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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Child's Play

When I was a little kid -- many years before I started kindergarten (well, it couldn’t be too many years, I guess) -- I had doll I named Johnsie.  (The s is pronounced like a z. I was too young to spell, but still . . . .) I remember Johnsie’s weight, the substantial solidity of a rubber doll in the pre-plastic days.  I recall dragging him around the house.  Most vividly, I remember my rule that only my father and I could hold Johnsie. (I don’t recall anyone else every trying to touch him, but that only shows how powerful I was, right?) Putting Freud and my great affection for my father aside, Johnsie was the only doll I remember being deeply attached to. Sure there was a Besty-Wetsy that I got when I was sick in bed for a week with the flu. I don’t think I ever played with her after. There was the lone Barbie that denoted submission to peer pressure. I must have played with her, but I have no memory of it.

No, Johnsie was the important one, for a few years at least. He was replaced when I was seven by a blue and white elephant my dad got me when I had my tonsils out. I named the elephant Pillow because I buried my nose in him like a pillow to erase the lingering smell of ether. I loved Pillow, and I slept with him every night until I traded him in for my husband.

Now despite the classic book, William’s Doll, it seems to me that it’s little girls that like dollies. (Little boys like stuffed animals and action figures which are NOT dolls, not really.) Girls -- despite my own example -- generally like girl dollies. They like to mother them and feed them, teach them and put them to bed.
So here’s what I don’t understand. Given a choice, a little girl picks a doll in a frilly dress, the pinker, the better. She gets her home, and what’s the first thing she does? The first thing she does is take the clothes off the doll. And does she want you to help her put them back on? No, she does not. What she wants to do is take that naked dolly by one leg and drag it around the house. Why is that? Why? The child may ask you to wrap the dolly up in a blanket, but does she want help dressing her? No. I’ve never seen it, not once. It’s so odd; girls like their dolls naked.

Although, now that I think about it, big girls like naked playmates, too. (Hmm, sometimes these posts don’t end up quite the way I plan.)

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Boy Who Got It Right

The neighbors were over visiting when their boy was three or so.  Being just a little guy, he REALLY wanted to make friends with our cat, the dearly departed Elaine.  Now as you probably know, Elaine was neither the friendliest nor the most tranquil of cats.  She hissed and hid under the bed.  Rich reached for her just as my husband yelled, “Don’t touch her!”  There were two yelps, and Rich came away with a bloody hand.  However, he also came away with a determination to be friends with that cat.  Thus began the friendly siege.

For the next several years, every time he came over, he would sit near her.  Eventually he was able to scritch her on the head.  [NB: a scritch is a tiny, light scratch.  This is not a typo.] Next came the gentle pets on the head and learning that she didn’t like her haunches touched (even then arthritis was setting in).

During elementary school, Rich came over once a week for help with his Language Arts.  Before our lesson, he’d search through the house, find Elaine, say hello and have a little chat.  After our lesson, he’d say good-bye to her.  When we were out of town, he would come over and feed her. 

Rich, now 12, came over the day before I had her put down.  We sat near her and talked about her for a while, and then I went into the kitchen and left him to say good-bye.  I heard him whisper, “Say hello to God for me, Elaine.”

The next day after school, after I’d buried her furry, little body, Rich came over.  It was Halloween afternoon, and he wore the cowboy hat to his costume.  We walked out to the garden.  He removed the hat and said a few words over her grave.

“Well, Elaine and I were friends.  She only liked Mrs. Simon and me.  I think she was afraid a lot.  She was a good cat.  I wish she could have been braver.”  We put a couple of (really old and quite dead) roses on her grave.  Rich really wanted me to put a tombstone on it, and to forestall his making a wooden one (can you see it now, rotting in the snow and rain?), I moved a plaster cat lawn ornament to the site.  He asked for a picture of her, put it in a plastic bag and anchored it under the plaster kitty.

That night, when he came trick-or-treating, he asked me if he could go again to pay his respects to Elaine.

“Any time, Rich.  Any time you want.”
He was out there a good five minutes. 

All I know is, from the time he was oh so little, this boy got it right.  He was patient and tender and loving.  Some girl’s gonna get a good deal.  

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Dad Who Mooed

I have a clear memory from when I was a kid. The family would be on a drive from somewhere to somewhere else. We kids were always antsy, three of us lined up in the back seat (unless my parents forgot and left me somewhere which happened more than once yet never seemed to particularly scar my psyche) (or maybe it did; you tell me).  My Dad would point out roadside features of interest to distract us. If we passed a field of cows, he would recite,

     I never saw a purple cow,
     I never hope to see one,
     But I can tell you anyhow,
     I’d rather see than be one!
     How now, brrrrown cow.

He would recite in large, round tones with rolling r’s, and then he would Moo. It was a loud Moooo with the decibels increasing slowly and then dropping off rapidly just like a real cow. I was awestruck with admiration and wonder. In fact, I can’t recite How Now, Brown Cow in my head without hearing him and feeling a rush of love. And then, like icing on a cake, like a cherry on a Sunday, like a chocolate coin at Hanukkah, came that wonderful moo.

I would demand, “Do it again! Do it again!” He was a sweet and an indulgent father, and he would do it again. I am telling you, that man could Moo.

Then he’d wiggle his ears for us!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Hush, Sweet Pussycat

Many  (many, many) moons ago, I had two cats, Merlyn and Smedley, the dynamic duo. Merlin was a gray tabby and the smartest cat I’ve ever known. He opened cabinets. He climbed ladders. He attempted to turn doorknobs. Smedley was half Siamese and, well, vocal. He meowed about everything and nothing. He was so vocal that I would sing a lullaby to help him settle down. It was Hush, Hush, Sweet Pussycat, and I filked it to the tune of Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte. I have sung it since to every cat I’ve owned when they’re restive or frightened or in pain. It goes like this:
Hush, hush, Sweet Pussycat,
Smedley(or Baby or Kirkie or Laney) go to sleep.
Hush, hush, Sweet Pussycat,
Smedley, don’t you weep.
You must be a quiet pussycat,
     a sleepy, beepy pussycat.
Hush, hush, sweet pussycat,
Smed-ley sleeeep.

I sang it to Elaine (16 1/2 years old) for the last time yesterday on the way to the vet. Hush, hush, Elaine. No more arthritis hurting you as you come up the stairs. No more crying for food that’s already in the bowl. No more litter box accidents. Hush, hush, Elaine. It’s all chasing birds now and stretching in the sun.

I miss my stupid cat.