Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Tested on Animals

I have 52 stuffed animals. 
Well, I had 52 stuffed animals growing up. I know this because I carefully named, grouped, and catalogued all of them along the way. At the peak of my collecting, between the ages of 9 and 12, I held periodic stuffed animal jamborees on my bed where I would gather the entire group, explore personality traits, familial and romantic relationships, and develop my ideas on gender specific attributes. And I had very little room to sleep.

Hockey tape—the pre-duct tape universal adherent—holds Bruno’s front legs and Misty’s sides together. Clearly, I had some machine sewing skills as I obviously fashioned that lovely polyester sweater for Bruno who, like many other 40-something males, is losing his hair. But I really can’t explain the safety pin through Misty’s ear, not having gone through that phase myself.

I imagine many of my stuffed animals are still at my parents’ house in the closet of the bedroom that was once mine and is now simply a larger closet for my mother’s hoarding.  But two of those precious perpetual pets occupy primo space in my cellah (that’s what we call the basement level of houses in the northeast) collecting the permanent smell of must: Bruno, the Saint Bernard, won for me by Jack or John Burke at a fair when I was four, and Misty, the grey cat with the jingle bell in her right ear, given to me by Collette Dube for my fifth birthday.  As the patriarch and matriarch of my stuffed animal tribe, Bruno and Misty, respectively, rated moving with me.  It was with the help of their modeling that I formed the early idea that dogs—noble and strong—were boys, and cats—pretty and unpredictable—were girls.

That is, until Princess, the gigantic blue and white poodle, whose bold femininity could not be denied, came along.

At thirty inches tall, Princess became the protective adoptive mother of all the odd stuffed animals who had no parents or partners. Chester, the Route-114-roadside-purchase squirrel, and Blackie, the defective black bear cub from Clark’s Trading Post (that I was only able to get because he lacked the red leather collar and leash of all the other cubs, and was therefore discounted), were two of her more challenging teenage adoptees.  Whether these imagined personalities had anything to do with the single, older foster mother and string of new best friends who lived next door to me in real life, I don’t know.  But my orphan stuffed animals got the polichinelle treatment in the fashion of Mother Ginger, while Princess embodied some of my ideas about motherhood: Big, powerful, focused solely on defending her children.

Among the other unique animal families, I had a widower bullfrog, whose name escapes me, with a baby son frog, Jake, married to the widowed cat, Misty, who had two kittens of her own:  Melody (because she rolled over while she played music – her stiff tail was the crank), and Fluffy (because, well, she was fluffy).  Having both lost their partners (because how else could they have babies?), the cat and the frog decided to marry in order to enjoy the stability of the two-parent, albeit inter-species, blended household. The large snakes, Adam and Eve, who were normally wrapped around the curtain rods of the twin windows in my room, who had no children of their own, happily lined the sides of the bed during the jamboree so that the smaller animals wouldn’t fall off or get stuck between the bed and the wall. 

After the disturbing and unexplained disappearance of my plush orange Snoopy, drinking was banned at the gatherings. Okay. I made up the part about banning drinking, but I do recall the disappearing Snoopy as having a generally boozy look about him. This could be due to the fact that he was permanently sunglassed and in a reclining position, or because the last time I saw him was at a bash of a cookout at my grandparents where he was loitering by the turtle aquarium.

What’s interesting to me is that even though I had Bruno and Misty from the very beginning of my collecting – and I clearly had no problem with mismatches – they were never mates. When Elsa, a Saint Bernard named after the lion cub in Born Free, joined the family, she, the newcomer, and the older Bruno, the clear leader of the group, were married. There was no bitterness or questioning of his decision. It was simply a fact: they belonged together.  

Oh, yes.  I had constructed an entire stuffed animal society reflecting my burgeoning notions of human nature. Remembering the fully fleshed-out personalities I imparted to my toys makes me appreciate not only the many hours of creative play I had alone as a child, but also, which ideas I tested early on and how they developed with time and consideration.  

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