Doug Tales 33: Smokey the Bear

Doug Mendenhall’s daughter Denise had a little stuffed bear which she called Smokey. She got the bear as a gift about a month after she began her recovery from a coma in 1999 (when she was ten years old). At the time, Doug also received a gift, but this was an intangible gift of judging—or rather not judging—others, due to his involvement in the physical gift of Smokey. Doug shares those events in chapter 7, “Smokey,” of My Peace I Give Unto You (2001) on pages 125-128:

“Hey, Denise, would you like to go with me to pick up Deon at work?” I asked as I headed for the door. For some reason, I didn’t want to go alone.

“Sure!” She grabbed her coat and ran to catch me at the top of the stairs.

It took a minute for our car to warm up. It didn’t like the cold and if you didn’t let it warm up, it would sputter and cough for the first two miles.

It was a short ride to Deon’s job at a nearby copy and mailing store. I pulled the car into a spot right in front of the neighboring store dedicated to smokers. I wasn’t a smoker and had no interest in anything having to do with what I always thought of as a dirty habit.

Deon, it appeared, was going to be a few minutes. She was still closing up the store. I made myself comfortable and turned on the radio…

“Daddy, what’s in that store?” Denise pointed to the cigarette store.

“Oh, there is nothing inside there but nasty cigarettes. We don’t go in there because we don’t like cigarettes. They make you sick and they make you smell bad.” I was happy just waiting in the car for Deon. I didn’t want to go inside.

“Oh Daddy, please! Can we go in? Please, Daddy!”…

“No, Denise, let’s just sit here and wait for Deon.”

“But look Daddy, they have a teddy bear in the window.” Denise pointed at the store window, “Pleeeease, Daddy, pleeeease?”

I turned off the car.

“Okay, but just for a minute. I’m telling you, there is nothing of any value in there.”

We both got out of the car and went into the store.

Since Denise got home from the hospital I’ve had a difficult time telling her no. I can’t endure inflicting any kind of mental or physical discomfort on her. I guess it’s just my reaction to almost losing her. So when she set her heart on checking out the cigarette store I knew I was going to succumb to her pleadings.

“Hi, can I help you find anything?” The woman behind the counter asked as we entered.

“Not really. My daughter just saw the bear in the window and wanted to get a closer look. Thanks anyway.” I replied.

“It’s a cute, cuddly bear and it’s on sale. There’s no reason why she can’t cuddle up to it and take it home.” She smiled at me and then glanced over to Denise who had rescued the bear from the window display.

“Thanks, but no.” I cut off our conversation and turned to Denise. “Sweetie, why don’t you go get a soda and you can drink it in the car while we wait for Deon.” All of a sudden, I felt very uncomfortable.

The congregation all knew of my strong dislike of cigarettes and I didn’t want them to see me inside the store. It was an image thing and I became very self-conscious.

“Oh Daddy, look how cute the bear is. He is so soft and cute, Daddy.” Denise had no intention of letting this end quickly or painlessly. I reached in my pocket just to confirm that I had barely enough money for a soda. There was no way I could get her the twenty-five dollar bear even if I wanted to.

“Oh, just go ahead and get her the bear. She has become so attached to it.” The clerk apparently worked on commission or so it appeared.

I walked over to the sodas and picked one up for Denise then pulled out all the money I had – pocket change – and paid for the soda.

“You sure you won’t buy her the bear? They look so adorable together. You’re going to break her heart if you don’t.” A smile of victory crossed the clerk’s lips.

“Please Daddy! I really want him!” Denise appealed to the clerk as much as to me.

“Look lady, I’m sorry, but I can’t buy the bear. The change I just gave you was the last money I have in this world.” I turned to face the clerk directly, “My daughter was just released from the hospital a few weeks ago. She had a massive stroke and went into a coma. She was in the hospital for over four weeks and the bill is staggering. I have no money to buy her or her brothers and sisters food or clothes, much less a bear. I’m sorry to disappoint you both, but I can’t produce money out of thin air.” I finished and turned towards Denise.

“I’m sorry. I had no idea.” The clerk humbly apologized.

“It’s okay, it’s not something that you would know. Thank you for your time.” I reached out to Denise to pluck the bear from her hands.

“Wait . . . excuse me,” the clerk spoke up, “but, would you permit me to buy her the bear?”

Confusion and disbelief colored my face.

“Please, really, I would like to buy it for her.” Tears glistened in the clerk’s eyes as she grabbed her purse from beneath the counter and retrieved a few bills from her wallet.

“Well . . . if you want. That would be very kind of you.”

“Thank you for letting me do this.” She caught a loose tear on her check with the back of her hand and then rang up the sale of the bear and handed me the receipt. This time her smile was one of love and compassion.

“Thank you very much.” I can’t remember who spoke those words though we both meant them. I shook her hand and pushed Denise out of the store.

We settled back into the car and Denise held up the bear for me to see.

“See Daddy, want to hold him?”

“No, he stinks.” I said.

“I don’t smell a thing!” She snuggled her face into the bear. “I told you there was more than cigarettes in the store. There are nice people there, too.”