Forward Living: For the love of stuffed animals

I love animals. I love them so much that I even like them stuffed. No, I don’t mean “elk’s head on the wall.” I like my elks in the mountains, proud and safe, away from the people down in the valley and their menacing dogs.

I’m talking Gund’s Teddy bears, rabbits, kangaroos. They were born for children’s bedrooms and to provide hugging comfort in good and bad times. I have about 30 of them, not counting a basket of Beanie Babies that do not qualify as stuffed, although some might disagree with that exclusion. I have asked my stuffed friends (no humans involved here) to meet with me this morning for an important discussion. I’m writing about you today, I tell them.

You, the biggest Teddy bear in the house. Yes, you on that sofa, your back turned away from Orient Bay, your eyes larger than half-dollar coins. A red vest and a plaid bow tie make you a bourgeois bear. A retired bourgeois bear, affluent and pleased with yourself. I first met you on Front Street in Greenport. You were sitting on a chair, a sign at your feet: “Yard Sale.” It was noon on a warm day. Not much left in the yard. But you were there, lonely, unwanted it seemed, your size perhaps a handicap. Who wants a bear larger than a human child? The yard sale was over. You, the last witness of things that belonged to the house. What fool would want to take you away? I, said I.

Two years later and you are family now, spending most of your time — I mean all your time — on the wicker sofa I inherited from the old Bay House in Orient years and years ago. Stay right here, Big Bear. The space is yours for as long as it’s mine.

You, my pale pink kangaroo, a yellow baby in your pouch. The baby wears a lace bonnet tied with a blue ribbon. You may not know it, dear Kangaroo, but you have a tag on your bottom, “Kinder Gund” Keepsake, 1988. Your baby falls out of the pouch all the time. Being a mother isn’t easy.

My friend wasn’t too pleased when I arrived home with you, pink French poodle.

“What for?” she asked.

“He smiles,” I said.

“He may smile but they don’t come in pink …”

Feebly I replied, “That’s why I like this poodle. One of a kind.”

My friend shrugged her shoulders, sighed and went back to the book on country inns she was reading, and you could be sure there was nothing on pink poodles in it.

I still love you, Pink Poodle, no matter what anybody says.

Stuffed animals are fantasy. A bear as tiny as a mouse, a mouse the size of a raccoon. That rabbit staring at me for one more carrot. Twenty-six inches tall, ears included. Now that’s a mighty rabbit. Thirty-four-inch waist. You wouldn’t find one in the whole of Ireland. Not even in the whole of Southold Town. But you never know. A lot happens in Southold Town.

I adopted this rabbit from Main Street Kids in Greenport when they were closing down. You were an incredible bargain. But I’m not always sure where to put you. Luckily, you were wise not to multiply.

Now that sweetest face: Snuggle in person. I saw you in the arms of a young woman on a New York City sidewalk. “How pretty, your bear,” I tell the young woman.

“You can have him,” she replies. “Here, take him. It was given to me. I had him for a while. It’s your turn to have him. It’s good karma.”

And so you came into my life, Snuggle. I see you on boxes in the supermarkets. You’re more famous than I will ever be.

You too, Babar, the child of L. de Brunhoff. How did you do it? Here you are next to mother and child dachshunds not impressed by your fame. You, in green vest, red coat and yellow bow tie. How did Mr. de Brunhoff find you at the end of his pen or brush? Millions of children have adopted you under many different skies. Dachshunds, make room for Mr. Babar. Don’t push him off the couch. Might as well ask a bird not to fly. Dachshunds always get their way, with their fraudulent worried looks. This mother and child no exception.

Hand-knit somewhere in Southampton, “Lucille,” says your ID. Was she, is she, real? But you don’t bark.

Oh, yes, the Vermont Teddy bear says, “What about me?” Born in Shelburne, Vt. “Made to love, cherish, and share.” You’re kind of plain looking and I love you for that.

Almost forgot: My Pekingese friend, a gift from my Godmother. The oldest member of the family, me excepted. I’m two years older than the Pekingese. Just one more thing. During the War — the second one, of course — it was illegal to keep gold coins. As you might expect, nobody respected that. They hid their gold. A few years after the war, as I was petting my Pekingese (don’t worry about me, I’m OK), I felt the shape of a bone unknown in the anatomy of dogs. I operated on the dog with all proper precautions so as not to inflict pain. As I dug through a layer of straw-like substance, I pulled out the bones. Two gold coins. United States of America, Ten Dollars, 1899. And Estados Unidos Mexicanos, Diez Pesos, 1907. Never give up on an old dog, man’s best friend, after all.

I hear you. Aren’t stuffed animals for children? Shouldn’t you donate them to a charity? Yes, I will. But we, too, grown-ups, some of us anyway, need the company of huggable creatures that do not bark or yell or bite. I know my menagerie is not alive, reasonably speaking. Yet they live in their own way, stuffed not just with straw or fiber but with the memory of childhood. They come to us, fluffy and soft, with questioning eyes, mute and motionless. And the child in us wakes up.

My dog Nina joins us, puzzled and suspicious. She brings memories, too. She needs to be fed, walked and loved. The Teddy bears, kangaroos, hand-knit dogs ask for nothing. Except they want to be heard today, all of them. Sorry, sorry dear fuzzy friends. Sorry Persian cat, green frog and even you, Muffy VanderBear, who has her own fan club on North Wabash in Chicago.

You’ll have your day, I promise. Your voice will be heard.

Pierre Gazarian is a poet and a writer of one-act plays. Email: [email protected]

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