The teddy bear that is the grandfather of my current plush collection (which is considerable, and consists of everything from moose and bear to dragons and a baby Chtulhu...)is a classic old-fashioned solid-bodied sawdust-filled old bear. He used to be golden - and if you bend his threadbare ears back today, and look where the plush fur had remained relatively sheltered from wear and dust all these years, you can still see the original glowing golden complexion. But the rest of him... is... well, a little threadbare, in many places (a LOT threadbare in others) and where fur survives it has darkened to a brownish gray. His eyes - glass buttons, the shade of chocolate - had both broken at some point, and had been glued back in. He wears a spiffy bow tie made from a broad white velvet ribbon, but that is not so much due to an hankering for sartorial evidence as to the fact that his head is starting to part company with his body and the ribbon hides the worst of it. I should take him to a teddy bear hospital, I guess, where they can put him back together again properly - but for now, sitting in his place of venerable honour in the corner, he's doing just fine. I've often told people that this bear would be one of the few things I'd race to save in the event of a house fire - because he carries so much of me in him. I received him as a birthday present when I turned 1 year old, and at that time, I am told, he was almost bigger than me, big enough for my toddler self, carrying the bear, not to be able to see where I was going because he wholly blocked my field of vision. But I carried him - I took him into my arms then, and he's been everywhere with me, since. He came to boarding school with me and soaked up my tears of homesickness. He has travelled to four continents with me, now.
He'll turn 46 years old on Monday. And he's always going to be treasured.
But he's the only thing that remains.
I have memories of other toys of my childhood. I know I had at least half a dozen of the old-fashioned kind of dolls - not the barbies, but the big beautiful dolls with shiny long hair and eyes that opened and closed and lovely dresses. A couple of them I remember particularly well - a gorgeous sweet-faced thing with glossy black hair and wide blue eyes and another, a blonde, whom I loved so much I insisted on taking her along to a seaside holiday one year. One dunking into salt water and the blonde was done for (well, but I was a KID. How was I to know what sun and salt water would do to synthetic hair?) and I heartlessly abandoned her after that holiday because she was a matted, bedraggled mess. God, I loved those things. They all had names, none of which I remember any longer, and they were all real with stories of their own, and I could look into their glassy little eyes and be able to talk to them about the places where I had imagined they had been. I wonder what became of them all. I can only hope that - left behind as much of my childhood was when we started moving around the globe - they were given away to some other little girl who knew how to love them, and that they remained in some other child's dreams until the power of love faded them and broke them and finally buried them under the layers of time.
I had paper dolls. You know, the kind you cut out and then you can "put on" paper clothes on them, via little tabs which you bent around the doll-shape. When I was really little - younger than 10 - I used to cut these out from the back of the kids' magazine I used to get every Friday. My favourite, I remember, was an exotic Oriental beauty named Lu, who was a recurring character in these cut-out back pages, and who always had amazing "clothes" to go with her, all red and gold and glitter. I used to look forward to Fridays, just in case there was a new Lu spread in the back - and I would cut it all out, very very carefully, taking very great care to cut along the lines and be nice and tidy about it.
I had, wayyyy back when, a kind of one-piece rubber-mold clown which by all accounts I adored - but I remember very little about him now except that I think he had a conical rubber hat (of a piece with the rest of him) with a couple of rubber pompoms on it.
I had, at one time, a collection of "national costume" dolls, tiny little things from all parts of the globe (my Dad once raced frantically around in the summer heat to find and bring to me an American Indian doll for my collection, and I recall that particular doll with great vividness, dressed in a soft dress of beaded grey leather, thick black braids, a feather in her hair, and a fairly formless plastic "baby" wrapped in a papoose on her back. But I had them from everywhere, they were a whole collection once upon a time. They, too, have disappeared somewhere. Maybe in some doll-heaven they're having tea parties with all those other bigger dolls which disappeared in their turn, and they're gossipping with each other about this girl who once called them her own. I do wonder what those conversations might turn to, what they might remember of me as opposed to what I remember of them.
I kind of spent a bunch of years toyless as such, and then, on a whim, I bought a tubby little stuffed bear when I was 18 or so, and named him Grishka. Grishka became the foundation for what followed - a butter-yellow companion, named Mishka, presented to me in full view of a hugely entertained audience in the middle of the student union by my boyfriend of the university freshman vintage. And after that, things just spiralled out of control. I have Bearlin (a bear out of Berlin...), a sad-eyed brown bear named Morgan presented to me by a friend ("he looks sad, he needs a home), and a bunch of other bears - Sebastian, Seamus, Gertrde, Kodiak, Baby Grizz, Juneau (yes, bought in Alaska), a tiny pink number chewed on by a dog at one point so that he's only got one eye and rejoices in the name of Cupid, and at least half a dozen more. I also have a whole herd of moose, one of whom, named Doofus, is the size of a year-old child and has the kind of nose that makes it practically impossible to hold his head straight on his shoulders; another of that tribe, Maximillian Moosehorn III, presides over my bed, along with his girlfriend, a pretty brindle girl-moose named Moosetta. I have a bunch of dogs and wolves, and a whole series of cats - one of them was a Wedding Cat, bought on the occasion of my wedding by my new husband, and another is a black-and-white number which looks remarkably like one of my LIVING cats, who enjoys sleeping right next to it and giving me a severe case of whiplash double-take when I try to figure out which cat is alive and which is the stuffed version. I have several dragons - a TY Beanie Baby proper dragon named Draco and a white twin named Jin-Shei (yes, well. Sorry. She was bought to celebrate said book.) - and there's also Scar, so named because there is a visible scar where his hide was sewn together, and Epppe (which stands for Extremely Puzzled Purple People Eater, because of the utterly bewildered expression on his face). I have a stuffed butterfly. I have a stuffed sky-blue brontosaurus. I have, as I may have mentioned above, a baby Cthulhu (and nothing with that kind of fearsome reputation should ever be permitted to look that damned cute).
I have "sleeping plushes", animals which go to bed with me - no, I am NOT five years old any more but I have an iffy shoulder and these things are useful to prop it up with when I go to sleep. Cupid the one-eyed pink bear was one of the first of these; he was followed by a dog-plush named Lulu, who has been honourably retired a year or so ago and replaced by a brown furry bear named, well, sorry Captain Obvious, Brownie. I have a "Travelling" sleeping plush which goes on all trips with me - an extremely posable and personable little wolf named Wolfie who is irresistible to hotel housekeeping staff because I'm forever finding him posed on pillows in attitudes of meditation or else tucked away in a cute manner underneath bedcovers.
All of my current friends of the plush variety have names and their own stories. Perhaps it's my nature as a writer and a storyteller to make sure that they've all got their own lives, in a way. They do not come into this house empty; nor do they leave it drained of a virtual life. They come to me with a history, and then they continue to share the days that make up my own history, my own life, my own unfolding story.
I share my life with toys, amongst other things. Yes. I always have. I've always lived with one foot in the world of magic and imagination.
It is mandated that you have to grow older. That's the way the world was made.
But you never quite have to grow UP.