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Empowered by imagination

Natalie’s eyes were wide. It was almost as if she was holding her breath. Her head was leaning to one side on her knees with her arms wrapped around her legs.

“You know what he did then?”

She shook her head slightly.

“Well, he knew he could help.”

She broke her silence.

“He had special powers; he could do something no one else could.”

“That’s right, Nat, he was a special bear that could knit stockings, and that’s just what Santa needed for the kids who didn’t have them.”

The story had been inspired by a gift Carel Bainum had dropped off at the office that morning. It was a teddy bear with a Santa’s cap that transformed into a stocking. Carel had filled the stocking with small packages.

This was a Christmas bonus that thrilled my 7-year-old granddaughter. Years ago when my children were not much older than Natalie, Carel – then Carel Callahan – gave them string puppets. In later years were other toys, but the puppets had a magic as the kids created and staged stories.

Over the years, too, my daughter Diana has made a point of sending Carel a Christmas card with a picture of her family. So when Carel learned Diana and Natalie would be here between Christmas and New Year’s, she stopped down to the Beacon with the bear that when turned inside out become a stocking.

As it happened, only minutes after leaving off the gift, Carel, Natalie and my wife Carol crossed paths at Sandy Lane Meat Market. Carel met Natalie for the first time, unless you count Natalie’s baby shower that must have been in 2004.

The story of the bear with the power to help Santa grew and grew. It started off simply enough, when I asked Natalie why she thought the bear was wearing a Santa hat. That answer was easy: he had to be a Santa helper.

“How did he help?”

Natalie was stumped. She hadn’t thought about it.

“I’ll tell you.”

Natalie jumped on the couch and waited for the story. Now I was on the hook. Setting the scene was easy enough. After all, every kid knows bears live in cottages and eat porridge (except today it’s probably granola and yogurt), so certainly they must hang stockings from the mantle on Christmas Eve.

I looked at Natalie. She was going along with the story.

“What do you think they left for Santa?”

“Cookies,” Natalie said with delight.

“Anything else? Did he have something to drink?”

“Milk.”

“No.”

Natalie looked surprised.

“You see,” I explained, “these bears knew Santa had a long night and many houses to visit. They wanted to make sure he wouldn’t fall asleep while driving his sleigh, so they decided to leave him coffee.”

“But there was a problem,” I continued. “They wanted to make sure Santa had a fresh hot cup of coffee and they didn’t know when he would get there.”

Natalie waited for the answer. I had to come up with something.

“They had a timer.”

Of course, this raised the question of what time to set the timer. That got us to why the baby bear, who by now was dubbed Leo, stayed up and actually met Santa. It was Santa who recognized his special power to make stockings and took him along for his nighttime deliveries…after his cup of coffee, naturally.

Natalie fondled Leo, transforming him from bear to stocking and then back again. His powers were pure fantasy. Yet words enabled the transformation.

Is this not so different from what we seek from the New Year…the possibility of things imagined, is a knitting bear a bit far out?


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