Pooh and Pinkle Purr

September 7, 2011

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I didn’t anticipate that memories of being a child, reading, would flood over me when I pulled this A.A. Milne anthology from my bookcase this evening. I didn’t anticipate how familiar nearly all of the illustrations would be, as if I had last seen them yesterday. I didn’t remember that I had known and memorized Milne poems that weren’t even about Winnie-the-Pooh.

It takes me right back to our house on Main Street. I suppose when I was a kid I had individual volumes (and they’re probably in a box at my parents’ house). I don’t really remember the vessels, I just remember the content. Sitting on the hassock next to the window that looked out on the front porch, absorbing Winnie-the-Pooh.

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I didn’t remember how much there is. Granted, the book I have now is set in a pretty large point size. Nevertheless, it’s a big book! Stories and poems, and so many wonderful illustrations. E.H. Shepard must have tossed off these watercolors like it was nothing in order to be so prolific.

I guess this makes the case for paper books sticking around, a question about which I’ve thus far been ambivalent. I can’t imagine that I’d be having these waves of nostalgia if I had looked at the stories on an iPad. I’ve “read” a Peter Rabbit story on the iPad, and sure, it’s cute that you can tap on things to make them jump or squeak, but I think it’s a novelty that detracts from consuming the words and feasting on the illustrations. I don’t think forty years later I’d be sitting here thinking, “Gosh, those were the days when I touched Peter’s ear and it wiggled.” Or, I’d remember that I could touch Peter’s ear to make it wiggle and not much else.

Leafing through this Milne anthology, I was transported. And it became immediately obvious that I know what book I’m going to read next.

     For a long time they looked at the river beneath them, saying nothing, and the river said nothing too, for it felt very quiet and peaceful on this summer afternoon.
     “Tigger is all right really,” said Piglet lazily.
     “Of course he is,” said Christopher Robin.
     “Everybody is really,” said Pooh. “That’s what I think,” said Pooh. “But I don’t suppose I”m right,” he said.
     “Of course you are,” said Christopher Robin.

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(The Complete Tales & Poems of Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A. Milne, Decorations by Ernest H. Shepard, Dutton Children’s Books, 1996, 1997)

Learning to fly

June 6, 2011

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I had occasion today to recall being brave enough to make my first bike ride without the training wheels. I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but I can tell you exactly where I was.

This might take a while and I might ramble.

When I was still a squirt (say, ages three through six), we’d spend the summers in Bloomington, Indiana, because my dad was working on his doctorate degree in music theory at Indiana University. It took a while because he only did summers. During the school year, he was a professor of music at Ohio Northern University. That’s a whole other topic, ONU.

There were a few kid milestones that happened during those summers at IU. I won’t claim to remember if they’re in chronological order. But they did happen. Oh blargh, now I’m calling my mom to check. Hang on …

Okay, it was during my ages three through seven that I went. My dad went one additional year without my mom and me.

The main milestone I want to focus on is learning to ride a bike, or more precisely, the day I ditched the training wheels. Because I do remember it. What I didn’t confirm with my mom just now was how old I was, but I feel like it was the summer when I turned six. (I was one of those fortunate kids whose birthday is in the middle of summer and no fuss was ever made in class during the year.)

I had a hand-me-down bike, an old Schwinn from a neighbor. I thought it was copper, my mom said it was maroon. On that momentous day, I was riding up the diagonal sidewalk between the two apartment buildings—the one where we lived, and the other one where my little best friend Angie M lived (Angie was a year older than I). Somebody, probably my mom, I guess, because my dad would have been in class, noticed that I wasn’t putting any balance on the training wheels and said, okay, let’s take them off. And we did. And that was it.

The other thing I remember about that day (and I’m sure it’s entirely possible that I’m blurring events together because, let’s face it, that was forty years ago) is that along that sidewalk, just about where it met the other diagonal sidewalk with which it made an X, I came upon a squirrel that wasn’t too frightened by people and seemed willing to let me walk up to it with outstretched hand. One of the other adults present sternly warned me not to interact with the skwerl because it might be rabid and if it bit me, I’d die. There was some other thing about stray dogs peeing in the sandbox where we kids liked to play. Yay, adults and their scaremongering.

Other things I remember about those years, definitely not in chronological order:

My mom and I would play Poohsticks on one particular little bridge over the Jordan River which ran right through the middle of campus. As you’ve learned, in addition to rabbits, I have a history of Pooh.

We did spend one entire year there, so I attended kindergarten. I got along well with my teacher. She’d walk me home sometimes. In class, I learned the classic “My Napsack on My Back” song (val-da-ree …) On the walks home, she taught me another song that had slightly naughty words, that her husband disapproved of her teaching one so young as I. Maybe she wasn’t my teacher. Maybe she was just a friend of my parents’.

I remember vaulting off a stone wall that I’m going to estimate was at least six feet tall. There were four or five of us kids doing it. We had no fear of mortality.

Angie and I came to be in possession of a shopping cart for a couple of days. We pushed each other around in it, and we turned it over and made a fort out of it.

Angie and I also set up a lemonade stand on the other side of the apartment complex on a busier street. We made a little bit. Angie figured it all out and I remember feeling like I didn’t walk away with as much as should have been my fair share, you know, probably $2.25 instead of $2.75.

IU might also have been where my interest in science kindled. For whatever reason, my dad the music professor had a class in a lecture hall in the geology building. In the lobby was what to me seemed a moon-sized globe, as well as a two-storey pendulum. I found them both to be fascinating. I attended class with my dad one day, and it was on that day that a rare earthquake occurred, the only one I’ve ever been witness to, thankfully. It wasn’t much, just enough to be felt and to cause everyone in the hall to look at each other in “did you feel that?” wonderment.

I think what this boils down to is that I really fondly remember my time at Indiana University. You know, and my childhood.

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Post script:
My dad’s doctorate thesis was not approved. He did not get his PhD. Years later when I myself was in college, I took an editing class. We had to come up with a long manuscript to edit and I convinced my dad to let me use his thesis.

Top photo: me, by my mom.
Bottom photo: a youngster who freed herself of training wheels today and was the inspiration for this post but who shall remain nameless, by her dad Tyler, an acquaintance of mine. If I had one of myself peddling around at that age, I would have used it instead.

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Well, of course it did, because I get it from my mother. She claims to have wheeled a bottle of Brer Rabbit Molasses around in a baby buggy when she was a girl. And she began indoctrinating me when I was just a baby. This is the earliest photo of myself that I have seen with regularity. It wasn’t enough for her to have her cute, happy baby in the middle of a giant bed. No, she posed a rabbit toy alongside. The osmosing of rabbit love began. 

As I have gotten these photos together this week, I have remembered that when I was photographed as a child, these “candid” shots always included some prop to make the picture “more interesting.” If you think that stuffed rabbit just happens to be peeking out from behind the ottoman, you are mistaken. 

I was just the right age to get in at the beginning of Winnie-the-Pooh’s popularity. So there was often a Pooh in the photo. This is Rubber Pooh that you’ll see in a few shots. He was—wait for it—rubber and jointed. He was a friend for a long time. He would wave to my mom while she was snapping the photo or just generally be a bystander in the shot. We really liked those big boxes. 

Rabbits were never out of it for long. I can remember riding that rabbit-horse around the house. I sort of remember that I wasn’t allowed to take it outside so as not to “ruin” it. I may be wrong, but that’s how I think it was. 

We have the quintuple bonus picture for my sixth birthday—Poohs and a rabbit, and opening a Winnie-the-Pooh stencil kit. That was back in the day when things didn’t have to have a screen and beep and vibrate for a kid to be entertained. I wore out my Spirograph. I can’t quite tell from the photo if I had melted Rubber Pooh’s nose just a little yet or not. I was playing with matches. 

When I was a youngster, we summered at Indiana University while my dad worked summers only on his PhD. The campus featured a cute little stream where my mom and I spent a lot of time playing Poohsticks. 

The rabbit thing came to fruition with the first live rabbit that either my mom or I had lived with. I’d tell you her name, but then you’d be able to steal my identity. We came to have this rabbit, Rabbit C, because the neighborhood papergirl, Penny W, brought along a box of baby bunnies one day when she was delivering the news. My mom got suckered in. 

I was eight in that picture. I’m trying to remember if Rabbit C made the cross-state move with us when I was almost fifteen. I know a couple of years after the move, we had a different rabbit. I’m kind of thinking—yes, now I remember. She did not make the move with us and was interred in the front flower bed where I always used to plant marigold seeds. Maybe that’s part of the reason why I still love marigolds. 

But within a couple of years after we moved, there was a new rabbit, and there has been one in my life ever since, whether successors to Rabbit C with my mom or, beginning when I was, I’m going to say, about 25, a rabbit of my very own.

The genuine article

January 6, 2010

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Genuine Pooh is something from my childhood that I would never part with. This is not that bear; it is Green Genuine who stood in for Genuine for this photo because Genuine is at my mom’s house and wasn’t available. So I guess technically I have parted with Genuine, even though I know exactly where he is.

Genuine is an old Steiff bear that was my Grandma H’s and that she gave to me when I was a youngster. I named him Genuine because he reminded me of the original Winnie-the-Pooh illustrations. I loved that bear hard. After he had been dragged around for years, my mom got into Teddy bear collecting and we began to realize that he actually had some collectable value. Fortunately, I was older by then and didn’t mind treating him more reverently.

He wasn’t my first Teddy bear. When I was really small, I had an amorphous brown thing that I was attached to. When he became threadbare and ratty, he was replaced with what was purported to be an exact replica. My mom tried to convince me that it was just as good, but New Teddy was nothing like Old Teddy. I continued my devotion to Old Teddy, and New Teddy sat alone off to the side. I also had Big Teddy who, at the time, was almost as big as I was.

Genuine became a minor celebrity in the bear world, or rather a photo of my grandmother as a girl clutching him did. Among other places, it appeared in Peter Bull’s 1984 book A Hug of Teddy Bears. I don’t have a copy of the photo, so this poor drawing will have to do.

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In doing a little research this evening to find a photo of a similar bear to Genuine, I figured he’s a 1905, 1908 or 1920 Steiff. There were similar and different looking bears for all three years, so I don’t know exactly which it would be. The two above look most like I remember Genuine, and I think he looks more like the one on the left with the pointier snout, smaller nose, and more slender limbs. Grandma was born in 1903, so maybe it was a 1908 bear as she would have been about five or six as I remember the photo. 

(I haven’t seen Genuine for many, many years as he has been residing in my mom’s bear room, which, incidentally used to be my bedroom.) 

Green Genuine is a souvenir from my first trip to England, which was with my mom on a group Teddy bear tour. I found him at Teddy Bears of Whitney. He was a one-of-a-kind prototype by bear artist Sue Lain (hence the odd color of mohair) and he reminded me of Genuine, so I bought him. Now that I see him next to the Steiff bears, he doesn’t really look that much like Genuine. I think we have a photo of the two bears together.

And now that I think about a photo of Genuine and Green Genuine together, I remember that my mom also bought a Second Genuine that was in better condition than Original Genuine. So there are two Genuines and one Green Genuine.

And now I have to stop, because the letters that spell G-e-n-u-i-n-e are beginning to take on a life of their own and look weird.

Steiff bear photos from here and here.