Bringing out the bears is something I do each year with a little fear, and a great deal of joy.
The bears came to my mother from Sweden sometime in the early 1980's. They were sent, along with a huge box of other heirlooms, because the last of the Efverlund family had died. It was the first real contact my mother had with the family in Sweden, and she was in her 60's. Her father was the youngest of seven children, and he was the only one to leave his family and have children. All of his brothers and sisters lived at home until they died.
Writing just those four sentences makes me incredibly sad. There are so many mysteries, stories, just under the surface of those words. I remember a few facts -- they were talented musicians, and they taught music. I assume they were gifted needleworkers, the box contained many carefully worked pieces of embroidery, and knitting.
But I don't know their names, beyond the surname Efverlund. I don't know why my grandfather, Ebbe, left when he was in his teens to come to America. I do know he sailed on the Lusitania to get here. He was the youngest son, that part I know too. And I remember that he was a very funny, happy man, who played the accordion with a great deal of style and enthusiasm. He died when I was seventeen, just a few months after he had retired, from a massive heart attack.
When I put out these little treasures each year I am honoring all that I don't know about these people, this family, so far away, and never known. These little bears were kept very carefully for many, many years. And they were loved, or we would not have them now. They are proof of part of my ancestry, in a way. What I am trying to understand is the little bit of fear they trigger. I think it has something to do with being their custodian, now. It is a big responsibility, taking care of that fragile and sketchy history, those untold stories. Will I get it right?
The season we celebrate is also approached with fear and with joy. Those two emotions often go hand in hand. We are joyful when babies come into our lives, and fearful when we think about the world they are coming into, all the adventures and tears and laughter that will inevitably come to them, and all the expectations we will have of them. At least I feel that. Life is hard, life is good. Will we do it right? Will this child get enough joy to balance the fear? Will we take enough care of one another to preserve what we treasure for those who come next?
It is a sacred task, this caring we do. The caring about our own stories and our family stories, if we are lucky enough to have them. It's a kind of geneology parcticed without precision, but with careful caution to preserve what has meaning for those who want to know, for those who come next in line. Whether there is a right or a wrong way is beyond my ability to discern. But what I do know is that caring is the thing of the thing that matters. So I welcome these little bears that help me celebrate this season, these little ones who made that long journey from "the old country" to the new, bringing a tiny bit of connection. However ephemeral, I am joyful to have it. I will do what I can to pass it on.