Childhood teddy bears can be ‘constant companions’ that bring comfort throughout life

Gayle Vea Vea can still remember the store in Portland, Victoria where her father purchased Old Ted 70 years ago.

“I can even remember the ladies who owned the shop — the Miss Frosts they were referred to,” she recalled.

“They sold everything from knitting to sewing to toys to magazines.”

Old Ted went on to become a staple in Ms Vea Vea’s life during car trips, bedroom chats, and house moves.

She tried to part with him in her teenage years “but then my heart couldn’t let go of him”.

“My mother was always ill so we had to travel to visit her but Ted was always there.”

Despite being “pretty bruised and battered” Ted won’t be heading to a teddy hospital anytime soon.

“I can see where my grandmother had stitched him … he’s got no fur, no eyes, he’s got pads on his feet and on one of his hands where my grandmother had re-sewn it on,” Ms Vea Vea said.

“I just like to look at him and think, ‘Gosh, he’s 70 — oh, hang on, so am I’.”

Ms Vea Vea is among many women who shared their teddies and the stories behind them in response to a social media post on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast seeking advice about repairs for a worn-out teddy.

85yo Johnny Baby
In Perth, Lee Beazley’s Johnny Baby — a teddy now more than 85 years old — was handed down from her mother.

Ms Beazley parted ways with the teddy when she moved from the family home in Busselton to the city at the age of 17.

She was reacquainted with him in her 30s and, with her mother, spent weeks repairing and restoring the once straw-filled teddy.

“He had a button for one eye and had been painted with white out so he had this staring white eye,” she said.

“His other eye was still intact … we found the old button box that had his original eye that was broken in half and we glued it together.

“He was quite shrunken and his foot pads and his ear pads were quite torn … but we got him restored.

“Every time I feel miserable I pick him up and give him a cuddle,” she laughed.

“It’s just funny I think, ‘Oh there’s Johnny Baby, he needs a cuddle’ and it’s actually me who needs a cuddle.”

Part of our DNA
There’s a perception that childhood bears should be discarded into adulthood but, according to psychology lecturer and researcher Rachael Sharman, the joyous connection some adults have with their teddy bear makes perfect sense.

“From a very, very early age in infancy, in the West in particular, we’re very much conditioned to get comfort, feel good, self-soothe … safe and secure with our teddy bears or plush toys,” Dr Sharman said.

“So all of the endorphins, hormones, et cetera that your brain would release … now become like a classically conditioned behavioural sort of effect.

“There’s something really written in our DNA about that warmth, closeness, softness, and that feeling of comfort.”

Dr Sharman said as we aged the object that was once a source of comfort, took up that role again.

“As you get a little bit older you become a lot more nostalgic and, all of a sudden, these old little trinkets of comfort and security become important again for some people,” she said.

Ted bathed in Chanel No.5
Michelle Marr’s German-made Steiff bear, Ted, has also been a “constant companion”, and her longest-owned possession.

“It’s just lovely to have something that takes you straight back to stories about your childhood,” Ms Marr said.

“He’s very much the old me, that’s sort of long gone, but there’s a bit of it still left because he reminds me that I was a little kid at one point who did naughty things and got a bit spoiled by my parents.”

He was one of the most expensive bears in the David Jones Elizabeth Street store in Sydney when, as a young girl, she pointed him out to her mother.

She recalled one time bathing Ted in her mother’s “very large” bottle of Chanel No.5 perfume.

“I thought, ‘If it [the perfume] is special enough for my mum to get it for her birthday it was special enough for Ted to have a bath,” she laughed.

Jut Teddy moves to France
At Eumundi on the Sunshine Coast, Eileen Walder has been “babysitting” her adult daughter’s teddy for the past six months.

“I’m going to miss him … he has been in my office and I talk to him every day because of the connection with my daughter,” Ms Walder said.

Ms Walder gave Jut Teddy to her daughter Kerrin 50 years ago on her first birthday and it became a staple through childhood, teen years, school camps and international travel — until it caught the eye of authorities one too many times.

“When she was working in the UK she left him behind because every time she went through customs they’d want to rip him open [looking for] hidden items I guess,” she said.

“But customs also think, ‘Why has this elegant, attractive middle-aged woman got this scruffy, old, dilapidated bear patched together in strangely knitted garments?'”

Earlier this year, her daughter relocated to France and leaving Jut Teddy behind one last time wasn’t an option.

“She made sure that he was well and truly packed inside her suitcase … she doesn’t want to be parted from him again.”