a short history of mr. bear

Once upon a time, a bear without a voice decided to go into radio. Well, actually, once upon a time, a bear was given to a little girl on her first birthday. Well, actually, once upon a time, a mother saved some box tops and a few dollars and sent away for a stuffed bear.* This bear lived in a closet for an undisclosed amount of time until he was given to the mother’s third daughter. An old photo shows the little girl more interested in trying to eat wrapping paper than in playing with the bear, but he grew to be one of her most important companions and traveled everywhere with her, including college and other countries.

Fast forward to city life in Somerville, Mass., in the 2000s. He started a show called The Secret Lives of Stuffed Animals with his pal Stumpy (a Lilliputian tiger with a marsupial pocket in the back). They launched in February 2011 with the brand-new Boston Free Radio out of Somerville Community Access TV (now Somerville Media Center) and in 2012 brought home the station’s first award for Best Radio Show. For two and a half years, the two stuffedies talked and laughed, read books and poems and stories, played songs, consulted the Sweet Valley Oracle (Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley High No. 86: Jessica Against Bruce. Can anyone win this deadly battle? No, we don’t think so), interviewed guests, showcased live performances, asked the Magic 8 ball questions, did MadLibs, and entertained countless listeners** until August 2013, when Stumpy moved on to less green pastures. That could have meant an end to their tagline, “Boston Free Radio, where speech is free … even for stuffed animals!”

A series of three photos of Mr. Bear (a stuffed bear) and Stumpy (a stuffed tiger). ONE: Mr. Bear and Stumpy sitting in a chair outdoors with a Sweet Valley High paperback in their laps. TWO: Stumpy has a bottle of wine in his back pocket and one paw over Mr. Bear’s shoulder, and they sit outside facing a tiny grill. THREE: Whimsical shot of Mr. Bear and Stumpy in the front seat of a grocery cart in a backyard.

But Mr. Bear had dreams. He wanted to shine a tiny spotlight on words and music, throw some voices into the universe and see what echoed back. “Making the lonely a little more bearable” was his new mantra. So in February 2014, he opened the doors to Mr. Bear’s Violet Hour Saloon, “where the sky is evening-gorgeous, the drinks won’t cloud your head, and the cocktail nuts are poems.” For nearly six and a half years, Mr. Bear read stories, poems, plays, essays, and books and paired the selections with songs specially chosen for each piece. There were in-studio guests, interviews, prank calls, and more awards. He moved 1,000 miles away but continued to record and upload new shows each week, that tiny spotlight growing to a medium-size spotlight that touched countless listeners.***

All was going swimmingly**** until July 2020 when the recording industry took notice and sent in their big guns—not to give Mr. Bear an award for buying so much music over the years but to tell him he couldn’t archive the radio show because it's copyright infringement. Mr. Bear took down all his shows, almost a decade of work gone in the blink of an eye.***** Reruns continued on the station but his entire archive, previously available for public access, was now essentially erased.

Mr. Bear shook a tiny paw at the year 2020. Mr. Bear sighed. Mr. Bear’s plastic eyes****** may have shed some real tears. Mr. Bear hibernated.

Flash forward to February 2021. A new moon is rising. Mr. Bear still has dreams, still wants to shine a tiny spotlight and connect distant stars into constellations. Welcome to Mr. Bear’s Violet Hour, where time is a place, where the sky is evening-gorgeous, where the moon waxes and wanes, and poetry is the stuffing in our veins. Join Mr. Bear on the new moon and full moon each month for story, music, interviews, puppetry, herbalism, and more. Making the lonely a little more bearable.

Detail of a slightly blurry old photo showing the author on her first birthday holding a piece of wrapping paper in front of her open mouth while looking at the camera. Behind her is the brand-new Mr. Bear with a pink bow, held by the author’s sister.

*Well, actually, she sent away for two bears, and Mr. Bear has a once-identical twin whose fur is still plush and not all loved off, but that is another story for another time.

**More listeners than they could count on their paws anyway

***Mr. Bear still can’t count.

****Note: Mr. Bear cannot swim and avoids water and baths at all costs.

*****Full disclosure, Mr. Bear does not have eyelids and can’t blink.

******Despite some allegations to the contrary, they are NOT at all creepy.