One evening over dinner, as we were talking about our idea for this book, our friend Jim revealed that he still had the object of his childhood affection “…upstairs somewhere. I think my mother sent it to me a few years ago”. This was, of course, a way of disengaging from it. He was assuring us that he hadn’t kept it with him all these years. Jim is one of our more macho friends, but we know that he’s not as macho as he seems. He’s a smart and supportive father of two incredible kids; he’s a kind and gentle husband married to his college sweetheart. But he does have an image to uphold, one that a worn out, sweet faced childhood love object does not necessarily support.
Jim left the table and returned in about 15 seconds with said dog. Our initial suspicions about it being “upstairs somewhere” were confirmed. Jim lives in a fairly large house. If he didn’t know exactly where that cute little guy was hiding, it would have taken a lot longer to find. When he returned to the table with it, we oohed and ahhed over how cute it was and asked the obvious—what is its name? We were floored when he told us he didn’t remember. He promised to ask his Mom. For most of us, naming our favorite object is critical because it gives the thing humanity. A name allows an inanimate object to become part of the family. A name allows us to ask our parents to kiss so-and-so good night just after they’ve kissed us. For most of us, the name of our beloved object is all that’s left—the thing itself lost long ago.
We both had well-loved stuffed animals, but now they are just fond memories. Cheryl had Farfel, a terrier named after a character in Nestle’s Quik commercials. Jeffrey had Toppy, a pink plaid elephant with a beret named for “Top Value” stamps, which is how Toppy was procured. How utterly 1950’s.
Even though he’s no longer with us, Farfel played an important role for our children. At bedtime, if Jeffrey put the kids to sleep he read them books, but Cheryl told them Farfel stories. The stories started out true, but once those got used up, she made them up. The kids called them “mouth” stories. They would tease her mercilessly because sometimes, more tired than the kids, the Farfel tall tales would descend into Farfel gibberish as Cheryl tried unsuccessfully to fight sleep.
Our two kids, Fanny and Oliver, both have beloved objects that slept with them. Our daughter Fanny has Ollie, and our son Oliver has Doggie. (Ollie, Oliver—we know, it’s complicated but more on that later.) We have fond memories of packing Oliver’s trunk for camp and waiting for him to fall asleep so we could sneak Doggie out of his bed. Doggie needed some preparation for camp, too. He was about to spend 7 weeks in a tent in Vermont. He needed to be re-stuffed and stitched up. As Doggie became a pre-teen this became more of a challenge. Like a victim of over overindulgence in plastic surgery, Doggie’s skin was taut. He got skinnier and skinnier with each repair. When his holes got really big, we grafted rags over the holes, stitching them all around and causing unsightly splotches. But Oliver never minded much. To kids, the slow disintegration of their favorite object goes unnoticed. Oliver’s grandmother—some might describe her as obsessed by cleanliness—once tried to replace his scraggly, smelly, old gray-that-used-to-be-white Gund dog with a fluffy fresh new one straight from the packed shelves of FAO Schwartz. To her mind there was no contest, and Doggie would be forgotten in no time at all. Acquisitive creature that our son is, he loved his new dog and added it to his own shelves packed with a menagerie of over-priced stuffed animals, most of them bribes. Much to his grandmother’s chagrin, there it sits to this day, a dozen years later, un-named and good as new, hardly ever touched. Doggie is still with us, skinnier than ever but much to our son’s delight and his grandmother’s disgust—and no matter how many times he’s been washed—Doggie is doggedly holding on to that unique smell that inhabits the tip of his tail, one sniff of which instantaneously transports Oliver back to the overstuffed chair in the living room where he would sit when he was just a toddler, Doggie tucked under his nose, gently bouncing his head against the back of the chair while considering the events of the day.
This book is the result of our search for other beautiful, soulful, well-worn, beloved objects that eased us through childhood, ballast against the uncertainties of the day, best friends for life. Oh, Jim’s Mom finally called back. His little dog did indeed have a name and a curious one at that. His name is Dirty Wow Wow, but nobody can remember why.