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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Somewhere along the way, the eyes were replaced.
They are blue now, an interesting color choice for a teddy bear.
But then, this is one interesting teddy bear.
He’s seven decades old, loved on by a little girl in upstate New York so intently that patches of its golden mohair are worn away, its tattered felt nose held on by pins and, well, there are those replacement eyes.
For years after that, the bear sat in a drawer in that little girl’s room as she grew up, moved on, moved up into the world of politics and government in Washington, D.C.
But that little girl, who grew up to be Linn Tytler, never forgot that bear.
Eventually, both ended up in Albuquerque, eventually in a lovely home in a neighborhood off Academy and Wyoming NE, the bear carefully stored away in a bag in a bedroom.
Until this week.
Now the bear, along with a stuffed panda Tytler picked up years ago at the San Diego Zoo, is among the many teddy bears called into service once again for little girls and boys – and not-so-little girls and boys – seeking something to do in these disquieting, social distancing days of COVID-19.
Across the globe, people are placing teddy bears in their front windows for “Teddy Bear Hunts,” which not only give children and their families a safe way to scavenger hunt, usually from the comforts of the family vehicle, but offer a way for neighbors to feel connected in these disconnected days.
One bear hunt began Sunday with a message on NextDoor from a Cherry Hills mother named Melanie.
“My kids are getting very restless being stuck at home all day,” she wrote. “I’ve seen these ‘Bear hunts’ on social media and I think it’s a cute idea. People put teddy bears in the windows and kids can go on a scavenger hunt. Anyone like to participate?”
Oh, did they.
Within minutes, the idea spread, from Cherry Hills to Heritage Hills, Heritage East, Academy Estates East, Quintessence, Candlelight Hills, North Wyoming and well beyond.
Each neighbor excitedly posted how they were retrieving their fluffy childhood friends from boxes and bags and shelves and storage – or perhaps borrowing newer ones from their children – and perching them in windows or porches visible to the street.
“I saw somewhere that, during our isolation, we should put a teddy bear in our window,” wrote Alice of Bear Canyon, an aptly named neighborhood for such an activity. “That is a wave to those walking by. So, if you walk by my house and see a teddy bear in the window you won’t think I have gone crazy!”
Betty, also of Bear Canyon, wrote: “It’s a simple gesture that can bring joy to others. We’re doing it!”
The hunts are believed to be inspired by Michael Rosen’s 1989 children’s book “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt,” which opens with the lines, “We’re going on a bear hunt. We’re going to catch a big one. What a beautiful day! We’re not scared.”
On NextDoor and Facebook, announcements of bear hunts have sprung up from Tanoan to Eddy County to Alamogordo, from California to Maine, London to New Zealand.
To Academy Park in Albuquerque, where Tytler, 72, lives.
“I dug out my childhood bear that I couldn’t bear – pardon the pun – to toss to join in the fun,” she said. “Figured a 70-year-old bear could join the fun.”
If Tytler’s name sounds familiar, it’s because she’s had quite an illustrious career over the years. She’s worked as a foreign policy defense legislative analyst in Washington, served in various congressional administrations and the President Ford campaign and administration. In 1977, she moved to New Mexico to run the re-election campaign of Sen. Pete Domenici, fell in love with New Mexico and decided to stay.
Here, she’s been emergency management operations supervisor and spokeswoman for Los Alamos National Laboratory, a state legislator and a State Police reserve officer (she met her husband, James Fisher, when he was a State Police officer).
These days, she and James are retired and hunkered down – “hiding,” she calls it – at home, socially distancing and staying safe from a virus that has changed just about everything and imperiled even more.
“We’re being very careful,” Tytler said. “We stay home, read a lot of books on our Kindles, watch a lot of movies, a lot of shows like ‘Poldark,’ ‘Outlander,’ ‘Game of Thrones.'”
And now, they’re part of a bear hunt.
These hunts may have started out as a way to appease bored children, but they have also become a distraction for the rest of us, a way to feel a part of a community we mostly see now through computer screens and windows. They’re a way to reconnect with a faithful old furry friend, a cherished memory from our childhoods when life seemed simpler, sweeter, within reach.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, email@example.com, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.