 2014. "It's surprising, a lot of adults just have very special stuffed toys that they still have," she said.
(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
Windsor — When I heard about Sue Spears’ new teddy bear clinic at the Windsor Public Library, I immediately wanted to take my childhood teddy bear, Pink Bear, to Spears, so she could work her magic.
When I was a toddler, Pink Bear, a present from my favorite aunt, went everywhere with me. Each day at preschool we had show-and-tell, at which each child would bring an object in a paper bag and the others would have to guess what it was. On Monday, I brought Pink Bear. On Tuesday, I brought Pink Bear. By Friday, when the teacher asked the class, “What do you think Lauren brought today?” the class groaned in unison, “Pink Bear.”
Pink Bear now sits in a closet in my mother’s house, his pink fur turned gray and his stuffing showing through — a fond memory for me, and an embarrassing story to tell at family dinners.
Spears, a Windsor resident, has made a hobby of repairing stuffed animals like my old teddy bear for owners both young and old.
“When kids love their stuffed animals so much, they don’t even like to part with them to put them in the washing machine,” Spears said. “Kids should be able to play with them and drag them around if they want to. That’s why I want to be able to repair them.”
Spears’ free teddy bear repair service clinic — she doesn’t charge — is fairly new. The only advertising for the clinic is a small sign in the library that lets patrons know when the stuffed animal doctor will be in.
“I’ve repaired everything from teddy bears to monkeys,” Spears said. “All I use is a pair of scissors, a needle, thread and stuffing, because many times they need to be restuffed. I’ve sewn eyes back on and a tail that’s fallen off. It just takes a few basic sewing skills.”
The teddy bear clinic is still in its infancy, and Spears knows it will take a little while to get going. “I have repaired three stuffed animals so far,” Spears said. “There are many Wednesdays when no one shows up, but this does not discourage me, since I figure this is new and it will take a while.”
Spears has plenty of younger patrons who want to get a little more mileage out of their stuffed companions. I asked if she was concerned about kids getting too attached to their teddy bears. She wasn’t. Spears said she thinks youngsters become less attached to the toys over time. “When kids are ready, they’ll give it up,” Spears said.
But Spears’ clinic has a few older patrons, too. Like me, many adults find that their old stuffed animals are a nostalgic link to the past. Janice Izzo, a Springfield, Vt., resident, brought her stuffed animal collection to Spears last month.
“Part of what Sue has hit upon in doing this, is that there are some things when you’re a child that are meaningful to you,” Izzo said. “Maybe because it’s from someone, it’s something you hold dear. It’s all collected together in this odd assortment of characters and colors and patterns, and it reminds you of people.”
Rosemary Hall, a Windsor resident, brought her teddy bear, Cedric Mosby, to Spears’ clinic. Hall purchased Cedric in Ireland in 1978, so the teddy bear, who sports an Irish knit sweater and wool pants, was showing some wear and tear.
“Cedric needed repairs on his neck and ears, and some of the wool was coming apart, too,” Hall said. “Now I can’t even find where she repaired it, the stitches are so good.”
Because Spears is so careful with her patients, she inspires trust in their owners. “She’s a wonderful person,” Hall said. “It was easy to bring my teddy bear and entrust it to her. It’s very generous of her to do it as a gift to people who want to preserve their little stuffed friend.”
Izzo noted that modern toys are different. “I think there’s a different idea about toys today, that they don’t hold up and you just toss it and get rid of it,” Izzo said. “It’s not the same quality of fabric and sewing. There’s lots of plastic bits and pieces.”
Even so, Izzo said, the objects we associate with our childhoods don’t go away. They just change over the generations.
“It will look different when children of today are looking back on their childhoods,” Izzo said. “What things will they look back on? I think the key is some positive and familiar emotion connected to something. Something they had as a child, something that can be shared with other people.”
Spears agrees that what she does is all about the emotional connection.
“For adults, I think it represents a special time in their lives,” Spears said. “Maybe they have very fond memories of the person who gave the stuffed animal to them. It’s a special connection to one stuffed animal that they will treasure. … If I can keep it together for them a little while longer, that’s good.”
Lauren Bender can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3211.