By Linda Porter Carlyle
Hannah Maria Estevez slowly followed her father down the sidewalk. She stopped to look in the window of the bridal shop they were passing. Such beautiful dresses! Dresses just like princesses would wear. Especially the one in the middle of the window, Hannah thought. Shiny pearls were sewn all over the long, long skirt. And the sleeves were made of thick white lace.
“Hannah!” Papa called. “Come on!”
Hannah sighed. She wished Papa would walk more slowly. There were so many things to look at, and she didn’t want to miss any of them. Like the fish store just up ahead. “Papa, can we look at the fish?” Hannah asked, running to catch up. “Please!”
Papa glanced at his watch. “I guess so,” he said. “But just for a little while.”
Hannah pushed open the very heavy glass door of the Wet World fish store. Papa followed her through. “I wish I had an aquarium like this one!” Hannah exclaimed, pointing. “It would hold a whole bunch of fish!”
“It certainly would,” Papa replied. “It’s taller than you are.”
Hannah skipped past the rest of the aquarium display to the tanks full of fish that lined the walls. “Look at these!” she said, her face close to the glass. “They’re so pretty!”
“That’s a tank of saltwater fish,” the clerk said. “Saltwater fish are usually more colorful than freshwater fish,” she explained.
“Do you think I could have a fish again someday?” Hannah asked wistfully.
“Maybe,” Papa answered. “But, you know, we weren’t very successful at keeping your goldfish alive.”
“You might want to try one of these,” the clerk suggested. She pointed to a shelf with what looked like clear plastic cups with lids. Each cup held one fish. One beautiful, rainbow-colored fish with graceful, flowing fins. “These are Japanese fighting fish,” the clerk said. “They are actually easier to take care of than goldfish.”
Hannah looked at the cups of fish. She looked at Papa.
“Not today,” Papa said with a smile, answering Hannah’s question before she even asked it.
Hannah sighed. She was disappointed, but not too disappointed. She really hadn’t expected to go home with a fish today.
Hannah smiled at the clerk, and then she noticed the poster taped to the front of the counter. There was a picture of a fat, happy-looking teddy bear with a red and green bow around its neck. Big green letters above his head said, “Operation Bear-Hug.” “What’s that?” Hannah asked.
Papa looked at the poster. “The police department is asking people to donate stuffed animals,” he said after reading the smaller print at the bottom of the poster. “The officers want to have teddy bears or other stuffed animals in case there is an emergency involving a small child. They want to be able to give the child a teddy bear for comfort.”
Hannah and Papa left the fish store. Hannah was quiet. She was thinking. She wasn’t thinking about fish though. She was thinking about the poster.
At home, Hannah hurried into her room. She looked at Buster Bunny sitting in the middle of the pillow on her bed. She had had Buster Bunny for as long as she could remember. Papa said Buster Bunny had been given to her when she was only two weeks old. No, she could not give away Buster.
Hannah slid open her closet door and pulled out a clear plastic box with a white lid. She took off the lid and looked inside. She had a lot of stuffed animals! Hannah took them all out, one by one, and looked at them. She straightened the ruffles of the stiff pink tutu on her ballet bear. She used her fingers to comb the mane and tail of a stuffed black and white pony. What would it be like to be a child in an emergency? Hannah wondered. It would probably be really scary. And it would probably be really nice to have a stuffed animal to hold on to.
Finally Hannah made her decision. She picked up two animals and went to the kitchen. She knew that was where Papa was. Her nose told her so.
“What do you do with the stuffed animals you want to give to the children?” Hannah asked.
Papa put the lid back on the pot he had been stirring on the stove. He turned around. “What?” he asked.
“What do you do with the animals for the children in emergencies?” Hannah asked again. “You know, the poster.”
“I guess you take them to the closest police station,” Papa answered. He looked at the animals Hannah held. “Is that what you want to do with Monkey George and Honey Bear?”
Hannah nodded. She kissed Honey Bear’s nose and handed him to Papa. “I think Honey Bear is very comforting,” she said. “And George makes me laugh. I think they would be good for emergencies.”
Papa pulled Hannah close and gave her a big hug. “I think you’re absolutely right!” he said.
Have you ever been in an emergency? Would a stuffed animal have made you feel better? Do you have some extra toys or stuffed animals that you could give to another kid? What can a kid do to help in an emergency?