(Previously in the book: For his fifth birthday Herman received a home-made bear, which magically came to life when Herman’s tear fell on him. As Herman grew up, life was happy–he liked school and his brother Tad was nicer. But mama died one night. Papa decided sister Callie should go live with relatives. Tad tore up the burlap bear Mama had made for him.)
In the ensuing, hard depression years, Herman and Tad never talked about what happened to Burly Senior. And, curiously enough, neither did Herman and Burly. From time to time one or the other would wonder what Callie and Pearly Bear were doing, but they never mentioned Papa Bear.
Herman found he liked school very much; in fact, he was very good, always making the best grades in his class. He was very proud of this and bragged to Burly all the time, but he never mentioned it around Tad, for his grades, while not bad, were not the best. Papa never commented on any of his sons’ grades, just writing his name on the cards and sending them back to the school.
“Sometimes I wish papa would brag about me some,” Herman said with a sigh one day after he had taken his report card home. “It would make me feel good.”
“But that isn’t your father’s way, is it?” Burly asked. “So why wish for something that your head tells you will never happen?”
“I suppose you’re right,” Herman replied. “It’s just that the grades make me feel so good. I know I’d feel even better if papa was proud of them.”
Burly was strangely quiet. Finally Herman noticed the silence and looked down at Burly. “Is anything wrong?”
“I think you’re putting too much importance on that report card.”
“What do you mean? Isn’t doing well in school important?”
“Of course,” Burly said. “But have you noticed you only seem to like yourself a lot after you get your report card?”
Herman frowned. “I like myself all the time.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Well, maybe I like myself better after report card time,” Herman admitted. “After all, there it is, in black and white. Herman Horn is smart and he behaves well in school.”
“But one of these days you won’t have it in writing every six weeks how good you are,” Burly debated. “And it will be up to you to like yourself without any help.”
Herman thought a moment and then laughed. “Burly, you’re funny.” Then he forgot about the whole thing.
But Burly didn’t forget it. He knew that Herman was in for some hard time, and he didn’t know how to help him see it. Burly didn’t know how he knew it; after all, he was only a stuffed burlap bear, but he knew it as surely as he knew his papa had disappeared and he might never see his mama again.
Christmases didn’t come to Herman’s house anymore after Callie left for Houston. He didn’t bother to make a card for papa and he didn’t even mention the holidays to Tad. He did talk about it to Burly late at night, and on Christmas Eve he and Burly sang carols softly to themselves. Herman laid back and imagined how Christmas would be one day when he was the papa and he had children of his own.
“No matter what happens,” he whispered to Burly, “I’ll always make Christmas special for my children.”
“I know you will,” Burly replied, cuddling close to him, fantasizing how nice Christmas would be with Herman and his new family, naturally fantasizing that he would be a part of it.
Another numbing year passed, and Christmas was coming upon Herman and Burly again. The now twelve-year-old boy had come upon some red material on the side of the road and was figuring out how to make a hat or coat out of it for Burly. Maybe a muffler, he thought. He was playing with the piece of cloth one Saturday night in the loft as papa and Tad sat downstairs looking at the newspaper. In the last couple of years they had grown closer together as Herman and Burly had grown closer. Herman looked over the edge of the loft at them discussing the world and felt no twinges of jealousy or sadness. He just accepted the fact that papa had found comfort in his nineteen-year-old son.
“The Japs are in Washington talking to the government,” Tad said.
“I don’t trust them,” Tad added.
“I’d like to kill all of them.”
Herman put the cloth aside, deciding it would best make a muffler and plopped into his bed, gazing out of the window at the cold black sky and the twinkling stars.
“You always eavesdrop on their conversation until one of them says something bad about someone or something else you don’t like,” Burly observed.
“Is that what I’m doing?” Herman frowned. “Eavesdropping? I just thought I was watching my family.”
“Think real hard about it.”
“I guess I am,” Herman confessed with a sigh. “But what’s so bad about that?”
“Nothing, as long as you know that’s what you’re doing.”