In 1997, due to technological changes, my job in Information Technology for the local telephone company ended, as the company chose to outsource the work. After 23 years of working for Ma Bell, I decided to take early retirement and go to college full-time to become a college professor. I was age 46, and as much as I hated leaving the people I worked with, especially my best friend, Juanita, I knew that it might be my last chance to live my dream.
I didn’t know that Juanita was attempting to decide what to buy me for a retirement gift, so when she asked me what was it that I had always wanted as a gift and had never received, I thought that we were just having another conversation as we sat at our desks. I thought about the question, and I was a little bit embarrassed when I told her my story, never expecting what she would do next,
I told her that as a little girl, I loved the Winnie the Pooh books that I read at school. My mother didn’t have money to purchase books for us to read at home, so I loved the library at school. I adored Winnie and his friends, because I had never had friends and neither of my parents had ever told me that they loved me. As a little black girl, I wanted so much to be one of Winnie’s friends, to eat honey with him, and to roam the 100 Acre Wood with him and Kanga and Roo, Piglet, and Tigger, and, of course, Christopher Robin.
So, at Christmas for years, I wanted a small Winnie the Pooh stuffed bear to hug at night. But, I never received one. Through the years, I had bought all of my children, grandchildren, and even the children I taught in Sunday School stuffed bears, many times of Winnie the Pooh. As an adult, I often thought of buying myself one, but I thought that was a little ridiculous for a grown woman to have Winnie the Pooh in her bedroom.
But, on the day that I retired, Juanita gave me a big gift bag that was too large to wrap. Imagine my surprise when I pulled out the large Winnie the Pooh in the photo today. I laughed, cried, and said thank you a hundred times, I believe! I was overwhelmed that at my age that holding and hugging Winnie the Pooh could bring my soul such joy and a sense of peace. I took him home, and being a single woman, put him on my bed. Yes, I hugged him many a day when tears came because of money troubles, or teenage and older kids’ troubles, or just being lonely.
When I married Douglas, Winnie the Pooh went to the chair by the bed, and then out of the room. Today, he sits with me each day in my office, and when I need it, I squeeze Winnie the Pooh and thank my dear friend again for such a wondrous gift. To fulfill the lifelong want of a friend is maybe the greatest gift of all!
Happy 95th Birthday, Winnie the Pooh! And Juanita, thanks again for being my friend!