Leslie Woman Makes 'Bear Necessities'
Lansing State Journal
March 23, 2008
By Christie Bleck, Lansing Community Newspapers / Holt Community News
LESLIE — Her 94-year-old arthritic fingers have seen better days, but maybe only in the medical sense.
Bessie Cameron has knitted close to 100 small teddy bears for the Mother Bear Project, a Minneapolis-based organization that sends hand-knit bears to African children affected by HIV and AIDS.
And she's working on more. Cameron held up a knit rectangle, a "bear in waiting" that looks little like the finished product.
"It looks funny, doesn't it?" Cameron said.
Give her a few more hours and some stuffing, though, and that swatch of knit material will transform into a huggable toy with cross-stitches for eyes — to make them look like they're twinkling, Cameron noted — and a scarf around its neck.
"If she doesn't keep her hands busy, she sleeps," said Cameron's friend Laura Sanger, who often looks in on her. "And she doesn't want to do that."
Cameron also has knitted for Meals on Wheels-Rural Ingham County, with one 82-inch tablecloth raffled off for over $700 last year.
"She just does this stuff constantly," said Marvin Dunn, program coordinator for that Meals on Wheels group, who sends Cameron's bears to Minneapolis. Cameron also is a Meals on Wheels client.
"She's just always doing things for other people," she said.
Born Feb. 11, 1914 in Croswell, Cameron has lived in Leslie for about 20 years, at first living with her grandchildren. Now she is on her own, but appears to be doing very well in her cozy home filled with many of her knitted creations such as a colorful round couch pillow and canister covers.
A widow — Cameron was married to her husband Willard for almost 50 years — she had only one child, Harry. However, it was Harry, at age 10, who brought Cameron into the world of knitting.
"I couldn't buy a jacket for him," Cameron explained, "and I started knitting cuffs to put in his jackets. He had long arms, and he was skinny."
Last fall, Dunn introduced Cameron to the Mother Bear Project, a project that Cameron said so entrances her at times she doesn't pay attention to what's on television.
The bear pattern calls for size 7 needles and 4-ply yarn, which she buys herself. Each bear, Cameron said, takes about a day and a half to finish (about 12 hours of total knitting time).
A finished bear weighs about 4 ounces, with stuffing. However, it might be hard to find two Cameron teddy bears alike. She knits them with different color schemes — white-green-maroon, brown-pink-turquoise are two such combinations — but tends to give them brown heads instead of white to keep them cleaner longer.
"Everybody likes a teddy bear, I think, now matter how old they are," Sanger said. "They're cute."
The bears get better
Cameron has perfected the art of teddy bear knitting.
"The first doll I hated so much I was going to throw it out," she said. However, a Meals on Wheels volunteer adopted the inaugural teddy bear, and Cameron just kept on knitting.
"She's becoming fascinated with the bears," Sanger said.
Cameron said she had tired of just crocheting, although she still makes items using that method, which involves hooks.
"If I change to crocheting, it helps my hands," she said.
However, when her fingers get tired from all her work, Cameron rubs cream on them.
Not only does knitting teddy bears keep Cameron busy, she knows she's making them for a good cause: children afflicted with a virus that leads to a disease with no known cure.
"I think about the kids all the time," she said.
A bear's appeal to other people also makes it easier for Cameron to give it up.
"I feel good when somebody wants it," she said.
"Her fingers are never idle," Sanger said.