The Pep Talk

My husband had a tale to share with me when I got home from work yesterday. Over dinner, he simply said, “Remind me later to tell you about The Pep Talk.”

So later, when the children were not around, I asked him to tell me about The Pep Talk. And he did.

He was in the shower and when he got out, he could hear six year-old Hal giving a rousing pep talk in our bedroom. My husband’s face got animated as he recited what he had heard in a measured tone, carefully delivered to build excitement.

“Ok, guys. Here’s what we’ve got. We don’t have a week. We don’t have a month. We don’t have a year. We’ve got now. Now is all we’ve got. It has to be now. You got it?”

My husband told me to imagine the best football coach’s pep talk mixed with a professional wrestler’s smack talk interview mixed with the worst used car commercial I had ever heard. That’s how little Hal sounded. It was a perfect blend. He transitioned seamlessly from one to another and back again.

Then my husband had walked into the room and found a selection of Hal’s stuffed animals arranged in a pristine semi-circle on our bed.

“You’ve got to take down those bad guys! You’ve got to destroy them. You can do this! I believe in you! It all depends on you! Are you ready? Let’s do this! Today! Today! Today! Today! Today!”

He then returned to his own room, where he addressed the remaining stuffed animals, hanging out in the newly created “zoo” mounted on the wall above his bunk bed.

“I’m sorry that you guys can’t go. You are still my best guys. You are. You just didn’t get signed up in time. I’m so sorry.”

This empathetic speech, as if this pending battle or competition was equivalent to signing up for summer camp, was related to me through tears as my husband was laughing too hard to get the story out coherently.

I wish I had been there. Oh, how I wish I had been there.

Animal Rescue

We left the Bingo Night fundraiser and headed home. Just me and the kids – Daddy had left the fundraiser to work at a different fundraiser. Busy night. Anyway, as we got on the highway, I noticed that we had two bars left on the gas gauge. Ok, might ought to get gas tomorrow some time, I thought.

Right after I passed the last main-part-of-town exit, I was down to one bar. Shoot, I thought. *sigh* Ok, I better take the next exit and drive back to the nearest gas station. It’s not that we live way outside of town. It’s just that I knew come the next morning, I’d be in a hurry and not have time to stop. Maybe I wouldn’t even notice or remember I needed gas.

I pulled up to a pump and Jane called out, “Hey, look! It’s a Looney Tunes Bunny.” I looked where she was pointing and saw a box abandoned next to the next pump over. I was dismayed.

With all the disappointment I could muster, I responded, “A Looney Tunes Bunny? A Looney Tunes Bunny?! That’s not just some Looney Tunes Bunny! That’s Bugs Bunny himself!”

“Well, ok, whatever. He’s a Looney Tunes Bunny.”

Her grandfather is not dead but if he was, he would have just rolled over in his grave. In fact, when he reads this, he might just drop dead and then roll over in his grave. Is Bugs that far out of popular culture?

Before I could take a picture, which had been my plan, Hal had fallen in love with a stuffed pug and the other two were snatching stuff up as well. I looked around and tried to decide what to do. The box wasn’t on its side, like it had fallen out of a truck. It was pushed up against the side of the pump like it had been left there deliberately. The box was open and Bugs was poking his head up out of the top. My initial reaction was that someone, for some reason, had left them there for the taking. And we needed stuffed animals for our VBS preschool program. So we emptied the box.

Hal even found Bugs’s missing ear in the box and reinserted it into his head.

As we drove away, I suddenly felt hollow. Surely those stuffed animals belonged to some little girl. What if her parents had threatened leaving them at the gas station if she didn’t stop doing whatever mischief she was doing. What if she was crying over her lost toys right now? What if her parents were mean and hateful?

Or maybe they had fallen out of a truck and some other kind soul had gathered them up and poked Bugs out of the top of the box to catch the owners’ attention if they returned. Maybe we were foiling someone else’s attempt at kindness. Maybe we were breaking some child’s heart. Some child whose heart would swell with hope when she saw the box and then be crushed with overwhelming sadness when she found it empty.

Or maybe they wouldn’t notice the box was missing until they were too far away. And they’d always just wonder whatever happened to that box of stuffed animals. Whether we were contributing to the child not being reunited with the toys or not, whether they ever would have come back or not, I sensed that there was or soon would be a very unhappy child.

After getting a censorious look from my husband when he got home, I settled on a course of action. I called the gas station to leave my phone number in case someone came looking for the animals. It took a bit of work to get the attendant to understand what I was trying to do. It seems unlikely anyone would come back. I mean, they first have to notice the box is missing and then they have to retrace all their steps, not knowing when it fell out. But still.

Now the gas station attendant thinks I’m crazy and has my first name and phone number. Odds are, he won’t pass the note on to whomever has the shift after him. Odds are, I’ll always feel a little sad and guilty about the little girl and her cute stuffed animals. Even if some other kids will love on them at VBS. And Hal will cherish the pug. And the little girl we are giving the rainbow horse to will love it. And we’ll make sure they all get loving homes. Even if. Guilty and sad and worried, I’ll be.

One of them was still in the car during the photo shoot, but here's most of rescued (or kidnapped?) gang.

One of them was still in the car during the photo shoot, but here’s most of rescued (or kidnapped?) gang.

TBT: The Great Stuffed Animal Migration

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.