I had a lot of dolls and stuffed animals when I was young. I mean, a lot. So did my little brother. We had our favorites. I had Julie, the wrap-around monkey puppet. She frequently wore earrings, which really helped me out when I forgot to wear some to the lake shortly after I got mine pierced. She let me use hers. She also went with me when the day care center took us to see Gremlins in the theater. That was good because that movie scared the living you-know-what out of me and I don’t think I could have survived had she not been there to wrap her arms around my eyes.
And then there was Jennifer, the home-made doll that the wonderful woman next door made for me. And Jane, the knock-off Cabbage Patch doll. And… Rufus? A really big dog that was usually wearing a T-shirt. My brother had LeMutt and LeMutt’s girlfriend Fifi. I think LeMutt and Fifi were available in different sizes and we had a smaller version of LeMutt than Fifi. Didn’t seem to bother us much.
One of my fondest memories concerning our stuffed animals was a trip to the lake one year. I’m not sure how old we were. Old enough (by eighties standards) to be home alone but not so old that we had put the dolls away. Maybe ten and seven?
Anyway, mom had left us with instructions. We were supposed to load a few supplies into the pop-up trailer and make sure we were ready to go when she and my step-dad got home from work. We were strictly limited to two stuffed animals each. Yes, Mom. We understand completely.
Two animals each, however, was unacceptable. We soon developed a plan. The pop-up was basically already packed and closed down so no one would be crawling into it or opening it up. It was a safe haven. We started carrying stuffed animals out by the armful to stuff behind all the boxes in the trailer. We got caught up in the adrenaline rush of the plan implementation and took nearly every single stuffed animal, no matter how small, insignificant, or unloved out to the trailer.
Some careful planning went into which four animals were in the car with us. They had to be believable as the four we would most want, of course. Rufus was the biggest problem (literally). He was too big to hide in the trailer without risking exposure if the parents should perform a quick flashlight check before departure. But he wasn’t likely to be one of my top two. I agonized over this for quite some time before deciding to risk suspicion.
Still, there were still more animals that didn’t fit in the trailer. By the time our parents got home, we really wanted to pull off a complete coup. So while they were busy, we’d quickly and quietly sneak small animals out to the car in our shirts and stuff them under the seats. We hid even more animals in our pillowcases and laid the pillows in the backseat, carefully situating them so the lumps weren’t obvious. And then, when it was time to go, we walked to the car, each holding two, and only two, animals.
Looking back, I laugh at how much work went into hiding things. As a parent, I can only imagine how distracted they were with everything they needed to take care of. No wonder we got away with it.
We sat quietly in the backseat as the car pulled out of the drive. Occasional furtive glances were shared as my brother waited for me to give the indication. The key to success with the in-car animals was to wait until we were too far away for them to turn the car back. But not too far that we couldn’t enjoy them! Besides, we were really itching to reveal our hand!
Finally, I nodded and we each darted under the front seats to extract the animals. We pulled them gleefully from our pillowcases. Our mother looked back in shock. We laughed and laughed and laughed. Mom grinned and shook her head. Success. And we hadn’t even gotten in trouble.
One more hurdle remained. When we got to the lake, they began to raise the trailer. (A pop-up trailer has a roof that winds up and two beds that slide out to leave you with a big open space in the middle. Many have a kitchen and table in them. Ours was a very basic model – just the two beds. All of our towels, dishes, etc. were stored in Avon boxes in the floor.) They let down the door. They stepped inside. They saw the animals. We shrieked in delight.
Mom was not quite so forgiving this time. Then again, it was so over-the-top ridiculous that after a brief expression of anger, she just shook her head in disbelief. Then she said that every single last animal had to fit on our bed. Every single one. It was a challenge to do that and still have room for us but we pulled it off. Mom couldn’t understand why we wanted so many stuffed animals at the lake. It wasn’t the having them there that we wanted – it was the getting them there. To this day, it remains one of our best cooperative acts of subterfuge.
I still have “the big three”: Jane, Jennifer, and Julie. My kids found them in the closet one day and they came back to life (Woody and Buzz would love to know that). Only, despite my insistence, they aren’t named Jane, Jennifer, and Julie anymore.
I’d like you to meet, from left to right, Shirley, Ginger, and… Mr. Muffets. That last one has taken some getting used to.