On October 4, Michele Farinet, the parent coordinator at P.S. 41, the grade school my daughter attends in the Village, sent an e-mail to the school’s parents. The message wasn’t about fourth-grade state-test preparation, a PTA meeting, or a bake sale. It was about a teddy bear.
There is a brownstone on West 11th Street, Farinet wrote, that was once occupied by the Weathermen—it’s the building in which the group accidentally set off a bomb in 1970. For decades, the subsequent owners kept a stuffed Paddington Bear in the window, dressed in holiday outfits. Farinet, it’s worth noting, is no sentimentalist; she’s normally a pit-bull advocate for the neighborhood and school. But at the start of each year, she wrote, her daughter’s first-day jitters were calmed by walking down 11th Street and seeing the bear in a P.S. 41 T-shirt. “I know it’s a small thing,” she said. “But over the years it becomes tradition.” Now the owner of the brownstone had died, and the building had been sold. The bear was gone. “I just thought someone should say good-bye,” Farinet wrote. “I’ll miss you. Thanks for making me and all other 41 families feel good.” You could practically hear the silence among the thousands of parents who received the e-mail, many of whose children must have walked past the teddy bear, too. My wife, and I know she wasn’t the only one, cried. And then, the next day, Farinet sent a second message. The building’s new owner had contacted her. Because of the outpouring from the community, the bear would be returning.
The other day I found myself walking down 11th Street, and there was Paddington. I had to fight back the impulse to wave.