As an artist heading off to take art on tour around Australia, I quickly saw the wisdom of abandoning filling the van with heavy pottery and substituting hand-finished teddy bears.
Mothers purchased the small, grip in a baby's hands bears. Ladies purchased the elaborately dressed bears for their teddy bear collections. The biggest and most attention seeking bears, such as this fellow, I named Walter, sat on display until near closing time, late at night, due to being priced more expensively than the smaller bears.
At the outback Australian Shows where I exhibited art and hand finished teddy bears, the crowds would disperse from my popular show as the fireworks display began. I'd take that time to pack up, starting with the children bears, which would happily cuddle up in shabby chic suitcases. I'd enjoy watching the fireworks as I carefully loaded those suitcases across the floor of the van. Next, I'd pack the framed paintings, carefully padding them with blankets, on top of those bear cases. I'd work fast and efficiently at this stage, knowing that any visitors after the fireworks ended might be inebriated. I didn't want a security problem.
I left Walter on show, watching as I folded the table cloths, disassembled the roll-up tables and art display walls. Even as I pulled out the tent pegs holding the marque and guy ropes to the ground, walked each leg of the concertina designed marquee expertly toward what had been the centre of the Art and Teddies on Tour display, Walter watched over me. With the marque neatly compacted, I fed it into a bag and fed its length carefully over the top of the packed display. The fireworks would have ended. Walter waited.
I closed and locked the van door. The stock would be safe. I kept a lookout. If a group of swaying people began walking in my direction, I'd grab Walter, and we would drive off. The biggest bear always sat in the front seat of the van beside me. Happy crowds walked toward the exit gates, young children asleep in pushers or parents arms, still clutching a hand-finished bear they had bought from me. Couples strode arm in arm, stopping to talk, and kiss, in no hurry to join the crowd and leave the show-grounds.
I was in no hurry to leave either. I still had my most expensive teddy bears left unsold. Australia is a big country' and I had 600 kilometres to drive to get to my next venue. Walter and his other big bear companions would be my fuel money to the next town. He had already caught a lady's eye. She exclaimed with glee on seeing Walter sitting in the moonlight, arms out, waiting to be hugged. Once in her arms, how could an intoxicated young man in love resist buying it for her?
Soon other couples had gathered at my moonlit display of the biggest and the best bears that were sized just right for a sturdy bushman to place in his lady's arms. Men, if you want to please a woman, late at night, in an unsophisticated setting by moonlight, forget jewelry or flowers, teddy bears are the romantic gift—and the teddy bear sales lady's fuel money to drive out of town.
Australian Rural-lit and historical fiction author and artist Kathryn Shell.