By Doug Elwell

I’ve never been old before so I guess thinking often of endings is a sort of beginning. As I near the end of things, I’m beginning to look back to beginning things.

Panda today

Panda today

Panda sits on his shelf—the one I reserve for books yet to be read. I guess he’s sort of a manager of them as a librarian husbands books. He keeps to himself mostly—very quiet like a librarian. Whenever I go to that shelf to put a new acquisition on it or take one off to be read, it is just as I left it days or weeks earlier. The shelf is in order—kept as a librarian would. He’s a good librarian in that way.

I don’t remember a time when Panda wasn’t a part of my life. He is an Aquarian, but neither of us put much stock in astrology. Comparing Zodiac signs never got either of us very far picking up girls. We are about the same age although he is possibly a few months older than I. But we don’t put much stock in that either. What are a few months one way or another when we have collected so many years?

Panda had a rough early life. I had a tricycle when I was little and often took him for rides up and down the block in the basket attached to the handle bar. He didn’t hold on too well and took several spills onto the sidewalk. He got dirty once and I put him in the bathtub over the drain and ran hot water over him. He didn’t seem to mind. Mother hung him by his ear on the clothesline to dry. I felt bad for him because I knew how much it hurt when she pulled me by my ear to church on Sunday mornings. I don’t remember how it happened, but he got away from me once and camped overnight in the back yard. I found him in the morning in the mouth of the neighbor’s dog. Mother, a registered nurse, sewed his head back on and took an old piece of scrap denim from her rag bag and gave him a new nose. He didn’t look the same, but I loved him anyway. He had a rough life when he was young.

Panda before plastic surgery

Panda before plastic surgery

At some point we went our separate ways. I guess he had to get on with his life as I did mine. We kept in touch when I was a teen. He usually sat on my dresser. He didn’t share what he did in his absences and I didn’t ask. But he was always there when I looked. My family and I moved around some. When I left home to follow my own life I left him behind. We learned things and people come into and out of our lives.

Mom and Dad moved around quite a bit over the years forcing several downsizings. Things once important gradually fell away. At the end I went through their tiny condo sorting and discarding and keeping a few things. I finally got down to one last cardboard box that was pushed back into the corner of Mom’s closet. It was light. I brought it out to the kitchen and opened it. I pulled back a layer of tissue paper and there lay Panda. After surviving so many years of culling family belongings—he hadn’t changed a bit. Well not exactly. Some of Mom’s stitching around his neck had unraveled and a few pieces of excelsior stuck out, but otherwise he was easily recognizable. He had changed considerably less than I over the years.

Of all the “stuff” of a family’s life that had fallen by the wayside over the decades, how had he survived I wondered. I’m not a believer in the “unseen hand” of fate. I don’t believe things are “written” or pre-determined. There is no “grand plan”. Yet how to explain it? It’s not about what I don’t believe in, but what I do believe in. I believe in luck and chance and it was those that brought us back together to close our circles—the new beginnings we share.


Click here to read other essays by Doug Elwell published on True Stories Well Told.


© 2014 Doug Elwell. Doug Elwell writes short stories and memoir that feature characters, lore and culture of the rural Midwest. His work has occasionally appeared in his home town newspaper, The Oakland Independent, two editions of Ignite Your Passion: Kindle Your Inner Spark, True Stories Well Told, Every Writer’s Resource and Midwestern Gothic. He can be contacted via email at:

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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1 Response to Beginnings

  1. Janet Grant-Gustafson says:

    Loved this panda “survival” story. Your last paragraph sums it up so eloquently. Thank you for sharing this tender memory.


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