Big teddies… little teddies…red teddies…blue teddies…medium sized and teeny tiny…black and white and nearly every color in between….They were everywhere.

That’s what made it so much fun to come to the Teddy Bear Tea Lady’s parties.

Her name was really Mrs. Cranshaw but everyone called her Gram. Her teas were famous. Every little girl in town wanted their birthday party at the Teddy Bear Tea Lady’s house.

She was a small woman with curly gray hair and a little frilly apron.

Each little girl was allowed to pick her favorite color for her special Birthday Tea.

On this particular day, there were eight little girls all dressed in blue in honor of Patsi. The plates, napkins, spoons, and special china cup for the Birthday Girl were all blue as well.

When girls arrived at the little cottage they always noticed the pretty flower beds along the fence. Rose bushes bordered the porch railings. A swing hung from the branch of a sturdy oak tree. It all seemed quite old fashioned but nobody minded. The girls felt like they were entering another world—and they were.

Patsy, Karyn, Sandi, Sarah, Naomi, Ruthie, Elizabeth, and Amber were welcomed enthusiastically by Gram and ushered into the playroom. There were exactly two hundred and ninety nine teddy bears in the little house today and most of them were in the play room. But they weren’t just for show. Touching was allowed. In fact, cuddling and playing with the bears was encouraged.  Snuggling with the huge white one over in the corner was not unusual.

On one side of the room, two large old fashioned chests were filled with clothes for the teddy bears.

On the other side, two large old fashioned wardrobes were filled with clothes for the girls.

The guests dressed up and played to their heart’s content, finally emerging into the quaint old yellow kitchen. There were little ducks on the wallpaper and more teddy bears on the shelf and buffet.

It was time for the Birthday Tea!

They drank from fine old china cups and ate tiny sandwiches.

Then came the birthday cake and ice cream. It was said that in twenty years of Teddy Bear Tea Parties, not one of the china dishes had been broken. For some reason, the most tomboyish of tomboys felt elegant in Gram’s kitchen.

Today, however, there were not eight children at the party, but nine. And this was the day that Gram’s china was in more danger than usual. Gram was the only one at the tea party who noticed the extra guest. It happened just as Karyn was saying “Patsy, your name goes right along with this little house. It doesn’t seem so bad here.”

Patsy sighed. “Why my mother named me that, I’ll never know. Why not Patricia, at least. Then I could be Patti”

“Patsy got teased again at school today,” Sandi reported to Gram.

Gram looked back at her guests. She had been gazing out the window where she was sure a red head had just ducked down.

“Your great aunt’s name was Patsy,” said Gram.

“Oh, I know. I had to be named after some relative from way back in the 1900’s.”

“It’s true that Patsy is an old fashioned name. But so is Sarah and Naomi and Ruth and Elizabeth. They’re all ancient Bible names and much older than Patsy. Your parents chose your names because of their meanings and the character of the women—not just because they liked them.”

“I never thought of that,” said Sarah. “I don’t mind my name because a lot of people have it these days but ‘Patsy’ really isn’t very popular.”

“Well, Patsy was given her name for a reason. I knew your Aunt Patsy. I was just a little girl at the time. She was the kindest person I’ve ever known. When people talked about Patsy, everyone felt good.”

“Really?” 

“She was always fair and always cheerful and always tried to make people happy.”

“Why, that’s just like our Patsy! She’s like that!” exclaimed Amber.

“She’s kind,”  Naomi agreed.

“And she’s fair and never selfish,” said Ruthie.

“And she’s always cheerful ‘cept when people make fun of her name.”

“Well, then,” said Gram, as the red head appeared again above the window sill—and then two big brown eyes, “someday we’ll all remember Patsi with a happy feeling.”

Patsi beamed.

“That’s better than a nasty feeling,” said Ruthie., “like you get with some people.”

“That’s very true. Now, everyone to the living room for Story Time.”

Gram turned away so the unknown guest outside wouldn’t suspect she’d been seen. Unfortunately when Gram turned back, she saw that the extra piece of cake that had been setting on the shelf inside the window on her good china plate—was gone!

***

A while later, Story Time was over. The girls put aside the teddies they had been snuggling with and stood up with a sigh of contentment—for it had been a very good story. They realized that the magical time was over as parents started arriving to take them home.

During Story Time, Gram realized that her uninvited, red-headed visitor had moved to the front porch and was listening to the story. She also realized as she went out to meet the first parent, that the girl quickly slipped down into the bushes in front of the porch—and was trapped. There was no place to go as people came and went.

Finally Patsy left with her birthday presents bundled up in a large blue gift bag

and a chunk of wrapped birthday cake in her hand. Poking his head out of her bag was her own special birthday teddy that she had chosen from all the teddies in the house.

Gram sank down in the white wicker rocking chair on the porch with a tired but happy sigh.

 And she waited.

And waited.

The old lady sat, peacefully rocking and humming.

Finally the bushes moved—just a tiny bit. It could have been caused by the light, gentle spring breeze. Or perhaps not.

“If you go that way,” came Gram’s quiet voice, “You’ll get all scratched up. There’s a thorny rose bush at that corner of the porch.”

 The bushes suddenly moved violently but Gram continued, “there’s no need to run away. You’re welcome to come up and visit—and I’d like my plate back.”

 The girl’s head popped through the bushes. With a very guilty look on her very dirty face, she placed the plate on the porch, but still looked ready to run.

“It’s all right. Come on up and sit with me.”

Gram really didn’t expect her to do it but surprisingly the girl took hold of the railing with both hands and swung up onto the porch.

 She was a sight. Her hands and knees were as filthy as her face. Gram supposed that she had been crawling around in the dirt as she tried to hide.

  The girl sat down in a white wicker chair and placed the empty china plate safely on a small wicker table.

  “I’m sorry.”

  “It’s all right,” replied the old woman, rocking calmly. “But next time all you have to do is ask.”

  “Really?”

  “My name is Mrs. Cranshaw,” the woman went on, “but everyone calls me Gram. What’s yours?”

  “Amanda. But everyone calls me Mandi.”

  “And where do you come from, Mandi?”

 “Next door.” She looked a little concerned that Gram might go tell on her.

“Would you like to come in and see my teddy bears?”

“Sure. Okay.”

“Are you allowed to go into other people’s houses?”

“Oh, they don’t care what I do.”

So Mandi entered the cottage.

She looked around in awe. Then she and Gram dressed up in costumes and played with  teddy bears for almost an hour.

Finally, as they were sitting in the kitchen having the ice cream that she had missed with her cake, Mandi said. “Thank you. I’m really sorry I stole the piece of cake.”

“Oh, that’s all forgiven. Don’t think any more about it. 

A few minutes later, as she looked around the cozy kitchen, Mandi asked, “what’s that mean?”  She pointed to a framed embroidered picture on the wall. Purple pansies bordered the words:

According to Your tender mercies, blot out my sins. Wash me from my iniquity.

“That’s a Bible verse,” said Gram. “The writer is talking to God about the wrong things he’s done. It’s like he’s saying to God, ‘Your mercy is wonderful. Please take away my sin and wash me clean.’”

“That’s like me—sort of,” said Mandi, thinking hard. “You forgave me for stealing the piece of cake. You let me come into your nice house and wash up and play with your teddy bears and you even gave me ice cream. And I didn’t deserve any of it.”

Gram smiled. “That’s the way it is with God. The wrong things we do are very serious to God but He loved us and made a way for us to be forgiven.”

“Not me. No one loves me.”

 Gram smiled again and leaned forward. “The girls and I were talking about names and their meanings earlier. Do you know what Amanda means?”

Mandi shook her head.

She who must be loved. Mandi, you are loved very much by God.”
“Really?  Wow.”

  “Let me tell you a story. About God and what He did to show you how much He loves you.”

  They went into the living room. Gram relaxed in her big stuffed chair and Mandi curled up on the couch to listen to the most amazing story she had ever heard.

***

Mandi left quite a while later. Gram decided to walk over to the house with her and meet her relatives.

“You just moved in, didn’t you?” asked Gram.  “I haven’t seen you around.”

“A couple of months ago,” replied Mandi.

They cut through the backyard and opened a very old gate that Gram hadn’t used in a long time. When they reached Mandi’s house, the girl opened the back door. 

“I live with my uncle and cousin.”

            The uncle was sprawled in a chair watching television. He glanced at Mandi and said, “who’s that?”
            “My name is Mrs. Cranshaw.” Gram moved into the living room and held out her hand to shake his. “I live next door.”

            “She bothering you?”
            “Oh, no. I just wanted to tell you that she’s been at my house and…she’s welcome anytime.”
            “Oh.”  He stared at Mandi, as if wondering why anybody would want to bother with her. “All right.”

            Just then a teenage girl came out of a room down the hall. Gram realized that she was Mandi’s cousin. She had on black jeans and shirt and with her long black hair, she almost looked like a shadow. She wore very long earrings and bright red lipstick.

  “What trouble she gettin’ in now?”

  Mandi looked anxiously at Gram but the old lady just smiled and replied. “oh, there’s no problem. I just wanted to say hello. Well, I’ll see you again, Mandi.”

            Mandi nodded.

 Gram looked down at the small teddy bear that Mandi had chosen before she left. “You remember that,” she murmured softly as the teenager headed off to the kitchen and the man stared back at the television. “And you can come through the gate and visit me any time.”

Mandi looked down at the soft brown bear with the red shirt. On it were written the  words Jesus Loves You.

***

Gram didn’t know that after she left, Mandi went to her room and placed the bear front and center on her bureau. When Mandi went to bed that night, she took the bear with her and lay awake, remembering every minute of her very own special Teddy Bear Tea Party.  And as she fell asleep, she could almost hear Gram whispering the words, “Jesus loves you.”

The End

Note:  Verse taken from Psalm 51:1

By Carol Bennett

In memory of Evie Capwell

Photos-Margi Centracchio/M.C. Imaging

All other illustrations from Open Clipart