(Previously in the book: For his birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life. As Herman grew up, life was happy–but mama died one night. Papa decided sister Callie should go live with relatives. Brother Tad tore up the burlap bear Mama had made for him. Tad died during World War II. The family came together for the memorial service. The years have passed, and Herman is now seventeen years old.)
A few days later Herman brought a couple of his friends home after school. Burly watched them carefully. They didn’t seem as bad as Tad’s friends. Actually, Burly decided, they were quite nice. Gerald was a chubby boy a little shorter than Herman. Marvin was about Herman’s height and weight but was red-haired and covered with freckles.
“Does your father hate us or something?” Gerald asked, his brow knitted. “When I said hello all he did was grunt.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Herman replied. “That’s just the way he is.”
“We’re not keeping you from any chores, are we?” Marvin asked. “We can study algebra anytime.”
Herman waved his hand as he plopped on the floor by Tad’s bed. “I’ll do them later. He knows I’ll do them.”
“My father isn’t like that,” Gerald said, joining Herman on the floor. “If I have a chore he expects it done right after school.”
“Mine too,” Marvin added.
Herman turned a little red and opened his book. “Um, let’s get started on this.”
For the next half hour the three tried to figure out the mysteries of algebra, with Herman deciphering the numbers best.
Marvin finally closed his book. “That’s enough for me. I’m just getting confused.”
“I’m with you,” Gerald said with a laugh.
“Okay,” Herman replied.
The two friends looked at each other and then Marvin gently poked Herman in the arm. “Hey, buddy, what’s the matter? You’ve been quiet all day.”
“Aww nothing.” Herman shrugged.
“If this is nothing, I’d hate to see something,” Gerald said.
Herman looked at each of them and sighed. “It’s really nothing. It’s just that this morning I heard Leonard Smith died in a car wreck last night.”
“Oh, that old drunk,” Marvin said. “He was a bum. I couldn’t stand him.”
“Hey, it means something to Herman,” Gerald protested. “I didn’t know you knew him.”
“Who would want to know him,” Marvin asked, but it was more of a statement and didn’t need a reply.”
“Marvin,” Gerald protested.
“No, that’s okay,” Herman said. “He was a bum. I couldn’t stand him.”
“Then why the long face?” Marvin asked.
“Well, it’s a long story,” Herman began. “He was one of my brother’s friends. He faked his army physical to get out of going to war.”
“Sounds like him,” Marvin interjected.
Gerald punched him in the arm. “Shut up.”
“Anyway, he showed up at the memorial service for Tad. He was drunk. My sister Callie—she lives in Houston with my aunt and uncle—told him off good.”
“And he’s been drinking ever since,” Marvin completed the story. “But why should his finally killing himself in a car accident upset you so much?”
“I don’t know. Maybe because it brings back so many bad memories,” Herman answered.
“Well, let’s talk about something that will make those memories go away,” Marvin said. “Guess who I heard talking about you at lunch today?”
“I don’t know.” Herman wasn’t ready to start playing guessing games.
“May Beth Webster.”
Herman couldn’t help but smile. “Really?”
“Yeah, she thinks you’re the best thing in school,” Marvin replied.
Gerald poked Herman again. “What do you think about that?”
“Yeah, I think she’d say yes if you asked her to the school Thanksgiving party,” Marvin continued.
Herman shook his head but still smiled. “Aww, I can’t date. What would I do? Drive up in papa’s banged-up old pickup?”
“Haven’t you ever heard of a double date, dummy?” Marvin asked happily. “You could come with Betsy and me.”
Herman looked up and grinned at the idea. Burly was happy for Herman even though he didn’t know what a date was. But then Herman’s expression changed. Burly was puzzled because he had never seen it before. It was a combination of shame, fear and anxiety. Suddenly Burly knew what was bothering Herman and what he was looking at. Herman was looking at Burly.
Jumping up, Herman tried to look carefree as he plopped on his bed and slid Burly under the pillow. “Gosh, do you really think we could do it?” Herman asked, with a forced happiness in his voice.
Gerald squinted. “Of course, you goof. Boy you must really be crazy about this girl to start hopping around like that.”
“Have you had a date yet, Gerald?” Marvin asked.
Ducking his head, Gerald admitted, “Well no.”
“Then you don’t know how girls can affect guys, right Herman?”
Herman smiled nervously. “Yeah, right.”
Burly didn’t like what was happening at all. The boys talked quite a few more minutes before Herman suggested that they go outside.
While they were gone Burly was trying to decide what to say to Herman when he came to bed that night. Should he be angry? No. A stuffed bear can’t very well be angry. He has no way to fight back at young humans, as his father found out many years ago with Tad. His father, Burly moaned. Oh, what if he ended his existence the same way his father did? That would be terrible, he thought. Shaking his little burlap head, Burly tried to tell himself that Herman was not like Tad. He was much nicer. But he was a teen-ager now. He was growing up, and maybe there was something inside teen-agers that forced them to break all ties to their childhoods, like cuddling favorite blankets, depending on mothers and fathers and loving little stuffed bears.
Eventually, Herman climbed the ladder to the loft and took his clothes off to get ready to sleep.
“Did you have fun with your friends?” Burly asked, trying to be friendly and forget that Herman hid him.
“So you’re going to have a date,” Burly continued. “What’s a date?”
Herman sat on the edge of the bed and picked up Burly. “Burly, you know what happened this afternoon?”
At first Burly thought to lie, but he knew it was no use to lie around Herman. “Yes. You were ashamed I was on your bed.”
“Now I know how Tad felt that day.”
Burly didn’t want to ask this question. “What are you going to do?”
“I’m not going to let my friends tear you up,” Herman said with a strong nod of his head.
“They seem like nice boys,” Burly offered. “I don’t think they would be as mean as Tad’s friends.”
“Could be,” Herman conceded, “but that’s not the point. The point is,” and Herman took a deep breath, “I am too old to have a teddy bear.”
“Oh no. A person is never too old to have a friend. And that’s what I am. Your friend. Not just a teddy bear,” Burly said with desperation.
Herman shook his head and carried Burly to the old trunk at the end of the room. “No, Burly. It’s time I began to grow up. And part of growing up is giving up you.”
“No, Herman, please,” Burly pleaded.
“I guess I’ve known this moment would come ever since Tad tore up Burly Senior,” Herman continued, his voice strangely calm. “I didn’t want it to come, but I knew it had to come.”
“No, please,” Burly said, near to tears, if he had any tears. “I’ll never embarrass you again. I love you too much to hurt you.”
“I can’t take that chance.” Herman lifted the lid to the trunk.
“Please, don’t hurt me. I can still give you advice. I’ve always told you the right thing to do, haven’t I?”
“Good bye, Burly.”
And the trunk lid closed, leaving Burly in the dark and Herman alone for the first time in many, many years.