When I was about 10 years old, I won my first stuffed animal in a raffle with lucky number 77. "Ruffles" and I were playmates for many years and he assumed a prominent spot in my bedroom. When we moved from my childhood home to a nearby new housing development, Ruffles joined the family along with many other stuffed animals that I collected in my youth.
The eventual day of our parting arrived when I moved out on my own and needed to cull the detritus in my life. Ruffles had lost support in his neck; the beans that provided his lumbar support had dislodged lower down. His once happy demeanour took on the sad appearance of a puppet that had lost its beloved puppeteer.
Somewhere along the path from adolescence to young adulthood, I acquired "Bitzi." A little stuffed mouse who sat upright in a coat of grey with a long tail. He had a cloth name tag affixed to his bottom, perhaps in case he got lost and needed to find his way. Or maybe his creator anticipated dementia and this moniker was his calling card home.
When I learned in a moment of happy coincidence that my father's childhood nickname was Itzi, I permanently crossed out the "B" and proclaimed Bitzi a member of the family. Upon discovery of adventure travel in my mid 20s, Bitzi was tucked into my knapsack and became a guardian angel; a good luck charm to ward off bad spirits and a reminder of how far I had wandered from home.
My eyes caught a coin-shaped dark clay medallion depicting a demigod with a long red and yellow thread of yarn pulled through a small opening at the top.
In 2000, after the over hyped doom of the approaching millennium had passed, I travelled to South America to join a trekking group to Machu Picchu via La Paz, Bolivia, a capital city that peaked at 12,000 feet in altitude. Having two solo trips to Africa under my belt, I anticipated an anodyne arrival, but this adventure to see the Lost City of the Incas was not without incident.
Shortly after landing, I became disoriented and dizzy. My breathing was quick and heavy while climbing the long, windy streets at elevations unfamiliar to me. Then all of a sudden, while standing in the lobby awaiting the arrival of the tour leader, I ran to the nearest washroom and threw up violently. This continued for the next two days. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was suffering severe altitude sickness with an escalating resting heart rate. I was at risk for pulmonary edema.
Lucky for me, the tour spent two days in La Paz so everyone could take time to acclimatize. After recovering from my initial reverse peristalsis episode, I slowly walked behind the group as we wove our way through narrow cobbled streets. My eyes caught a coin-shaped dark clay medallion depicting a demigod with a long red and yellow thread of yarn pulled through a small opening at the top. The tour guide assured me this would bring good luck, and I'd recover quickly to handle the upcoming week-long arduous trek. So I bought it and stumbled back to bed for rest.
When the tour guide came to check in on me, I lay motionless and afraid I would not survive the night. At his urging, I drank cocoa tea (made from the same plant that cocaine comes from) to lull myself to sleep. After his departure, fearful and alone, I held in my hand the newly purchased clay ornament with its mystical properties and clasped my fingers tightly around it, silently praying for this evil to pass.
What I have come to know is that we feverishly cling to our childhood items for a host of personal, often inexplicable, reasons.
In the morning, to my surprise and obvious delight, I was still breathing. But even more miraculous was the fact that I had not let go of my "Tamagotchi." How had I not released my grip on the medallion during this fitful and frightful sleep?
While that life affirming moment is still fresh in my mind, what stands out for me is that Tamagotchi has had its share of mishaps too... and survived them all. It crashed to the floor twice and has been haphazardly glued back together like Humpty Dumpty; it ended up accidentally in the washing machine (yes, clay does remain intact after a good cleaning); and it's gone missing in a pile of mounting laundry. But I believe I escaped a meeting with my maker due to this chance purchase and its stubborn refusal to take flight from my life.
A colleague of my husband's recently flew into our city for meetings, and we chatted about the stuff we collect in our lives and the long term relationship we have with them. This gentleman confessed to possessing the same Snoopy pillow cases since the age of five. We laughed at the illogical nature of our adulthood and it caused me to reflect long after his departure.
What I have come to know is that we feverishly cling to our childhood items for a host of personal, often inexplicable, reasons. Perhaps as the precarious nature of life and death teeters, totters and tiptoes around us, we instinctively pull them closer to us. Just ask Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music as she sings about raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.
Shortly after marrying my husband he introduced me to "Ookpik," a miniature owl of indescribable shape with a missing eye and war-torn scars. Ookpik has been with him for over half a century, and like Bitzi, he bares the weather-beaten signs of having lived a soldier's life with many tall tales to tell.
I profess. I do not understand how we choose which inanimate objects will join us on our journey. But these icons of our childhood allow us to reflect back on halcyon days and the immense comfort and familiarity they gave us. We cherish our toys of joy; they have never forsaken us.
And for that I hold dear the many favourite things that I have loved in my life.
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