Mr. Naples wasn’t in great shape when Erica Fouts of Frederick found him crumpled on the pavement, legless and one-eyed. Fouts wasn’t even sure what he was when she saw him, alone, on a dark street corner.
But Charlie lost his longtime companion on Dec. 9, at Frederick’s Kris Kringle Christmas parade. As Fouts contemplated the brown blob at her feet, Charlie and his parents were in a panic over Mr. Naples’ disappearance.
Fouts didn’t know any of this, but something told her not to just walk away. First, she propped the bear up on a nearby porch and got in her car.
“But then I thought, ‘Oh god, that’s someone’s toy,” she said. “I have to find who it belongs to.”
What should have been a lost cause — finding the rightful owner of a very worn toy left on a busy street — turned into an epic, six-day hunt.
And on Thursday evening, Mr. Naples came home to Charlie.
“It’s a Christmas miracle,” said Chuck Hancock, Charlie’s dad.
This was not the first time Mr. Naples had gone missing, Hancock said Thursday. Charlie took him everywhere and “Napes,” as the Hancock family lovingly calls him, was left behind in restaurants, stores and playgrounds on numerous occasions.
“Every time, it would be time for bed and we’d be tearing the house upside down,” said Hancock.
In the past, Mr. Naples was found in a matter of hours. But last Friday, after re-tracing their steps, searching gutters and trash cans without any luck, the Hancocks feared he was gone for good.
“I took it harder. Much, much harder,” said Hancock, noting that this weird little toy bear -- hich, having lost his legs, an eye and most of his stuffing, had come to look more like a turtle — was a symbol of his son’s childhood.
“Every day for five-and-a-half years, Charlie had that bear in his hand,” said Hancock. “Who has anything in their hand for five-and-a-half years in a row? I couldn’t just let it go.”
Hancock tacked up posters all over town. “LOST TEDDY BEAR,” the notice said. “Brownish, tan with NO LEGS. Head looks sorta like a turtle, one eye (white button). Says ‘NAPLES’ on torso. Lost at 12/9 Santa parade.”
Hancock even offered a $100 reward. All he got in return were a couple of prank calls.
In a last ditch effort, Hancock visited the office of a local newspaper, which ran a story on the family’s predicament.
At the same time, Fouts, who found Mr. Naples, took out an ad in another local paper — unluckily, one that Hancock doesn’t subscribe to — that said “FOUND very well loved, brown, child stuffed toy at Parade on Fri.”
Hancock and Fouts both say that they never would have found each other if it hadn’t been for the Blaine Young talk radio show.
Young was talking about Mr. Naples after listeners who had seen the article and Fouts’s newspaper ad called in to Thursday’s show. Fouts’s husband happened to be listening, and Young was able to help connect the two families.
Thursday evening, Fouts met Charlie and his mom to reunite the boy and his teddy bear.
The reunion, she said, was memorable and “very welcome.”
On Saturday, Charlie and his parents are scheduled to fly to Florida for vacation. Hancock is encouraging his son to take Percy the cat and let Napes stay behind.
“We’re telling Charlie that Mr. Naples is tired from being away from home and wants to sleep here. The cat has nine lives, but how many times can the bear get lost and still come back?” Hancock asked.
“We’re insane. That is clear,” Hancock said, chuckling. “Our son is insane about Mr. Naples. And we’re insane about our son. That’s what this is.”