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Amy had just celebrated her first birthday and I was done with my Christmas shopping… or so I thought.  In my wanderings around the store for the essentials, I came upon one of the hugest, whitest, floppiest, most comfy and huggable white stuffed bears I’d ever seen.  Something compelled me to bring that bear home to sit under the tree from Santa.  Little did I know at the time that that bear would start a lifelong love of polar bears for this child.

From the moment she laid eyes on that bear, it never left her side.  Her dad and I figured that the name Polar would probably come before Mama and Dada (I believe it came in third).  She would toddle around the house with Polar’s head firmly planted under her arm.  She never went to sleep without him.  He spent years sitting at her small table being served tea.  Countless secrets were told to him and tears spilled on him over life’s frustrations and dissappointments.  He was the inspiration for countless school reports and diaramas.  He went away to college with her and if the truth be known, he is most likely sitting in her home in Washington DC right this minute .  Wherever Amy was, Polar was never far away.  Never mind that this is one of the most dangerous carnivores on earth… they meant nothing but love for her.

When she was 8, we took a trip to St Louis which of course included a trip to the world-famous zoo.  What she didn’t realize was that her dad and I wanted to surprise her with her first look at a REAL polar bear and this zoo was one of the few that held them.   We nonchalantly made our way into the gates closest to their habitat.  The moment she spied them pacing in their habitat we had very little chance of making our way through the rest of the zoo.  She was glued to the spot, a smile of total delight on her face, little legs hopping up and down in excitement at every move they made… total enthrallment that will never be forgotten.  We didn’t go to that exhibit just once… I think we went back three or four times!

When I moved from Kansas to the St Louis area, it seemed only fitting that we take another trip to see the polar bears when she came to visit.  So on one beautiful spring day, off we went!  It had been almost 15 years since she’d first seen them and the fascination hadn’t died.  She and I spent hours standing at the rail watching the one polar bear (Hope) that had survived the years pace her habitat as we reminisced about the first time she’d laid eyes on them. shedding tears and sharing smiles and laughter.  As we left the park, I heard “That was just the best ever.”

Today as I watched the news I was saddened to hear that Hope had died.  At 23 years of age, she had developed advanced liver cancer and had to be euthanized.  She was the last of the polar bears at the St Louis Zoo but she was the source of many memories for a young girl and her mom.

Hope (the polar bear) may be gone, but Polar isn’t!  Despite the fact that he is probably a dingier white than he used to be and scrunched a little flatter because of all the hugging over the years, Polar is alive and well and always will  be.

Just as true Hope springs eternal!