Yesterday I started pricing for my garage sale and got through 9 boxes and 320 items. How do I know the exact number? Because I used up exactly one package of 320 labels. My daughter Abby and grand-daughter Becca got in on the action, sticking the little tags on the items. They got impatient with how slowly I wrote the prices on the stickers so Becca started digging in nearby boxes.
“Why are you selling this junky thing? Who would want it?” Becca asked, and I looked up to see what she was holding.
“I’m not selling this!” I protested, “This is my favorite toy from when I was a little girl.”
Perplexed, Becca asked, “What did you do with it?”
Do with it?
Both little girls stood there, waiting for an answer.
“Why, I’d hug it.” They looked quizzically at each other, then back at me, as if wondering why anyone would hug a hard rubber lamb.
“And it used to squeak until my brother Lyle cut off part of its ear.” This peaked their interest somewhat. What child hasn’t contemplated destroying a sibling’s cherished toy?
“Was that your only toy, Grandma?” Becca asked gently.
We didn’t have a lot of toys when I was growing up but besides this lamb, I remembered the Raggedy Ann my mother had made me, paper dolls, hand-me-down Barbies from a cousin with toes and fingers chewed and hair cut very badly. I also remember a brand new Skipper doll and the gender neutral stuffed “Unk” my mother had also made, per my specifications from a cartoon I’d enjoyed. And one children’s rhyme book. One single paperback book. None of those toys would have impressed the two six-year old girls.
“No, I had other toys,” I murmured, my mind elsewhere.
Before running off to play in our toy-laden home, Becca stopped to pat my back.
“You can keep your lamb, Grandma.”
Alone again, I studied the lamb I held in my hands. Sun Rubber Company, 1933. It was old already when it was given to me in the 60’s. I briefly wondered where my mother had gotten it. I thought about all the toys she had made me when I was a little girl: the Raggedy Ann that rivaled the fanciest store-bought version, the teddy bear made from an old woolen coat, the stuffed Unks she’d designed for her four youngest children after they’d clamored for a stuffed animal. I still have that Unk, minus the stuffing. I remember a birthday when my father surprised me with an oversized book of paper dolls pulled from the trunk of his car, and another where two pink drawing erasers were all I unwrapped. As children, we didn’t have a lot of toys, but we never felt deprived. We had friends in the form of our many siblings and vivid imaginations that kept us occupied for hours at a time. We wrote and drew for hours with crayons on brown paper grocery sacks and read books from the library by the dozen each week.
I struggled to remember just why a hard rubber lamb would mean so much to me that I’d held onto it all these years.
Mary had a little lamb, a little lamb. Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow.
As a child I had no concept that Catholics all over were naming their baby “Mary” in the 1950’s and 1960’s. I’d thought my name was pretty special. Not only was it a part of a nursery rhyme, I was named after the mother of Jesus! My chest puffed out with pride when I heard my Catholic parents announce that May was Mary’s month. I had an entire month devoted to me!
The toy may have been dear to me because of the connection to the famous rhyme.
Or it may have been as simple as owning something my nine siblings did not have.
You can keep it Grandma, my little grand-daughter had said. I chuckled to myself as I remembered another little girl 20+ years before, basically saying the same thing.
I’d wanted to give each of my children something that was meaningful to me. I’ve given my oldest son a Ziggy figure that his Dad had given to me during our dating days. He recently returned that gift to me.
When I tried to bestow the little lamb to my second-born, my daughter Beth (Becca’s mother), she looked at it, then looked askance at me. “No thank-you,” she’d said, and I can still remember the stab of disappointment I’d felt then, just as I now felt from the dismal reaction of Abby and Becca.
Beth later redeemed herself by asking once, “When you die, Mom, can I have all your books?” Smart girl.
I guess it really doesn’t matter what combination of undiscovered psychosocial and emotional meaning the lamb had to me. But I do have every intention of keeping it, as one of the last vestiges of my childhood.
I turned the little lamb over and over in my hands yesterday, remembering the days long ago when I would squeeze it to hear a satisfying bleat come out of it. How could my brother’s pocket-knife have eliminated the sound quality of the toy? I covered the cut ear tightly with one hand, and held the lamb close to my face, squeezing it once. A whiff of a familiar smell blasted out the bottom of the foot; a distinct odor of rubber I immediately recognized.
For a second, I was five years old again.