Whether you are a doctor, lawyer, merchant, chief, or any other profession, there’s a good chance somewhere in your early childhood you had a special something from which you were inseparable. It may have been a stuffed animal, a fuzzy blanket, or a small well-worn pillow. It had a name.
My son carried a small print fabric stuffed bear called “Beepee”. My cousin’s blanket, known as “KiKi”, was always with him. My older brother was a bit more image conscious as he had an imaginary companion – “Ferndale Watson” – a name including our father’s name and the city where we visited our grandparents. My daughter was best buddies with a plastic dog with a rotating head known as “Rub-a-dub” who, like Ferndale Watson, is still around today. For a little kid, there’s something reassuring about an anytime friend, who doesn’t butt in, always agrees with you, shares everything and always thinks your plans for the day are perfect. Had these fuzzy friends been permitted to mature they would have made great psychiatrists.
I had such a buddy – Punkin Head. He was my constant companion. Maybe being a part of a larger family, the constancy of my little friend was a comfort. Punkin Head was a golden bear with red shorts and a red ribbon at his neck as if he were a perpetual gift. Had I known the word “dapper” back then I could have better described him to others in the sandbox. His tuft of blond hair on top had a punk style – he was ahead of his time. (Here’s a photo I used as practice when learning PhotoShop -click to enlarge)
There may have been a connection between my fondness for Punkin Head and the popular fire fighting figure – Smokey the Bear, widely recognized in the 1950s. Smokey did public service announcements every Saturday morning during cartoon shows (when cartoons were cartoons). He was also featured in the popular Little Golden Books series which introduced many of us to the early stories that stimulated our imaginations.
There was only one Punkin Head and the bond was understood in the family. He wasn’t a toy to be shared or fought over – he belongs to Craig. There was a code. I heard talk in the house that he was becoming threadbare and dirty but that didn’t change who he was. His arms were always in the open position.
Punkin Head didn’t grow on mom but she thought something was growing on him. He was a little sticky, matted and dirty and now Craig wants to take him to church with him. My older brother had it figured out with his invisible friend, Ferndale Watson. The car could be loaded for a trip and if he forgot to pack his buddy – Ferndale would magically show up in the back seat twenty miles down the road. But for me, Punkin Head was a physical presence, room had to be made for him. He was on the list.
Then one day – he vanished! Punkin Head was gone. Was he a runaway, a lost soul, kidnapped, eaten, had he lost his stuffing? Had he found another?
I don’t think it’s fair to conclude that this was when my little mind changed career options from becoming a foreign missionary like I’d learned about in Sunday School to that of fireman or cowboy. But one could wonder how the lingering unknowns of a lost soul mate might disturb such foundations. Punkin Head was no more.
Now its fifty-four or so years later and I’m visiting the folks in my hometown. There was a sound from the front room and soon my lovely sister, Leslie, entered with a FedEx box just dropped at the front door. It was addressed to me “In Care Of” my dad at his address. My first thought was, as a trustee for the college, someone was trying to reach me and didn’t know my home address so they sent it to my dad, a well-known retired professor. It’s probably some alum or friend of the college sending research papers on an issue of the school about which they are disenchanted. The return address read – Zack Corzine of Akron, Ohio – sounds like someone from a class in the mid 90’s. I don’t want to deal with this right now – I’m here to see the doctor and I’ve bigger fish to fry.
But I opened the box . . . and there he was – it was Punkin Head – all growed up! He cleans up nice. And while I never knew him to say much he could always communicate well and he included a letter of explanation addressed to me:
This is Punkin Head. Ohhhh! At last I found you! If I could hug you, I would.
You won’t believe how I’ve tried to find you through the years. I’ll never forget the day we were separated. You know, your mother never realized the strong bond there was between us. I think the only reason she got rid of me was plain old DIRT. Even though I’ll have to admit I did look terrible and filthy, I’d rather be loved and disgustingly dirty than nice and clean and set aside somewhere unloved.
My story has been a rather sad one. When your mother decided I’d have to go, I stayed that first night in the trash can. Early the next morning the garbage man was taking the trash to the city dump. He stopped in the back of a McDonald’s to get a quick cup of coffee and I happened to fall out on the ground. Unnoticed by the man, I lay in the parking lot until a family came out from McDonald’s, picked me up and I found myself on my way to Akron, Ohio to live with a mean little kid by the name of Zack. He’d play so hard and yank on my legs til I thought he’d tear them off of me. Then I’d be left in a corner – all bent over. There was no one to love me like my pal, Craig.
One day, years later, Zack’s mother was cleaning out some things and she said, “What on earth are we going to do with this old Teddy Bear?” I got up my nerve and told Zack if he could find my old pal Craig and send me to him, I would be so happy. I couldn’t remember your last name but as fate would have it, Zack’s parents had been reading a book, “Portraits in Character.” “That’s him! That’s my friend! Please send me back to him.”
A chapter in the “Portraits” book was about Watson and Bonnie Tidball and Zack’s mom thought it would be a good idea to send me back home to that loving family.
So here I am. Through the years I’ve cleaned myself up and got some new clothes. I noticed by the picture in the back of the book that you have changed quite a bit too, and I hear that now you are going through an extended treatment to cure Hepatitis C.
I know that grown men don’t cuddle little bears but I’m going to be here for you as a reminder that I’ve never forgotten you and will stick by you through this hard time in your life. Your mother is so excited that we are united again.
Your are my best pal ever!!
He’s all growed up. Maybe he’s colored his hair a tad. His hair is thin but that’s not threadbare – that’s genetic thinning. And he still sits there with his arms open, doesn’t say anything, and likes my plans for the day. We picked up right where we left off. The conspirators of Operation Punkin Head – Mom, Dad, and Leslie are enjoying a moment of fun but for you and me – it’s together again for the first time.
Punkin Head, I’m glad you’re home. You’re right . . . we don’t cuddle at this age and I may not take you on my trips but still your presence means the world to me. That’s because you remind me of my amazing mother. You always did, you know . . . ever since we were first together. You always listened and supported me, you think everything I do and say is great, you have a pure spirit, I’ve never heard you say a disparaging word, you never speak ill of anyone, and when I took on other loves in my life you just made more room and everything I now love – you love. I can’t think of a better person of whom to be reminded.
You’re home again. In a few days there will be a little girl and a little boy who will come for a visit and they will think you belong to them. It’s OK. You can play with them and get sticky and get slobbered on but at the end of the day it’s just you and me, forever.
Night night – Punkin Head.