Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Football Team of Moose

The first stuffed animal that I ever received as a child was a moose, hand-made by my parents' friends Joe and Suzanne Stupak, who lived up in Maine and gave the moose in token of the Great State to the child of their friends in Massachusetts.  I was about six months old, and have no memory of receiving it, but I named him "Oom-pa-pa" and grew up with him thereafter.  One of my earliest memories is from being three or four years old, in bed and realizing that I didn't have my precious moose with me, and running (unsupervised) out into the back yard to find him where I had left him, lying out in the moonlight with his marble eye reflecting back whitely in the glow from the sky.

When I was in kindergarten, we moved to Maine, and moose began to grow in importance.  My first was joined by Big Moose (who was big enough for me to use as a pillow) and Jay Moose (who I hollowed out into a puppet when he began to lose his stuffing), Sister Moose and Mama Moose (whose antlers I cut off, because female moose don't have them), Bruce Moose and Spruce Moose and Eric Moose and more. Every Christmas, I got a moose, and every birthday, I got a moose.  For a while, these totem animals were all-important outlets for my less acceptable forms of behavior.  Moose were stupid and big and happy and uninhibited.  They were impervious to harm and absolutely impossible for any adult to ever control: they were elemental forces of human nature.  Moose could eat lots of beans and fart.  Moose were able to attack my little brother.  Moose would yell at the top of their lungs and knock things over and any other rude thing besides.  In my elementary school drawings, one finds moose flying planes covered in piles of crazy weapons, first blowing up Communists and later locked in their eternal war that developed with my Lego people.  Moose were the Id, just acting and destroying as they needed and desired, while the Legos were a creative force, building huge and complicated cities.  My parents managed this as best they could, balancing freedom for their child's imagination with attempts to eventually civilize the little beast.  Perhaps indicative: our old family rulebook includes an agreement that bans moose from the table, except during certain special occasions such as Christmas morning and birthdays.

As I grew up, though, the need for moose to be my outlet waned, of course.  I made more friends, discovered roleplaying games, and generally slowly shifted from the simple joys of early childhood to the more complicated forms of make-believe that made me happy in adolescence.  Of course the moose were kept around, and I still used big ones as pillows on my bed.  And still the tradition of gifts continued, my family still giving me the moose of tradition and custom, and various other relatives noticing "Jake's into moose" and giving me moose-themed things as well.  It's not a thing I ever objected to of course, even as I grew disenchanted and uninterested: these gifts still called back to times when moose still mattered more, and the sentiment and love they came in mattered even if the creatures didn't.  But they stopped getting names and the new ones no longer had a chance to start developing personalities of their own.  They just accumulated on my shelves, a pile of animals that would have been better gifts for younger me.  But give them up?  Of course not: even if I no longer played with them, the moose would always evoke those days I did, and the times of joy and wonder when it all was new.

By college, I'm not even sure if any moose came with me.  I think that probably yes one did, but wasn't one that was the most important and would have sat neglected on a shelf.  A few more came at holidays, but quietly and with mutual consent, the influx stopped and the moose stayed up in Maine, shifting eventually from my bedroom into storage space in one of my parents various stages of house renewal and renovation.  And there they sat.  For me, it was important that they still existed, but it wasn't important to actually see or interact with them.  My parents, though, would occasionally ask for me to take them off their hands.  And so, when the papers came down this summer, so too came two good-sized garbage bags full of moose, the result of twenty years of slow accumulation.

I sorted them, is what I did.  In one sealed plastic box went the moose that I had emotional attachment to, to go out West to Iowa and a new basement for them to season in, and see if ever there came a time for them to either go upstairs or go away.  The others, whose names I did not know, plus a couple of freaky or otherwise distasteful known offenders, went into a bag to await delivery to Goodwill.  It might have ended there, of course, but I was not in a hurry to get them there, and so they sat.  And Ananya, thinking of my words about wanting to share some things of mine with Harriet, brought her in one day while I was out, and let her pick a favorite from the bag.

Harriet has a very different relationship to stuffed toys than I did, so far.  I had very few when I was small, and so each toy became an alter ego, with a very strong and individual personality.  Harriet was inundated with stuffed toys as a tiny infant, as many different people each carefully and thoughtfully picked a meaningful gift that happened to be from the same general category of things.  As she's grown then, so far her animals tend to instead have more contextual personalities.  Seal is for sleeping, and Bagh and Khargosh are safety animals, the wonky musical Giraffe is for giggling with, and so on and so forth for various different ones.  Moose, her new one, is an adventure animal.  Moose wears bright red Indian dresses and dances, along with the boots that don't fit Harriet any more, and goes out on rides and plays in more exciting ways.

And then... I was packing, and thinking about that great big bag of moose that had not yet gone off to Goodwill.  Harriet was up there with us, playing with boxes and stickers, and I thought: why not see?  Let's see if any other moose were ones that she would like to keep.  I pulled the bag out and let her start to sort on through it.  And she pulled all of them out.  Well, of course she did.  And she's much more interested in the new, unloved ones than in the old and scruffy moose of back in my earliest days.  But this relationship is very different.  So far at least, for her the moose don't come as individuals but as a pack---Ananya likes to describe it as "the moose are a football team." And she plays with them in big piles, as you can see:
Harriet, in a great big basket of Moose
I carried her up and down the stairs, and pushed the basket at her request, so the moose-car and its driver could go vrooming all around the room.  It's not my way, but it's not my play, and in this unexpected passing of the generations, the moose have all won their reprieve from Goodwill (except the couple of creepy ones, who I denied appeal summarily to).
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