Stuffed Animals

June 27, 2007

My sister's kid and my kid are about the same age, but hers is a hoss, and mine is a pipsqueak. So earlier this week, I opened a box of no-longer-fitting clothes that she sent me.

On top of the clothes, she had this stuffed rabbit. I immediately exclaimed, "Where the hell did Softy come from?"

A current photograph of Softy.

Softy had been my toy as a kid. He had a partner, whose name -- creatively enough -- was Hardy. They were both rabbits, one with a soft forehead and one with a hard forehead.

Hardy and Softy were never main characters in the world of me and my stuffed animals. They were Larry and Lana rather than Jack, Janet, or Chrissy. And to be honest, if I had been asked to name my stuffed animals, I would have forgotten to list either of them. Nevertheless, it's good to see Softy, and I feel bad for that case of the mange that he's obviously contracted since we were together last.

How Softy ended up with my grown sister in a house in a city that I've rarely visited and never lived near is anyone's guess. And most of my stuffed animals' whereabouts are unknown. I did a quick census.

Hardy, small white rabbit

: destroyed by a (real) dog or cat many, many, many years ago.

Elephant whose name I forget

: The stuffed elephant was really more of a throw pillow than a stuffed animal. While Hardy and Softy were minor characters in our dramas, the elephant took no part at all. He was a fake stuffed throw pillow even to my other stuffed animals. His (because none of my stuffed animals were ever female) whereabouts are unknown. But who cares?

Alpo, green dog with black ears

: Alpo stayed with my grandparents while they were alive, and then he joined the rest of us wherever we were living at the time. He was a good one. Whereabouts also unknown.

Honkey, sock monkey

: Honkey was second in seniority and was a part of any adventure that included stuffed animals. Again, his current whereabouts are unknown.

A-a, bear

: First, the pronunciation. "A-a" is like the very first sound in the word "ostrich," said very short and quickly, and repeated twice. Try it out loud.

A-a was my first stuffed animal, and perhaps my first toy at all. I of course have no memory of the time before A-a. He was my chief general and most common sidekick. He looked like just a plain brown teddy bear.

A-a was with us one summer in the early 1980s. Our family was on vacation, rolling in an orange VW Van, with a camper top that popped up. We were on our way from Indiana to the new resort destination of Myrtle Beach. Somewhere in mid-South Carolina, we stopped for gas. As we pulled out of the station, someone noticed black smoke coming from the rear of the vehicle. We all jumped out and stood back at the gas station while the van and everything in it (including A-a) burnt to ashes.

(Pause to wipe the tear from my eye.)

We were in the middle of nowhere, on a Sunday. I'm pretty sure that it was even Father's Day. Some nice old couple picked us up, drove us a million miles to the nearest airport, and helped us get on a plane home. It was so long ago, I remember that they waited at the gate with us before we boarded the plane.

It's probably a good thing that A-a was taken in some sort of catastrophe, so I didn't reach the day -- years and years later -- where I had to decide whether he came to college with me or not.