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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

All Things Bears

In the summer of 2000, my friend Phyllis and I attended the Enesco Regional Convention in Charlotte. If you don't know, Enesco is the company behind many of the collectible items (Boyds Bears, Cherished Teddies, etc.) which you can find in the greeting cards stores and gift shops at your local mall. Anyway, Phyllis was big into collecting Cherished Teddy figurines at the time, and I collect stuffed animals and dolls, so we used to spend a lot of time at a local collectibles store. Then Phyllis invited me to go to this convention, and the staff of our local store had a group going as well, so we hooked up with them when we got there. It was an all-day event and was a lot of fun.

Among our group were some other ladies from the Raleigh area - Alice and Cheryl. We sort of knew them from the store where we all shopped, so we sat with them at meals. As we got to talking, they brought up this club they were in back home - the Southern Paws Teddy Bear Collectors Club. The club got together every other month to appreciate bears with themed parties and raise money for charity. Alice and Cheryl invited us to come to their next meeting and think about joining the club. Phyllis joined that fall, and I followed a few months after.

Over the years we had many wonderful gatherings full of fun and laughter. Themes ranged from Mardi Gras to Teddy Bear Picnic to Back to School and, of course, Christmas. There was always a smorgasbord of yumminess, and usually contests or raffles for prizes. The charities we supported ranged from humane animal shelters to the ASPCA, among others, before we turned our focus on supporting one of our own - Cheryl, who was battling cancer. Sure, the club was about bears, but mostly it was about fellowship - when we got together, we spent more time talking and enjoying each other's company than we did focusing on bears specifically.

As time went by, some of the women left the club for various reasons - new job, a move, what have you. We had trouble recruiting new members, too. Our local collectible store had closed when the family moved on to other things, so we didn't really have a logical place to advertise the club. Then, as it often does, Life began intruding on the rest of the local members. What had been a very regularly structured meeting schedule began to shift to fit around the conflicts that can arise.

We were down to about 5 regular local members, with a few additional members who had moved away who would come back to one or two gatherings, when things started to get really difficult. Not the people, the things. In 2006 we barely managed to have two meetings. I missed the February one because of bad weather, I didn't feel it was safe to drive. The spring meeting got moved to mid-summer when the hostess had a family conflict. The fall meeting never actually happened. These were really the big indicators that the club was struggling. Looking back on it, I can see small ones before this time, but 2006 was when it became very evident. By Christmas of that year, the club officers had decided to disband.

Phyllis and I had both decided that we were going to leave the club at the end of the year anyway. I suspect that our decision had a large impact on the officers' choosing to end the club, and I regret that. I had chosen to leave because I was having greater and greater difficulty finding the time to attend meetings (when we had them) and to prepare for them (making themed gifts, creating entries for the contests, having any money to enter the raffles, etc.) as my work-life became busier and busier.

So the club broke up. All the money remaining in the treasury went to Cheryl as she continued in her battle with cancer. I think there were some bad feelings and misconceptions in the dissolution. I regret that, too. I was very fond of the ladies and really enjoyed our times together. It was very sad that circumstances brought us to such an end. I still think of the ladies with great affection and hope they are doing well. Just how life unfolds, I guess. Life, like love, bears all things.

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